An Allegory: A Life for A Life

Sanjiva Wijesinha …. see https://sanjivawijesinha.com/2020/04/10/a-life-for-a-life/

The tall good-looking army officer rose from his chair, came around in front of his desk and extended his hand to Deborah Roth. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Roth” he smiled, motioning toward one of the leather-covered armchairs by the window. “Please take a seat.”

He turned to the sergeant who had met the woman at the front entrance of the military hospital and had accompanied her through the security checks. “Thank you, Tissa. I will call you when the lady is ready to return.”

Sergeant Tissakumara stiffened to attention. With a “Thank you, Sir!” he turned about and left the room.

“Miss Roth, may I get you some tea?”

“Yes please, if I may. White with no sugar, thank you”

Major General Ranasinghe got up and spoke into the intercom on his desk. “Joseph, bring us up a pot of tea – with milk and some biscuits please.”

He returned to his chair, and turning to Deborah, said “My old friend Professor Jayatilleke said you were  keen to meet me. So how can I help you?”

“Well,” she began, “as the professor would have told you, I work for Human Rights Watch. My reason for  seeking a meeting with you is that he said the best person who could shed light on this matter that we are concerned about would be yourself, the Director-General of Sri Lanka’s Army medical services. As you are not only a senior army officer but also a respected medical man, he felt that you would be someone we could trust.

The general looked at her. “That is very kind of Professor Jayatilleke to say so,” he smiled, “but tell me, how did he think I could assist you?”

“We at Human Rights Watch were rather perturbed,” Debbie continued “when we learned that your new president had recently granted a special presidential pardon to a convicted killer – a man who had been  convicted of the massacre of eight civilians, including children, during the civil war. The special pardon was granted even after his death sentence had been upheld by your Supreme Court. You will be aware that I am referring to the case of Staff Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake, who was sentenced to death for the Mirusuvil massacre.”

There was a gentle knock on the door, followed by the entry of a smartly dressed mess waiter bearing a tray, which he set down on the low table beside the pair. Major General Ranasinghe poured tea for his visitor and, offering her the cup, picked up the jug of warm milk.

“Say ‘When’,” he said, courteously turning to pour some into her cup. “It is always difficult to judge just how much milk is needed to enhance the flavour of a good cup of Ceylon tea.”

She thanked him and helped herself to one of the Lemon Puff biscuits – cookies, she would have called them – on the plate.

After they had both sipped on their tea, he looked quizzically at her.

“So, what you are asking me to do, Miss Roth, is to provide an explanation for what our president has done – which goes against what you people at Human Rights Watch believe is legally and morally correct?”

“That is exactly right!” she exclaimed. “We were incredulous when we heard about this. When I spoke to Professor Jayatilleke – someone in your country whose counsel I have trusted over the years – he said the best thing I should do would be to talk to you. As you know, it was he who set up this meeting.”

The Major General took another sip of his tea, stood up, and walked over to the large fifth floor window, which overlooked the Galle Face Green and the expanse of the Indian Ocean beyond. He stared at the vista before him before turning back to Debbie Roth.

“I can understand your predicament, Miss Roth,” he said gently. “On the one hand, you have this situation of your own President Trump who, despite the opposition of the Pentagon, pardons a US Navy sailor, Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted of war crimes. On the other hand, you have the situation of our democratically-elected president (who, I may point out to you, was elected with a large majority, unlike  President Trump, who received just 46% of the popular vote against 48% for his opponent) pardoning  a soldier who had similarly been convicted of war crimes.”

“How do you people handle such a situation?” he continued. “Are you at HRW able to censure President Trump just as you are finding fault with President Rajapaksa – or does Human Rights Watch only focus on Third World countries where we do not have the same access as the US does to the world’s media?”

Before she could respond, he turned around.

“Let me tell you a story, Miss Roth. It is not a true story and any resemblance you may find in it to persons living or dead is purely a coincidence. But my story may give you some understanding of why things happen in our corner of the world the way they do.”

“Many years ago, the Sri Lanka Army launched Operation Vadamarachchi – at the time the biggest military operation it had ever undertaken.”

“On the morning of the offensive, because the bridge across the Thondamanaru lagoon had been blown up by the LTTE, platoons of infantry from the Gajaba Regiment had to wade across the lagoon – only to find  when they reached its eastern shore, that they were in a heavily-mined open area, where they came under withering fire from the enemy. Many soldiers were killed in that attack. In fact, of the lead platoon of 34 men, seven were killed outright, while 21 were injured.”

