James Jupp answers Michael Roberts in measured and amiable tones

James Jupp, by email dated early September [emphasis by Web Editor]

Dear Michael Roberts,

Nice to hear from you even if some of the remarks you make about my book review were out of place and need not have been made.  Your remarks connecting me with “Trotskyism” are quire misplaced.  My life-long friendship with Anil and Jeanne Moonesinghe began atLondonUniversity and the Labour League of Youth (official Labour Party) in 1949.  I was not then, or ever, a Trotskiyist — later on atYorkUniversity I was even an active campaigner against the local Socialist Workers Party- the quasi Trotskyist followers of Tony Cliff (Anil’s earlier faction).

 Anil and Jeanne are now deceased but my friendship remains with their children Vinod (inSri Lanka) and Janaki (inUSA). Vinod keeps me swamped with information (they call me “uncle”).

To say that I have not “kept in touch with Sri Lankan research is a bit over the top — how do you know?  It is not my main interest as I am quite disgusted with the lies, rumours, mass murders and chaos that have characterised this once peaceful country — as my review should show.  However I have been a member of a small diaspora group of mainly Sinhalese in Canberra and have taken a regular role in their meetings. I also read the English-language press regularly on the internet.  My small home library includes more books on Sri Lanka than most public libraries in Canberra — including your own classic collections on colonial politics and early nationalism.  For many years I also received the Tamil Times from England but it ceased in the face of the militant Tigers in the diaspora.My last visit to Sri Lanka was as a guest of Professor Jo Lo Bianco, who was working for the Chandrika Kumaratunga. government in a plan to create bilingual teaching in Sri Lankan schools — at that time I visited my old student at Peradeniya, Ranjit Amerasinghe,who had become professor of political science. If you had contacted me that would have modified your mildly insulting reference to my knowledge of recent years.

Now for the main point — yes 2009 IS an obvious error — it arose during editing and I only noticed it after the article was printed.  The editor of the ALR seriously restructured my article in a way that would not have happened in an academic journal — hence the reference to Prabhakharan’s death. I never believed that his sons were shot in front of him but Weiss says so and I refer to HIS view not mine. This was, after all, a book review and some references to his book were obligatory — as also to “Niromi de Soysa”.  By the way you made a reference elsewhere to Demidenko — I raised this with the editor mainly on the grounds that her name was Sinhalese.  But of course that is not her real name and she is alive and well and living in Sydney.

I do not “rely on gossip in the networks of the Tamil grapevine.”  As you should see from my text and the remarks above, most of my information comes from Sinhalese sources — indeed I was even invited to speak at a gathering organised by the SL High Commission last year — although they did not like what I said very much.

With the rest of your article I have no particular quarrel. I believe that both sides were criminally negligent of civilians in the “last battle”  = but what’s new?

These books were both gripping and informative — but Weiss was often too ready to accept the worst. He came to speak at ANU and clashed with the High Commission spokesman, who pathetically read out a long and incoherent statement — the Tigers always had better propaganda than the SL government.

Anyway those are my comments on your comments — next time you feel like criticising me call me first!!

Regards,  James Jupp


A Note from Michael Roberts: I asked Jim permission before entering his response in my web site. In responding to his note I told Jim by email that I stand corrected on two points. For the benefit of the readership let me note that I was responsible for asking Jim Jupp to address the Ceylon Studies Seminar  at Peradeniya University at some point in the early 1970s; and because of his deep knowledge about Left politics in Lanka and his friendship with the Moonesinghes i assumed that they had been fellow Trots in London. Secondly,  I knew that he was focused on Australian immigration issues and since I had not seen any work on Sri Lanka from his pen assumed that he had not kept abreast of Lankan affairs. I stand corrected on both points. I also note here that I have suffered similar fashion from editorial changes to my text once in The Australian so my sympathies are with him on another point.

I have underlined some significant points that he makes. in agreement with Jupp, I do not think that there has been any war without “war crimes” — as the term is defined in the present scheme of things. Readers would also profit from Shyam Tekwani’s more specific evidence on this point with reference to Sri Lanka in the 1980s.

SO, the general issues are:

(1) How does one collect solid data to charge people? can one, pragmatically speaking, charge every bloodied killer-soldier and/or rapist?

(2) Since one cannot get proof against the umpteen guilty parties whom does one select as symbolic targets? 

and, (3) in the Sri Lankan case, if one targets the two Rajapaksas and the generals leading the army in Eelam War IV, then why not also adhere to equity and embrace some symbolic LTTE figures such as Rudrakumaran, Adele Balasingham and others from the LTTE delegations of the ceasefire period in the list of demons to prosecute?

