How Should We Celebrate Victory Day?

Some time ago, the Colombo Telegraph published an article titled “No Wise Country Celebrates Victory After a Civil War” by the NPC. The NPC here is not the Northern Provincial Council that’s trying to split the country again, but the National Peace Council.

Despite the rather stupid stab at describing American celebrations, that article raised a few very important points:

  1. In Sri Lanka, the political leadership indulged and continues to indulge in triumphalism celebrating the victory over the LTTE 
  2. In preparation for this celebration the government ordered the closing over 40 schools in the Matara city area for over a week
  3. Concurrently, the government has prohibited any public commemoration of the end of the war in the Northern Province. 

Now, Colombo Telegraph being what it is, the discussion around that article soon devolved into an amateur anthropology discussion about the Veddas. So instead of commenting in that nuthouse, I’m going to type out my two cents here.

I’ve never seen the point of military parades. A parade is simple to explain:  you tote out a bunch of soldiers in uniform, with guns, with armored vehicles, tanks and everything else at your disposal. You make them march in neat straight lines and execute beautifully orchestrated manoueveres to show off just how good they are. Then you send them back home.

Well done, chaps. well done.

The reason you give for a parade, such as the Victory Day celebrations, is that we’re paying our respects to the brave men and women who stand ready to lay down their lives for us.

Except I don’t see how we’re doing this by making them dress up and march for miles in the hot sun while we sit back and watch it through the telly. I don’t see how this is respectful at all. We respect our parents and teachers, right? Would we make them march in the sun for miles in uncomfortable postures while we sat back in a pavilion and commented on how fine they look?

The real reason is different. It may have been hidden behind layers of tradition and TV presenters chanting ‘respect’, but a military parade is always a show of force. It’s the modern-day political equivalent of a caveman thumping his chest. Look, we say, look at all the glorious soldiers and engines of death we  command. Oh, how pretty! 

Now –  Victory Day is a an important day for this country; despite what the charming Aussie-and-UK diaspora would say, – we can’t not celebrate it. That would be retarded. After thirty years of the country blasting itself to bits, people need both a celebration and a reminder.

But if we really want to honor our heroes, here’s a better way: give them a day off. Use the money spent on mobilizing all those troops and setting up those pavilions to give them a bonus. Send them back to their homes and to the people who care about them. Spend some money to make sure their children get a better standard of living. If we really want to pay our respects, there’s better ways to do it than making our soldiers play dress-up.

And let the North celebrate, too. NGOs and dinner-table activists will forever paint Jaffna as being held at gunpoint, but try actually visiting the place. It’s peaceful. People don’t want conflict: they want to move on. Exclusion is a terrible thing. Until we let everyone in on our party, they’re forever going to be on the outside peering in; until we do there’s always going to be an ‘us’ and there’s always going to be a ‘them’. And that state of affairs, need I remind you, is why all this shit happened in the first place. Let’s not go there, shall we?

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