“Among those injured in the first wave of infantry that crossed the lagoon was a young army Captain, who was now trapped, lying face down in that minefield with his left leg shattered. From the water’s edge he was seen by one of his soldiers, one Lance corporal Ratnayake, who, with no thought for his own safety, crawled through that minefield, inching his way across the coral strewn beach, until he reached the wounded officer. He then

proceeded to drag him back, metre by painful metre, to the safety of the water’s edge.”

“Our medics then took charge of the wounded Captain, and he was eventually evacuated to the field hospital in Palaly – which is where I met him. He was resuscitated and I operated on his shattered leg that very evening.  He had suffered a compound comminuted fracture of the lower end of his femur and had lost a lot of blood.

If not for that young Lance-corporal, he would without a doubt, have lost that leg – and probably his life.”

“Although he was left with one leg slightly shorter than the other, the Captain, I am happy to say, recovered in due course. He returned to his regiment and went on to serve with distinction in the war. He even rose to be commanding officer of his regiment – but then, disillusioned by the way the politicians at that time were conducting the war, he resigned his commission and migrated to the US.”

The Major general momentarily returned his gaze toward the blue waters of the Indian Ocean stretching out beneath him.

“You see, Miss Roth,” he said, facing her again, “in military conflict, we see the best and worst in soldiers come out. Soldiers in any modern army are highly trained. Governments spend large sums and vast resources converting these men into very effective killers, trained in fact to commit legalised manslaughter – and when they efficiently do the job they are trained to do and the war is over, they are hounded and hung out to dry.”

“But we also see these same soldiers – men who would not hesitate to pull a trigger and kill another human being if given the order to do so – risking their own lives to save others, not just their own comrades but also civilians who end up in harm’s way.”

“I am sure you would have heard that saying attributed to George Orwell, who pointed out that people like you and me can sleep peacefully in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf.”

He looked at her with a half-smile on his face and, selecting his words carefully and delivering them calmly, he continued: “If I may also quote John Le Carre, Miss Roth, we need soldiers who kill so that the great moronic mass of a country’s civilian population can sleep soundly in their beds at night. We need them to do their job for the safety of ordinary people like you and me.”

He paused – which allowed Debbie Roth to eagerly ask “Did I hear you say that the Lance corporal who saved the Captain’s life was called Rathnayake?”

The Major general evenly met her gaze. “You may have done so, Miss Roth, but you may remember my stating before I started my story that it was not a true story. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”

He returned to the leather armchair.

“And if you had noticed that our President walks with a slight limp, due to his left leg being shorter than his right, I have absolutely no idea how to explain that.”

He smiled – and in some strange way Debbie’s mind flashed back to the occasion when as a little girl she was gently told by her father “Darling, I have absolutely no idea how the tooth fairy comes through our tightly-closed windows.”

Debbie sat back. Professor Jayatilleke had been right in asking her to talk to the Director General.

“But General, what I can’t understand is why the president pardons a soldier who is a convicted killer even if he did save his life many years ago.”

Without immediately responding, the army doctor looked deep into her eyes until she was forced to look away.

“Then I am afraid, Miss Roth, if you cannot understand that, you can never hope to understand the principles and code of honour that we soldiers live by.”

He rose and extended his hand – just as Sergeant Tissakumara appeared at the door, ready to escort her out.

ends

sanjiva w

11 Comments

Filed under accountability, centre-periphery relations, charitable outreach, cultural transmission, heritage, legal issues, life stories, sri lankan society, unusual people, war crimes, war reportage, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

11 responses to “An Allegory: A Life for A Life

  1. Thank you, Michael, for sharing my short story.
    Allegory, Faction, Fiction: who knows? 🙂

  2. Thank you, Michael, for sharing my short story.
    Allegory, Faction, Fiction: who knows? 🙂
    Every reader will have his/her own opinion!

  3. David Blacker

    Sadly, the author also has no understanding of the principles and code of honour soldiers live by. No Army officer would show favouritism to a subordinate based on personal debts owed.

