Yesterday I went to a presentation by Heal Lanka, led by Brigadier (Retd) L.C. Perera. He has served in vital positions during the 1983 riots, the ongoing Eelam Wars, the JVP insurrections and Eelam War IV and Menik Farm. He has a wealth of experience and feeling which he has been brave enough to now share, in dedication to reconciliation.
I have a series of videos, but I’ll start with this. The story takes a while to get going, but I hope you’ll listen to it. He goes on to talk about various big events in Sri Lankan history, but this is the story that touched me the most.
It is about his personal loss, his personal pain. It is a deeply human story about the wounds of war.
I’m still talking of the wounds, of a generation.
A few years ago, my Army driver came and told me “Sir” – I was in office – “I’ve been told to go for a promotion test but I’m not going I know you’ve got a problem” – my spare driver was on leave or something. I opened my mouth to say ‘Oh that’s a career move, you go.’ But I couldn’t tell him that. I said “OK, we’ll deal with that later” and when I went home I started thinking, was I selfish that I wouldn’t tell him to go? Then my mind went back 12 or 15 years. A similar situation took place.
I was commanding troops in the field then and I had a very good batch of corporals who were going to be promoted to sergeants. And they were getting ready for this test. It’s the same test that this boy was going to have. Then they were, a very fine lot, then they came and said, “Sir, one person” – that is one corporal in charge of my signals room – “is not sitting for the exam”.
So I asked them “Why?” and they said don’t know. So I summoned him and said “Why aren’t you sitting for this test?” He said, “Sir, I don’t want promotions, I just don’t want.” I said why. Then he said, “This I’ll tell you. We have four boys in the family. All four boys joined the Army. Now two are dead, the youngest is an absolutely irresponsible case, so I’m now looking after three families. If I get promoted I can’t stay in this appointment so I have to go out, and if something happens to me, I don’t know what will happen to all these families.”
I said, “OK, that’s up to me. You go and get through this exam, and I will see to it.”
Anyways, next day everyone came up, lined up to go for this test and get things finished. Now here comes my signal boy, right out of the dustbin. Uniform crushed, he dressed to fail. So I got so angry I dismissed the lot of them, I said “collective responsibility, you go you go together so go and get this guy also.” He had white spots on his hair, I don’t know from where. I got a black ink pen and I was marking…
To cut a long story short, they went, on their way back they got caught to an ambush and they died. All of them, except two. The pain… was terrible. Fifteen years later, when I had to tell another boy ‘go for the test’ I couldn’t do it. I knew I was stuck somewhere. Now these are [some types of] the wounds of war.