03 September 2023

Profit: the ‘peragamankaru’ of major wars

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the 213th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]     

A friend confided in another friend about how he conducts his life: ‘for some years now I consider upekshava (equanimity) as my peragamankaru (forerunner, the vanguard, trailblazer).  

It is a good way to live.  It is good to take note of the vicissitudes of life. It is good to treat them with equanimity. It is good when one chooses equanimity as the guide, the framework of reference, the blazer of the path one has to follow.  

There are other options. If it is about what one should follow, seek or pursue, here are some: joy, fame, praise and profit). Let’s leave aside their negative flips (sorrow - for masochists, disgrace — some people do revel in being ‘badass,’  blame — a form of masochism or penance — as would be loss).

Profit. That’s what I want to focus on. The pursuit of profit or rather the fixation over profit and its pursuit is far more likely to yield frustration, unhappiness and a sense of disenchantment, not to mention a lot of destruction, injustice and suffering that are the inevitable collateral, than would equanimity if one were to cultivate and use it as a guide.

I returned to my friend’s peragamankaru thesis several times over the last few days. I looked at people I’ve known and know whose lives are benign, self-contained and peaceful even in the midst of tragedy, severe loss, immense sorrow and so on. I realised that equanimity has been the peragamankaru.  

But profit? Why profit? Why should I write about profit? What’s profit and peragamankaruwan?  

Well, I just started reading ‘The concise untold history of the United States,’ a companion to the Showtime Documentary series. It is authored by legendary film-maker Oliver Stone and the historian Peter Kuznick. It is a history of wars. It is a story of profit. It tells us not only the profit-making underbelly of war but who the profiteers were and are.  

When we think of the major wars of the 20th century we immediately go to the World Wars for the sheer enormity of it all and the immense suffering.  And we think of countries. We talk of which blocs fought which other blocs of nations, those who were allied and those other nation-collectives fought against.  

But what were they all about?  Countries banding together to defeat a tyrant or a collective of tyrants? Saint Countries vs Rogue Countries? Thugs taking on thugs to determine which territories would go to which gang?

On the face of it, it’s all about national flags; that’s one way of putting it. That’s the popular and comfortable narrative. We could peel off the outer layer of the story and say it’s about a nation engaged in a profit-enhancing exercise. Conquest is a word that can be useful when trying to understand the story.  Imperialism. That’s another useful term.

For my part, as I read about the complex, uncivilised and absolutely barbaric history of North America and Europe from 1800 to the end of the Second World War (that’s as far as I have got so far), I couldn’t help but return again and again to a telling episode from the 1981 American epic historical drama film, co-written, produced, and directed by Warren Beatty about the life and career of John Reed, the journalist and writer who covered the Russian Revolution in the classic, ‘Ten days that shook the world.’

A question is put to Reed during a meeting of the Liberal Club in Portland, Oregon: ‘What would you say this war is about, Jack Reed?’

The war in question is the First White Tribalist War which the then US President Woodrow Wilson pledged he would not get his country involved in but did. Reed, played by Beatty, had a one word answer.


That was about Germany, France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Hungary, Turkey and the USA, right? Wrong. It was the bankers and other war profiteers that won the day. Eugene Debt said of all this wryly, ‘Let the capitalists do their own fighting and furnish their own corpses and there will never be another war on the face of the earth.’

That’s not how it happens though. Smelly Butler, who led troops into Beijing at the turn of the century would later confess in his book ‘War is a racket,’ that he was 'a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.’

'I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests. In China I helped to see to it that Standar Oi went its way unmolested.’

Profit. A determined and compelling peragamankaru if ever there was one.  Soldiers and civilians paid with their lives in the millions. The true racketeers raked in scandalous profits. Politicians sheltered them.The mainstream media looked the other way; spoke of countries, not bankers or  weapons manufacturers. And ‘profit’ was carefully and deliberately white-outed (‘Tippexed’) from the story.

Other articles in this series: 

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road