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The Last Days in the Vanni Bunker


Sir Alan Bullock and other historians have documented in fascinating detail the last days, in the Berlin bunker, of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich, even as the Soviet Red Army approached and then prepared to cross the Rhine River and breach the last German defense of Berlin.  The bizarre rituals of Hitler in his bunker included regular Army staff meetings, as if they had any meaning, marrying his long time mistress Eva Braun, various complications from his rapidly deteriorating health, accommodating his propaganda chief Goebbels and family in the bunker, meeting the Hitler Youth (underage child recruits used in the defense of Berlin), farewells to staff fleeing Berlin and finally his own suicide as the last German defenses crumbled around him.

One wonders if survivor accounts will allow historians to document the last days of the “No fire zone bunker” as the LTTE defense of its final two square kilometres of territory, actually in effect its control of one massive refugee camp of perhaps twenty to thirty thousand people crumbles.  The similarities are quite obvious. A leader who led his people to ruin with a nihilistic agenda, a totalitarian approach, a scorched earth policy and finally a divorce from reality and the refusal to surrender when the war was really lost. Rather like at the Yalta conference, the Sri Lankan military has taken the decision that it will accept nothing other than the unconditional surrender of the LTTE and the bringing to justice or even the elimination of the LTTE’s leader and his entourage.  Similar in more recent times the US and its allies, including the UK, decided that Saddam and his senior Baath Party leaders had to be eliminated or taken out of current and future political leadership.

Intelligence analysts in the vast majority favour the view that Prabhakaran is holed up in the “zone” for a variety of reasons. Firstly the international LTTE leaders including its newly appointed representative KP seem to confirm Prabhakaran’s presence in the strip, to have escaped earlier was to have accepted inevitable defeat much sooner, a reality which seemingly has not even yet been accepted by the LTTE and the spirited defense of the strip by the last remaining cadres including Prabhakaran’s personal guard, indicate his likely presence.  LTTE command and control would have crumbled in the event the leader decamped.  Also fairly elaborate plans for an underwater getaway, including tunnels and underwater vessels would seemingly indicate that a sea route escape was the only other, though dangerous and high risk option available to the LTTE and this option was being kept open for its leader, though perhaps already too late.  But the cult of martyrdom and suicide is strong in the LTTE and in its ideology. Most probably its leader will meet his inglorious end in the near future.

Which brings us to life after the fall of the last bunker and here again the collapse of Nazi Germany provides many examples and lessons for us. Sri Lanka is indeed fortunate that unlike many wars in the past fifty years, we will end the conventional part of the fighting with a total victory, defined as the LTTE losing all territory and command and control. This permits a securing of the peace that can also rival the experiences in Europe and Japan after the Second World War. Conventional wisdom has anticipated an insurgent campaign after the LTTE loses territorial control. But this would require the LTTE to retain command and control and the military is working on the assumption that the elimination of the current LTTE leadership would prevent a new leadership, perhaps even one based overseas from exercising such control.

A disturbing feature of modern day terrorism, including in Sri Lanka has been that terrorist attacks can be planned, managed and “handled” from overseas.. Such as the World Trade Center bombings being masterminded, financed, facilitated and perhaps even “handled” from outside the US. Sri Lanka would require significant international cooperation to prevent a radicalized second generation Tamil Diaspora in the West, from doing in Sri Lanka what some Muslim radicals based in South and West Asia are doing in the West, financing and operating terrorist attacks.

By the end of the Second World War, the Allies and Europe had learned the lessons of the First World War and the Marshall Plan, a generous and gracious plan for reconstruction as well as democratic political transition was the result, a complete change from the punitive approach of the Treaty of Versailles and the resultant weak Weimer Republic. The treaty of Versailles resulted in Germany going to war again in thirty years, while the Marshall plan has secured the peace and provided prosperity to post war Europe for now over sixty years. Similarly Sri Lanka has both the opportunity and the challenge of securing the peace after the victory. Political shortsightedness, a lack of generosity and ethnic superiority ideologies should not squander the opportunity for a new nation building exercise that our valiant men and women in uniform has won for us at such great sacrifice. We owe it to them and our succeeding generations that the failures of the past, that led to political and other differences being contested and decided on the battlefield, as opposed to the democratic political arena, should never be allowed to repeat itself.

By Harim Peiris ~ ~


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