17 October 2023

The most pernicious human shield

White phosphorus raining on Gaza

['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 246th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]

There’s no one way to talk of horror, even a singular horror. Even in the midst of tragedy, there’s heroism, humanity and reasons for hope. Different eyes see things differently, but when a tragedy is of monumental proportion, the horror stands out and cries out for acknowledgment, whichever angle you may be looking from.  

I am thinking of Schindler’s List, the 1993 historical drama directed and produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Steven Zaillian based on Thomas Keneally’s 1982 novel by that name. I am also thinking of Life is Beautiful (La vita √® bella) directed and co-written with Vincenzo Cerami by Roberto Benigni who played the lead role of Guido Orefice.

The former is a story of how a single man helped more than a thousand people escape the horror of the Jewish Holocaust during which six million European Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany in the Second World War.  The latter is about a resourceful and determined Jewish barber who wanted his son to escape the very same horrors that he himself would have to suffer, shielding him at every turn by convincing the little boy that it was just a game they were all playing.

Three million Jews killed by Nazi Germany, World War II

The audience, however, is not spared of the horror and rightly so. Perhaps this is why hundreds of films have been made about it, at least according to Rich Brownstein  who lectures on the genre. He’s seen at least 440.

Second World War: 27 million citizens of the Soviet Union were killed

Things need to be said. Otherwise they are forgotten and that does a grave injustice to the victims and also emboldens would-be perpetrators of genocide. It is pertinent to recall something that Adolf Hitler is reported to have said at the conclusion of his Obersalzberg speech on August 22, 1939, just before Poland was invaded, ‘'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians (Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?)?' Scholars still debate whether Hitler actually said it, but then again there’s no denying the truth in the assertion. Who recalls that between a million and 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were systematically murdered in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, really?

Congo: 5-10 million died during the rule of Leopold II of Belgium (1885-1908)

Consider that in the very same period around 27 million citizens of the Soviet Union were killed, 8.7 military personnel and 19 million civilians. Consider that in a period of approximately just four months,  between 500,000 and 2-3 million were killed by the Indonesian Army under Suharto, supported by the USA and the UK, in efforts to wipe out members of the Communist Party (PKI). Consider that 5-10 million people in the Congo from 1885-1908 died as a direct result of colonial exploitation when that country was ruled by Leopold II of Belgium as his personal domain.

Indonesia: 500,000 to 3 million 'Communists' killed, 1965-66

Consider that British colonial policies in India alone claimed more lives than all famines in the Soviet Union, Maoist China and North Korea combined — the estimates range from 100-165 million, between 1880 and 1920 alone. Consider that according to David Micheal Smith, the 'Indigenous Holocaust' in the United States took around 13 million lives between 1492 and 1900.

Indigenous Holocaust in the USA took 13 million lives

Each and every death is a tragedy. Genocide makes things more visible. And yet, who after all speaks of the massacre of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the slaughter of Communists in Indonesia, the Congolese Holocaust, the annihilation of Armenians, the victims of the genocidal drives of Britain and other colonial powers or the citizens of the Soviet Union who paid with their lives to stop Hitler? There are no 'hundreds of films' about any of these massacres.

India: 165 million killed during British Colonial Rule

And yet, you can’t blame Jews or their sympathisers or those who are so horrified about what Nazi Germany did for wanting to exorcise some of it through art, especially films and nor can you shelve the following questions:

Does the fact of genocide confer impunity to anyone who belongs to or identifies with the particular community in the matter of perpetrating or justifying genocide? Is evoking past slaughter defence enough in shrugging off responsibility with regard to present brutality? Can anyone get away by saying ‘look, my people suffered untold horror under Nazi Germany (or British Colonialism or Suharto or the colonial powers that landed on what is called ‘America’ today or the Belgians or the French or the Spanish), so I have the right not to be answerable to any crime that I commit, small or large or even genocidal in proportion’?

That, friends, would be a human shield. No, an inhuman shield, because it is the victims of genocide who are being used as a shield from behind which genocide can be and is being unleashed.  I can think of nothing more pernicious when it comes to desecrating the memory of every single victim of mass killings, in particular the Jewish Holocaust (given that I am writing this on October 17, 2023).  
Other articles in this series: 

Who bombed Frankfurter Buchmesse

The truly besieged 

Love's austere and lonely offices

The mysteriously enjoined in the middle of nowhere

Serendipity now!

Reflections on the unimaginable 

Jackson Anthony is a book and will be read 

A village called Narberth Bookshop

Gateway drugs to A-B-C

'Irvin' and other one-word poems

Earth pieces Kerala and Sri Lanka

Obligation as bomb and ocean

In the land of insomnial poets

In and out of shadows

Over to Eve

When you don't need an invitation, it's home

When the Canadian House of Commons applauded a Nazi...

Touching the touch-me-nots

The importance of not skipping steps

No free passes to the Land of Integrity

Hector Kobbekaduwa is not a building, statue, street or stamp

Rajagala and the Parable of the Panner

Let's show love to Starbucks employees!

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

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