Vivek Oberoi, Army and former LTTE cadres at mass wedding, Vavuniya
As the UN Report is blowing up my comments with unusually civilized discourse (for this crowd), I uh, I’m going to start a new sentence now. So, I was reading something else. Via Sullivan I read this guy Budiansky musing on what makes a war just. He says that all war basically sucks, but that “Two of these questions stand out above all: Is it likely to succeed? And is it likely to do more good than harm?” Though most local partisans don’t frame it that way, this is a valid way to look at the Sri Lankan war.
Sri Lanka did win its war against the LTTE. Whether it has done more good than harm is debatable, but I’d say yes. Was the war better than a democratic Tamil nation, controlling its own destiny and respecting the will of its own people? No. Was it better than a terrorist regime, attacking it’s neighbors to the south and north, oppressing its people, enlisting children and becoming a pariah state? Um, yeah. Answering this question means detaching the cause of Tamil nationalism from the cancer of the LTTE. Whether Tamils get a state is one thing, but insomuch as the war got rid of the LTTE, yes it has done more good than harm (mainly cause the LTTE did so much harm, to Tamil nationalism as well).
People who know anything about war know that it is always, in some sense, a disaster. War at best means killing innocent people, tearing down the stability and economy of a society, brutalizing and desensitizing a generation of decent men, women, and children, flooding a country with unsecured weapons, and unleashing unpredictable political tidal waves…
A just war is not merely a war fought in a good cause against a terrible tyrant; there are an infinity of good causes and no shortage of terrible tyrants. A just war is one that can justify the destruction it sows, and the enduring responsibility it entails. Read More.
Was Prabhakaran a terrible tyrant? Definitely. Inventing modern suicide bombing, killing an Indian PM, Sri Lankan President, President’s eyeball, General’s balls, innocent civilians, opposing Tamil leaders, people within his organizations, check check and check. Also tyrannizing his own people, terrorizing other people, conscripting children, you name it. Prabhakaran is a terrible tyrant by any count. The only thing that gives him the slightest luster are legitimate Tamil grievances, but he doesn’t really deserve that halo.
Anyways, the question here is not whether the Sri Lankan war killed and maimed people. I personally find a distinction between innocent and guilty in these cases somewhat pointless, people are people and the Buddha says to have compassion for one’s enemies, but whatevs. Innocent people were definitely killed in the Sri Lankan war. The Army definitely did bad stuff. The LTTE’s jobs description was ‘bad stuff’ so I won’t even get into that.
I think we have to acknowledge that death, destruction and suffering because, as Budiansky says, “War at best means killing innocent people, tearing down the stability and economy of a society, brutalizing and desensitizing a generation of decent men, women, and children, flooding a country with unsecured weapons, and unleashing unpredictable political tidal waves”.
Even at best, the war was bad and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that is lying to themselves to promote a further cause, which isn’t necessarily. We can accept that war is bad and still talk about whether a war is just or not.
Now, by Budiansky’s reasoning, a war is just not simply because the other side is bad. It’s just if it can justify the horrible cost of waging it. Namely, if you can win, and if you offer something better after. And the Sri Lankan Army did win, and the Sri Lankan government does offer a better future than the LTTE. I mean, a trained monkey would offer a better future than the LTTE, but I digress. By this reasoning it seems like a just war.