    During Op Liberation to take Vadamarachi, Gotabaya Rajapakse was already commanding the 1st Gajabas. He would command the battalion from that point on until January 1991. So he was no young captain at Vadamarachi, nor was he wounded there.

    The attempt to portray the murderer as a war hero has been a long ongoing campaign by some of the more bigoted segments of Sinhalese society. It is a great shame to see this blog too joining in that apologist agenda.

  4. David Blacker

    Claiming to be writing fiction to avoid being accused of lies is also intellectually deceitful.

  5. Chandra Wickramasinghe

    Thanks Mike.

  6. G. H. Peiris

    Michael,
    I am quite surprised by your information that “David” was an infantryman who wishes to safeguard the honour of military officers but wishes to conceal his identity and has, in block capitals, indicated that his “defence” should remain confidential.
    Is “David” unaware of the existence of fiction of the most refined form based on real-life events which is what Sanjiva Wijesinghe has so elegantly presented.
    “David” seems to lack the intelligence to realise that in shifting the scene of the alleged crime to the ‘Operation Liberation’ in Vadamarachchi during May-June 1987, the fictionalized Brig. General is portrayed as a suave character relating a story drawn from the aftermath of an event that occurred in the village of Murusuvil near Elephant Pass in December 2000 – i.e. more than 8 years after GR had retired from his first spell of military service. What Dr. Wijesinghe is trying to convey through his ‘General’ as politely as possible to his imagined visitor is the selfless camaraderie that usually prevails in a battalion at the war front, and to remind her and his readership that the duplicitous outfit (in real life) which she represents would not dare to do in the US what it has been doing is Sri Lanka.
    Several erudite researchers like Shenali Waduge (Sunday Observer of 12-04-20) and C. A. Chandraprema (The Island of 03-04-20) have, on the basis of thorough analyses of the related court records, shown that the presidential pardon of Corporal Ratnayake was impelled by the fact that Ratnayake’s conviction was thoroughly flawed. “David” does not want his venom to be diluted with facts.

  7. A COMMENT SENT via EMAIL by Professor GERALD H PEIRIS. 3 May 2020: “Michael,
    I am quite surprised by your information that “David” was an infantryman who wishes to safeguard the honour of military officers but wishes to conceal his identity and has, in block capitals, indicated that his “defence” should remain confidential.
    Is “David” unaware of the existence of fiction of the most refined form based on real-life events which is what Sanjiva Wijesinghe has so elegantly presented.
    “David” seems to lack the intelligence to realise that in shifting the scene of the alleged crime to the ‘Operation Liberation’ in Vadamarachchi during May-June 1987, the fictionalized Brig. General is portrayed as a suave character relating a story drawn from the aftermath of an event that occurred in the village of Murusuvil near Elephant Pass in December 2000 – i.e. more than 8 years after GR had retired from his first spell of military service. What Dr. Wijesinghe is trying to convey through his ‘General’ as politely as possible to his imagined visitor is the selfless camaraderie that usually prevails in a battalion at the war front, and to remind her and his readership that the duplicitous outfit (in real life) which she represents would not dare to do in the US what it has been doing is Sri Lanka.
    Several erudite researchers like Shenali Waduge (Sunday Observer of 12-04-20) and C. A. Chandraprema (The Island of 03-04-20) have, on the basis of thorough analyses of the related court records, shown that the presidential pardon of Corporal Ratnayake was impelled by the fact that Ratnayake’s conviction was thoroughly flawed. “David” does not want his venom to be diluted with facts.

  8. David Blacker

    I’m not sure why this Gerald character imagines that I’m trying to conceal my identity. I have given my name above. Nor does he seem to be able to comprehend English very well. The “scene of the crime” hasn’t been shifted anywhere. The crime that was, however, committed was one of mass murder, including the cutting of the throat of a 5-year-old child. If the covering up of this reprehensible act is the “selfless camaraderie” he is referring to, I must question not just his morality, but his very sanity. What Wijesinghe is attempting to do is justify the factual pardoning of a horrendous murderer by clumsily creating a fictitious incident in which the president’s life is supposed to have been saved by the killer on a previous date.

    I say clumsy, because he has not bothered to do even the most basic of research which might have given his badly written fiction some credibility. Clearly he thinks his readers must be idiots, and from the above comment he’s not too far off the mark.