 Readers may also wish to re-visit my comments on Jupp’s review article. Especially important in the light of Jim Jupp’s comments is my insistence that “I [am] amazed that even knowledgeable Sri Lankans are not alive to the monumental significance of the LTTE’s act to deploying some 300,00-to-320,000 Tamil people – some willingly, some ambivalently and some unwillingly – as a human buffer, labour pool and political bargaining chip for some six months from December 2008 to may 2009.  To the best of my limited knowledge this is a world record, AND quite an awesome one.”

This foundational circumstance, in this argument, must condition the apportionment of blame and war crime charges with reference to 2008-09. In effect, I have raised a is a central debating issue –one which has received inadequate weight.

With reference to the Eelam Wars I, II and III, I have no such reservations. It is not a question of loving the Rajapaksas [and their abhorrent “Sinhala mindset”]; but of taking note of the fundamental conditions of the war.

 A further note: The last stages of Eelam War IV were also conditioned by the looming Indian general elections of May 2009. With the outcome uncertain this created a deadline for GoSL – the more so in the circumstance of Western powers intimidating them with threats of intervention to provide the LTTE leadership with a bolt-hole. Thus, realpolitk kicked in. Without such circumstances a more liesurely pursuit of the coup de grace may have been an option.

Now, this contention will support the argument and the allegations that GoSL was quite brutal in its operations. That is a possibility, even a probability. My mind is not made up on this issue; but I take serious note of the testimonies collected witihn Report No.34 by the UTHR collective. The Moon-Darusman report is fatally flawed and not worth the paper it is written on. Its own evidence of shoddy workmanship indicates that the label “experts” is a fallacious legitimizing device. Here readers are referred to the recent reviews by Godfrey Gunatilleke and David Blacker.

However, the imperative to conclude the war by May has to be evaluated not only with reference to the Tamil citizens of Thamililam trapped by the policy of the LTTE. There is the issue of GoSL’s responsibility towards the 20 million citizens of Sri Lanka outside the theatres of war in the Vanni. All these people had suffered – albeit in different measures – over 26 years of war with interruptions now and then. 

Without taking note of this wider context and the experiential history of people in theislandofsri Lanka, all those who have sat outside the island, albeit as concerned others, do not have the right to pontificate without reference to this body of people.

It was precisely from this experiential background that an excruciating debate developed within the web page of GROUNDVIEWS, the site associated with the civil liberties organisation, the Centre for Policy alternatives. In full-frontal mode its editor, Sanjana Hattotuwa, marked the Catch-22 situation facing everyone on 3 May 2009: “Would killing 50,000 civilians to finish off the LTTE bring peace?” When, predictably, this question was misunderstood, he clarified the issue thus: “This post intends to interrogate extremism. The numbers in the quote are really peripheral to the argument, which exists today, that to finish off the LTTE, collateral damage is not just unavoidable, it is even a prerequisite. What do you feel about that?”

It is to the credit of some measured voices who spoke up at this point, among them several Tamils (with pseudonyms, but speaking as Tamils), that the defeat of the LTTE was a vital goal and that “we” should be ready to accept civilian casualties of even 50,000, though hopefully somewhat less. This debate, suitably edited, is worth reproduction in print as an outstanding example of citizen debate and citizen journalism that beats the Sri Lankan newspapers by a proverbial mile.

 I emphasize that I had no voice in the discussion or come up with the figure of 50,000 dead as a notionally acceptable, albeit awful, price to pay for the defeat of the LTTE. I feared even greater losses though my evaluation was clouded then by uncertainty as to how many people were trapped in the rump Tiger territory. I also feared that the LTTE would encourage the civilians to follow them into orgies of mass suicide (see chapter 23 below) – a surmise that was, for the most part anyway, and thankfully, proven wrong.

1 Comment

Filed under australian media, authoritarian regimes, citizen journalism, democratic measures, Eelam, gordon weiss, historical interpretation, Left politics, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, truth as casualty of war, war crimes, world events & processes

One response to “James Jupp answers Michael Roberts in measured and amiable tones

  1. Leaving aside the “war” and everything connected to it, except the cause of the “war” which none including the UNHCR, have addressed. It is my personal view that the “war” would not have “occurred” IF the so-called “minorities” were “officially included” in the “Government of the country” like in South Africa.
    I am not sure whether there will be enough to spell out in detail my suggestions and so this “summary” of the idea.
    The different functions of Parliament – the decision making body of the country – must be “distributed/shared” and entrusted to different groups of persons elected by the people at different levels – Districts administered by Government Agents, Divisions administered by Divisional Secretaries and Divisions served by Grama Sevaka’s – each of which would function as separated spheres/units of Parliament.
    All these “spheres/units” to be “grouped” region-wise and forged into a “Executive Council” and a “Legislative Council” to “govern” the country.
    All these “six” units together will function in place of the present Parliament.
    A “broad-based” democracy that will not give room to think about physical “separation” of the country.
    IF interested for further details please contact ,

Leave a Reply