‘Let my people go’ | Sunday Observer

‘Let my people go’

28 March, 2021
Besieged Northern civilians fleeing to Security Forces controlled areas
Besieged Northern civilians fleeing to Security Forces controlled areas

My friend Noel Nadesan domiciled in Australia writes eloquently of the suffering visited upon the Tamil people - not he says, by the Sri Lankan Army - but by his own people.

We have looked the other way when our entire leadership was liquidated not by the Sri Lankan government but by our own people, he wrote.

Finally, he exhorted: It is time we all said: Let my people go in peace to wherever they want to go.

Well written, Sir. That was then, when Nadesan penned this piece in his own journal, and was speaking from his heart. By that time, towards the end period of the hostilities, he had seen enough.

It’s what the Sinhalese people - the ordinary folk of this land - are saying now. To a man, they have this single sentiment etched in their minds. “Let my people go.”

That’s not least because the Sinhala are a forgiving people. It was this country’s J.R. Jayewardene who set the tone for post-war Japanese resurgence, with his eloquent words at the San Francisco Peace Conference, in 1951.

He stated in that address: “We believe in the words of the Great Teacher [Buddha] whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that ‘hatred ceases not by hatred but by love’.” He then concluded: “This treaty is as magnanimous as it is just to a defeated foe. We extend to Japan the hand of friendship and trust that with the closing of this chapter in the history of man, the last page of which we write today, and with the beginning of the new one, the first page of which we dictate tomorrow, her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity.”


Successive Sri Lankan governments wanted Tamil Tiger fighters to be rehabilitated, not prosecuted. But a forgiving people, are not being let go by sections at least of the international community that seems hell bent on turning on its head, years of international practice adapted after wartime hostilities end.

Just take a long hard look at Japan. The Japanese apologised for their wartime excesses, but didn’t do much else. Shrines to Japanese wartime heroes are open to this day in Japan, and the Yasukuni Shinto shrine in Tokyo is just one of them. The Japanese have not even made reparations to the Korean people for the practice of deploying young Korean girls during wartime as “comfort women” for the sexual gratification of Japanese soldiers.

Though the Japanese carried out a demilitarisation campaign and got rid of a standing Army, wartime pride is still retained in contemporary Japanese society in a substantial way.

Writes Ingyu Oh in the Journal of Japanese Peace Studies: “The revisionism debate still continues on the Japanese Archipelago. The core of the debate is about who the Japanese were fifty or so years ago and who they are now. From the left emerged images of the Japanese as imperialistic aggressors. Yet, the left could not produce a unanimous interpretation of who the postwar Japanese are. Are they the same Japanese people? If not, who are they? From the right came an attack on the left, with the argument that the Japanese for the last hundred years have been victims of Western aggression, including the current U.S. hegemonic domination of Asia. For the right, the Japanese remain the same people, still struggling to be free from Western domination.”

In the Western scholastic tradition, obviously any view of the Japanese being the victims of Western aggression is revisionist, and absurd. But yet, that tradition of revisionism or whatever you may call it, is alive and well in Japan today.


When this writer had the good fortune to visit Japan on a Japanese Press Centre sponsored scholarship, the organisers had a tour of the war damaged city of Hiroshima written into the itinerary. The foreign scholars were shown the skeletal remains of the City Hall, that is a ghost like reminder of the devastation caused by the atom bomb that was dropped on the city, killing a total of 140000 people.

The organisers didn’t forget to have us meet with a victim of the devastating nuclear attack. The elderly gent who spoke to us showed us his fingers and demonstrated how some of them “refuse to work.” The details are sketchy in my mind now, but he said something to the effect that it’s a result of radiation damage from the bomb. This writer may have got the detail wrong perhaps - but the intent was clear. The atom bomb attack was devastating. “It was not necessary,” the elderly gentlemen told us. He said he and other victims did not have to go through these horrors because the US and allies knew that the war was ending anyway, and that the Japanese were making arrangements to surrender, but the US persisted with the needless attack.

That’s the mood in Japan. We are the victims, many of them say. But yet, though it is called revisionism in the West, that interpretation of history widely prevalent in the country did not stop Japan from transforming into one of the most respectable members of the international community. On the heels of JRJ’s San Francisco speech, the US rebuilt Japan. Strangely, despite Japan’s own avowed post-war non aggression policy, the US, the World War II victor subsequently wanted Japan to rebuild its national Army, because the US intended this to be a buffer force between them and the new enemy, the Communist Militaries in the then emerging Red states of the Soviet Union, and China.

That was the spirit of forgiveness, that animated policy towards a former enemy that had internally cast itself at least in many civilian circles, as the victim. Japan surged to be the world’s second largest economy.

The story was similar in war ravaged Germany. The country was rebuilt under the Marshal Plan launched by the victorious US. Germany went onto become an industrialized economic behemoth.

That was in the spirit of the policy of forgiveness that the Sri Lankans espoused, first in the form of JRJ’s speech in San Francisco, and then, through many other international overtures that followed. Where is that spirit of collaboration, rebuilding and resurgence when it concerns Sri Lanka, the forgiving nation?


Some may say that the German and Japanese military leadership was tried and sentenced for war crimes. Yes, some of them were, for crimes as grotesque as the holocaust. In Sri Lanka, our Army was able to eradicate the scourge of terrorism perpetrated by a heinous terrorist group, banned for it’s terrorist atrocities in Europe and in most parts of the world.

The Tamil people, as Noel Nadesan wished, were free to go, after being held hostage by the heinous LTTE. That was thanks to the Sri Lankan Army.

At the current conjuncture, it’s right that we as a human family let the Sri Lankan people go. Let that spirit embodied by Marshal, McArthur, and Jayewardene animate the future for Sri Lanka, the forgiving nation.

If that was the spirit in which the sometimes unrepentant losing party, such as Japan was treated after WW II, how is it that the Sri Lankan people, who fought a much less deadly war of course, in order to liberate the besieged people that Noel Nadesan wrote of - are not being allowed to go in peace?

As Nadesan said about the Tamil people, there is only one legitimate cry on behalf of the Sri Lankan people. Let our people go, to where’ve they want to go.

By whichever route they may choose to determine their futures, one may add, as well. That’s in the spirit of human empathy that Sri Lanka espoused for vanquished nations such as Japan.That will be in the spirit of rebuilding and resurgence that the victorious powers adopted towards their enemies following Sri Lanka’s lead. So, do it right - let my people go.