    In doing so he has accused the president of an ulterior and wholly personal reason for the pardon that has nothing to do with the correctness of the conviction. If there was a flaw in the conviction, why has that not been brought up instead of this crude attempt at fiction? He has also declared that the “selfless camaraderie” of the combat battalion is nothing more than powerful men protecting underlings who have committed horrendous warcrimes. Wijesinghe has reduced the entire SL Army to nothing more than a bunch of gangsters with his badly concealed lie.

    I am frankly shocked that the owner of this blog is giving such reprehensible lies space here.

  9. David Blacker

    Here are some of the comments on Facebook about Wijesinghe’s “elegant” presentation:

    “What an execrable piece of writing. I couldn’t read it properly. Had to skim.”
    “Waste of ten minutes. WTF BS at a different level.”
    “What rot. Who is this bugger Sanjiva Wijesinha? He should stick to fairy stories… and Michael Robets should no better, being an academic.”
    “WTF”
    “Writing for his supper no doubt… Shameless bugger.”
    “Utter crap!”
    “I stopped at the words ‘Third World'”
    “The ‘story’ he tells and the last bit about ‘if you don’t understand that Miss Roth’ is a bad ripoff of a Jeffrey Archer short story.”

  10. G. H. Peiris

    Hi, David Blacker,
    You are certainly blacker than I thought. Just look once again at the message you had sent to Prof. Roberts which I reproduce below, and tell me whether I had erred when saying that your identity and your message were intended to be confidential?

    Michael Roberts
    To:gerald peiris
    Sat, 2 May at 5:48 pm
    CONFIDENTIAL

    Michael,
    Sadly, the author also has no understanding of the principles and code of honour soldiers live by. No Army officer would show favouritism to a subordinate based on personal debts owed. This attempt to publicize a lie by casting it as fiction, is an intellectual dishonesty unworthy of your blog. This apologist “story” dishonours all the war veterans who completed their service without committing murder or other atrocities.
    During Op Liberation to take Vadamarachi, Gotabaya Rajapakse was already commanding the 1st Gajabas. He would command the battalion from that point on until January 1991. So he was no young captain at Vadamarachi, nor was he wounded there and needing of rescue by anyone, least of all a convicted mass murderer.
    The attempt to portray the murderer as a war hero has been a long ongoing campaign by some of the more bigoted segments of Sinhalese society. It is a great shame to see this blog too joining in that apologist agenda. I am embarrassed to be on this mailing list.
    David

    Now that you have disclosed to us your real identity, let me ask you whether you, in finding Corporal Ratnayake guilty of “mass Murder” (including a five-year old child), you have read the transcript of the evidence that was presented by the one and only witness who, in the course of being cross-examined, contradicted himself several times, was considered adequate to convict Ratnayake? Have you, in fact, read anything on the political backdrop in Sri Lanka that culminated in Ratnayake’s conviction. Have you any understanding of the recent disclosures on how a member of the ruling party at that time influenced high ranking officers of the judiciary?

    • David Blacker

      If we’re going to exchange juvenile insults based on each other’s names, I think you should go as GH Penis, given the dickheadedness of your comments. Isn’t English comprehension necessary for being a professor in Sri Lanka anymore? The word “CONFIDENTIAL” is addressed to you, you idiot, by Michael Roberts. Not by me. It specifically says “To:gerald peiris” you massive fool. I did not insist on any further levels of confidentiality, in spite of the fact that ALL emails are confidential by their very nature, being private correspondence.

      Nevertheless I will indulge your foolishness and respond to your comment instead of relegating it to the dustbin it deserves. I would however first insist that you withdraw your allegation that I have attempted to conceal my identity (I doubt there will be any such withdrawal, however, since you clearly are not an individual with any sort of intellectual sincerity).

      In answer to your question, I have read everything available on the case. Any contradictions by the “only witness” (“only”, because he is the sole survivor of a wretched family brutally murdered by Wijesinghe’s “hero”) have no bearing on the identification of S/Sgt Ratnayake. He’s not a corporal, as you claim. Perhaps YOU should pay a bit more attention to what you demand others read. I have also read everything I consider relevant to the political background in Sri Lanka. What political background do you believe invalidates the verdict? Whether the judiciary was influenced or not is arguable and subjective, but the judiciary has been politicized ever since MR was president, so this is nothing new. If we accept the legality of the judiciary we must accept this verdict.

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