Richardson’s Paradise Poisoned as Yardstick in Evaluating Champion’s Lifework

John Richardson

Dear Michael, Thank you for your thoughtfulness it providing me the opportunity to comment on Champion’s photographic lens. However, I don’t know that a brief intervention from me would add much to the discussion. As you know, I spent more than 17 years trying to unravel and respond constructively to the tragic and not infrequently horrifying scenarios that unfolded during those years and subsequently.

I like to think that I was able, at least on some occasions, to authentically view unfolding tragic events from different vantage points. I decided it was not the role of a foreigner (however much I sometimes experienced myself as Sri Lankan) to publicly “take sides.” What I have come to understand and believe and is described, in a nuanced manner in, Chapters 21 and 22 of Paradise Poisoned. Those understandings and beliefs do not lend itself to a brief simplification but can be easily read in less than a hour.

However, I did make one attempt at a simplification, in response to a request for a 10 minute “Elevator Talk” on the conclusions of Paradise Poisoned to be given at a fairly recent board meeting of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome.  I am going to provide the full text of my talk, which also provided a bit of context for Paradise Poisoned.  The point of the first paragraph was simply to set the context for Paradise Poisoned but I thought might also be of interest. Feel free to edit out the introductory material in whatever means you feel would be useful.  Here is the text. The “request might seem puzzling,” I said, simply because the concerns of the Club of Rome had little to do with Sri Lanka….

Good evening.

Anitra has asked me to spend 10 minutes or so talking to you about the conclusions within my book, Paradise Poisoned: Learning About Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars, first published in 2005, This request might seem puzzling, but it is not. It was the failure of my work in Iran, where the Islamic revolution ended a development project I believed to be of great promise, that led me to turn away from global modeling towards investigating the relationship between the practice of international development and violent conflict.

With the projects that produced Groping in the Dark, Making it Happen a Positive Guide to the Future,  and Ending Hunger an Idea Whose Time has Come completed, I was motivated to spend much of the next 20 years seeking lessons from what was, at the time, one of history’s most perplexing civil conflicts. Civil conflict, especially ethnic conflict, is one of the cancerous pathologies of the development process.  Development, in some manifestation is a prerequisite to sustainability. As friends and colleagues know, I have now returned to the agendas that were first catalyzed by The Limits to Growth and successor global models.

Paradise Poisoned is a lengthy book – more than 600 pages of text, plus voluminous notes and bibliographic references.  However, it has the virtue of summarizing my principal findings in 10 brief propositions, which I call imperatives for preventing deadly conflict and terrorism. You should have received copies of the book’s concluding chapter in which they are given.  I have chosen to highlight three imperatives in this evening’s brief “elevator talk.”

[1] First imperative:  meeting the needs and aspirations of fighting age young men should be the number one priority of national government policies and of programs funded by international donors. This is the most important imperative all, and especially, I believe an imperative  for USACOR and the Club of Rome. There is one circumstance fighting age young men share with many other cohorts in societies of the Global South; they seek opportunities to better their circumstances but do not find them. They tend to be preponderantly disadvantaged. In a second circumstance, however,  they differ from many others. They are more willing to take risks and make sacrifices, including risking and even giving up their lives in the hope of effecting change. The young suicide bomber who killed my colleague, civil rights lawyer Neelan Tiruchelvam and the assassin who shot and killed an esteemed mentor, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadigamar, as he was taking an evening swim at his home, fall into this category. That a significant segment of society with the greatest power to disrupt should perceive themselves to be among those greatly and unfairly disadvantaged, [viewed] in terms of opportunities for advancement,  seems paradoxical.

[5] Fifth Imperative: Development policies that meet human beings common  aspirations – to feel good about their lives, the circumstances in which they live and future prospects for themselves and their children,  will contribute most effectively to keeping violent conflict and terrorism within acceptable bounds.

This seems like a common-sense imperative. However, sadly, far too many  performance measures used to design and evaluate development policies have been chosen for reasons other than the intrinsic merits of the world view they are alleged to promote.  Imposition from above of development policies framed by those performance measures is likely to evoke feelings of hostility and alienation.  Performance measures dictated by what has become known as “The Washington Consensus” provide an example of this, as an excellent recent book by our Club of Rome Colleague, Chandran Nair points out. His views are shared by many.

[10] 10th Imperative. There must be realistic, rigorous, opportunity costs analyses of military options, versus equivalent expenditures for non-military options, before proceeding down the slippery slope of “military solutions” to complex development problems.

In June 2002, an Associated Press news article assessed opportunity costs for the Iraq invasion and occupation, based solely on funds appropriated, so far, by the U.S. government, $119.4 billion at that time.  This sum, the article reported, would provide 748,495 four year scholarships to Harvard University and 2,806,506 scholarships to an average U.S. state university. It would provide each resident of Iraq with $4,776, a sum roughly equivalent to eight times Iraq’s per-capita income in 2003

Paradise Poisoned concludes with the following:

“Given what we know about linkages between deadly conflict, terrorism,and development, were there ways of expending $300 billion or more, prior  to September 11, that could have prevented the formation of a strong resilient  al Qa’eda; that could have prevented the World Trade Centre Bombings; that  could have forestalled the need to invade  Afghanistan and Iraq? Sri Lanka’s civil wars could have taught us that the answer was yes.”

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Filed under accountability, american imperialism, nationalism, power politics, security, self-reflexivity, suicide bombing, the imaginary and the real, transport and communications, truth as casualty of war, world events & processes

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