Honouring ALL the Dead in War. Somasiri Devendra’s Ecumenical Epitaph

Somasiri Devendra 

It’s a hundred years since the World War One ended.

It was called “the war to end all wars”, a war “to preserve Democracy”. It was, in fact, fought for nothing more than the needs of a handful of European countries wanting yet bigger pieces of the global pie, fighting each other for it or to deny it to others.

a war cemetery in Europe

British Garrison Cemetery Kandy

The gladiators? Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, the Russian Empire, the Turkish Empire. Swept up in their wake and caught up without an option: Belgium, Italy, Serbia, Bosnia and the British French and German footholds in North Africa. It was a purely regional matter that, due to rampant colonialism, mushroomed into a global phenomenon. British possessions all over the world, and British alliances were drawn into the conflict – from Australia/New Zealand, India/Ceylon/Burma, South Africa, Canada, Nigeria and, finally, even reluctant America. South Africans and Nigerians fought in Africa, Indians in Turkey and the Middle East, Anzac troops in Gallipoli and France, Canadians and Americans on the Western Front. Only China, South America and Scandinavia had the sense to keep away.

And, thus, a regional “turf” war became a “World War”

Altogether about ten million died. Unknown numbers of bodies lay unrecovered in the mud where they had fallen. Afterwards, War Cemeteries commemorated them in serried ranks of headstones and crosses to give solace to the living kin; and War Memorials, too, to confer a belated dignity on them.

It seems to us, now, a meaningless war but it held some meaning for the men – from Ceylon and other colonial outposts –  who marched away to die in another’s war in a foreign land. Was it duty, honour, glory, patriotism, love of adventure or just a little money for a better life that called them? Whatever it was, they were all-too-human beings driven by all-too-human feelings, and failings. And, for the last 100 years, we have remembered them, as humans: humans like us. Humans who fought and died in wars ever since. As we remember our own war dead in our own war; perhaps, in years to come, that sacrifice, too, may seem to have been in vain.

I write these words, a hundred years since the guns fell silent (those guns, at least) – not to glorify that War (or any other war) – but as a tribute to those men who fought for a Cause, either of their own choosing or because they had to. A soldier is the only citizen who is called upon – and paid for – to kill and die for his country.  So this is my tribute to those who died and for the few who came back

And Politicians and Generals be damned.

…………………………. I would like to leave you with a thought:

 Now, a hundred years on, whom shall we remember on Remembrance Day?

 Those who fought and those who died fighting for “King and Country”, for “National Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity”? Yes. Yes, of course.

They, whom we sent out to die for us.

But only them? I think not.

What about all those who also died fighting for a cause which we cannot sympathize with?

Those who died fighting us in the Insurrection of 1971 and in the Eelam struggle?

Were they also not children of this land? Were they not fighting for this land? Do not their shattered limbs enrich this soil?

Were they less than those who died for another’s cause in another’s land? 

Were they not our friends, children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, neighbours, colleagues – frail human beings like us? WERE THEY NOT US?

Think –

  • Dutugemunu honoured the man whom he defeated in battle.
  • After WW2 Sri Lanka urged the world to treat the Japanese with love, not hate.
  • This year, the Cambridge Students’ Union argued that “all lives lost and affected by war” should be commemorated on Remembrance Day and not just war veterans.

The time for forgiveness has come.

At the going down of the sun, And in the morning,…..

 ….. let us remember them……


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Somasiri Devendra is not merely an educated scion of a Sri Lankan middle class family from a Buddhist background. He is a retired officer of the Sri Lankan Navy. I have known his twin brother Tissa for years … and perhaps this association facilitated Somasiri’s offer to put me in touch with retired Gunnery Instructor KH Perera who had commanded the cohort of sailors mounting a standard honour-guard for a visiting dignitary named Rajiv Gandhi who was overseeing India’s intervention in the island’s conflict with the LTTE. As it happened, this formal event turned out infamous because one of the naval rating’s attempted to brain Rajiv Gandhiin punishment for the humiliation that had been imposed on Sri Lanka. — SEE …………………  …………………… https://thuppahis.com/2019/08/08/clobbering-rajiv-gandhi-as-chastisement-in-1987-a-guti-dheema/



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Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, charitable outreach, historical interpretation, insurrections, landscape wondrous, life stories, politIcal discourse, reconciliation, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, tolerance, trauma, unusual people, world events & processes, World War II, World War One

One response to “Honouring ALL the Dead in War. Somasiri Devendra’s Ecumenical Epitaph

  1. Lam Seneviratne

    Very well stated. Man’s inhumanity to man. Thank You

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