Foreword to forthcoming book by Gen. Gerry de Silva
I am honoured to have been asked by General Gerry de Silva to write a Foreword to this book. I am also very pleased that he undertook the task of setting down the brave exploits of our soldiers.
One of the biggest problems this country faces is its failure to remember. Successive governments keep reinventing the wheel, and often in the process make it less rounded than previously. A principal reason for this is the failure to maintain records, or to refer to them.
A decade and a half ago, when I became Academic Coordinator of the degree programme that had been started at the Sri Lanka Military Academy, I suggested that the cadets should pay greater attention to recent military history. I was told by the officers in charge then that this would not be possible, since much of it was about failure. Since those responsible were still in positions of command, they would not want what went wrong to be analyzed.
I found this immensely sad, and drew attention to the fact that Indian army personnel, following what can only be described as the debacle of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, had produced a number of books which highlighted the lessons to be learnt from that operation. But that is why the Indian army was seen as comparatively professional, whereas ours in those days was still floundering.
All that changed in the decade that followed, and I believe the determination of some officers such as General Gamini Hettiarachchi to upgrade training, which also involved setting up the degree course, helped considerably. General Sarath Fonseka, who along with the Secretary of Defence contributed immensely to the victory, had initially been opposed to a degree course. He had this in common with many officers who thought we would create eggheads, whereas conversely my colleagues at the University thought we were lowering the value of the degree. But at my first meeting with him after I took over the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat, in 2007, he assured me that he found the degree course officers well motivated. In fact they were in the thick of battle in the last few years of the conflict, and I am sadly aware of how many of them died. I was moved then to read, in this book, of how a couple of them laid down their lives, knowing the likely outcome of their brave effort to inspire or save their men. These were Captain Samaranayake of Intake 54, and Captain Punsiri of Intake 56, whose faces I still recall, not the most distinguished cadets academically, but always determined to learn.
And there was yet another, even younger officer, whom I do not recall since he was in Intake 62, about the last I was able to teach properly, since 63 was not a degree course, an anomaly that was soon corrected. This young man died just over a year after he was commissioned at Puthukudiyiruppu during the fierce fighting of March 2009.
But of course the bulk of those who won the Padma Weera Vibushana, the medal of gallantry and conspicuous bravery which is the subject of the second part of this book, were mainly ordinary soldiers. The commitment to their country and their fellows which motivated them is what Gerry de Silva celebrates, and I hope we do not allow their heroism to be traduced by those, in other countries but sadly in this too, who understand nothing about war, or pretend they do not, and attack the heroism of these men. Continue reading