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On "De-Nazification": A Response to Susantha Goonatilake

by by Vinoth Ramachandra

In his article, “De-Nazification: how the West removed a virus” (Daily Mirror, 8 Oct 2009, and also posted in Susantha Goonatilake sets about comparing our post-war scenario with the aftermath to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. The fear of a resurgent LTTE can only be quelled by military preparedness and a long process of counter-indoctrination of the Tamil people.

In this he is in excellent company. From 2003 until 2006, the intellectual ideologues of the Bush administration routinely drew comparisons between reconstruction in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and post-World War II Germany. Their attempts at re-writing history were in the service of exaggerating the threat posed by residual elements of Saddam’s army and so justifying the continued occupation of Iraq by US forces.

Many of the Bush administration's analogies were forced, and have been discredited by a number of historians, political scientists, and former government officials. For instance, it was feared at first that a Nazi resurgence would be led by the ex-SS officers who called themselves “Werwolf” and banded themselves into clandestine terrorist cells. They did engage in sabotage and isolated raids on Allied patrols, but these were largely ineffective, not least because the Allied reconstruction of civilian infrastructure quickly won popular German support. Werwolf was rendered largely impotent.

The Pentagon report listed 42 American soldiers "killed as a result of enemy action" between June and December 1945. In 1946, there were only three.

It is true, as Goonatilake notes, that the possibility of a successful Nazi insurgency haunted the Allied Occupation force in the initial years after victory.

However, addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on Dec. 3, 1945 (just seven months after V-E Day) Allen W. Dulles, who had been the main U.S. liaison with the German resistance during the war and was now a close observer of the occupation's early stages, urged that the US “re-think the form of its occupation”.

He prescribed quartering American troops “outside of the cities, lest their presence create a talking point for German propaganda against the occupation.” The occupation authority had sought to reinstall and re-empower German financiers, seeking to rebuild local businesses as soon as possible. “Germany ought to be put to work for the benefit of Europe and particularly for the benefit of those countries plundered by the Nazis. If we do not find some work for the Germans and if we do not solve the refugee problem, the Germans will have their revenge in one form or another though it takes a hundred years.” The Germans didn't take their revenge because the occupation authority took Dulles' advice.

Interestingly, Dulles also noted that German citizens “who didn't care about politics one way or the other were told they had to join the Nazi Party in order to make up the proper quota in the factory in which they worked. The consequences of refusal being what they were, they joined the Party.”

In any case, comparisons between Sri Lanka and post-war Germany are pointless. Germany recovered as spectacularly as it did because it had a wealth of local scientific and industrial experience, a cultural ethos that prized hard and honest labour, and –after 1948- an independent judiciary and well-functioning parliamentary democracy. None of these apply to Sri Lanka today. Goonatilake’s hope that a similar “economic miracle” will happen here, once the LTTE “virus” is removed from the bloodstream of the Tamil people, is an empty one.

Goonatilake gives the reader the impression that staving off the threat of a Nazi resurgence was the paramount concern of German politicians and American troops stationed in the country. This is simplistic and misleading. The bigger perceived threat was that of a Soviet invasion and, if economic reconstruction failed, a communist takeover of the state. Neo-Nazis have always been a tiny, albeit sometimes vocal, fringe on the German cultural and political landscape.

Their persistence even today should give observers like Goonatilake pause. If his claims are true regarding the pervasive measures the German state employed to quell the re-emergence of Nazism, then those measures have not proved successful (consider Austrian politics today, Hitler’s homeland). Every society has a “lunatic fringe” and –provided such groups do not resort to violence against others- their existence is part of the “messiness” of life in a tolerant, open society. A state that employs the terminology of “detoxification” and “eliminating viruses” is itself well on the way to becoming a Nazi state. That was the language Hitler used in speaking of Jews, Gypsies and the like.

There were certainly revenge killings perpetrated by Allied forces on German civilians and prisoners-of-war in the immediate aftermath to the German surrender; but, outside the Soviet-controlled sector, these were never officially sanctioned. Reports of these atrocities could filter through because journalists were allowed to travel throughout most of liberated Germany. Yes, Nazi war criminals were hunted across national borders; but they were prosecuted before military tribunals and, later, civilians courts and provided with legal representation.

All this is a far cry from what pertains in Sri Lanka today. No doubt military excesses were committed by allied forces. The war crimes of the victors were never addressed in Nuremberg-type trials. But it was precisely because of these shortcomings in the administration of justice that the international community has developed systems of political accountability in the past fifty years. We cannot simply go back to the late 1940s as if all these developments have never occurred.

Goonatilake fails to point out that, despite the world-wide hunt for Nazi criminals and their financiers, German citizens were never herded into detention camps or “welfare villages” for months on end while the searches for weapons caches and de-mining operations were underway.

It is of the essence of a political ideology that its defenders see only what they want to see. Goonatilake is so bent on comparing the LTTE’s propaganda and brutal methods with that of the Nazis, that he is blind to the more glaring comparisons in recent Sri Lankan history.

Nazism was a state ideology. The Sinhala-Buddhist state ideology, openly proclaimed by the JHU, prominent sections of the JVP and some lay-Buddhist organizations, has clearer resonances with Nazi racial theories than anything Prabaharan and his cohorts propagated. Anagarika Dharmapala’s racist harangues were replete with references to “Aryan Sinhalese superiority”, “the Sinhalese motherland” and contemptuous dismissals of “African savages”, “Western barbarians” and “Dravidian invaders”. Many Sinhala-speaking people still refer to Tamils as “Dravida”, perpetuating misleading racial categories (Arya-Dravida) that were discredited over a hundred years ago by scholars such as Max Muller.

Dharmapala, like his Indian counterparts M.S. Golwalkar and V. D. Savarkar of the RSS, popularized the “blood-and-soil” Volk nationalism of German Romanticism that fed into Nazi ideology (with Bhumiputra instead of Volk). In turn, the Nazis were fascinated by Vedic practices and the Zen Buddhist martial arts that were an intrinsic part of the samurai cult in the East.

These inter-connections are far more interesting to explore, I suggest, than the project Goonatilake is engaged in

Goonatilake wants us to “learn lessons” from the post-war German experience, but his lessons are all one-sided. He is quick, for instance, to dub the LTTE “fascist”. Undoubtedly they were. But what is the moral difference between them and the shadowy death squads that have operated with complete impunity in the South, or the TMVP and the EPDP, parties now hand-in-glove with the ruling coalition?

Moreover, if a chief characteristic of fascism is blaming ”foreigners” for the miseries suffered by the nation, then fascism is alive and well in Colombo. Sixty years after independence, Sinhala-Buddhist politicians and even academics continue to lay the blame for all this country’s ills on “foreigners”- Western colonial powers, the IMF/World Bank nexus, the “Tamil diaspora” and Christians.

The President often invokes an “international conspiracy” against the country whenever confronted by local criticism. There is a curious inability to accept responsibility, to boldly address the nepotism, massive corruption and sheer incompetence that has reduced Sri Lanka to penury and made it one of the most brutal societies on the planet.

Goonatilake is, no doubt, aware of these things. But he lacks the courage to say them. And understandably so, for anybody who dares makes such statements courts the risk of arbitrary arrest and vindictive punishment. This is exactly the situation many Tamils experienced under the LTTE. It is so much easier to revile the defeated foe in the North than to address its mirror-image practices in the South.

Related article: Denazification: how the West removed a virus, by Susantha Goonatilake


Vinoth Ramachandra rejoinder to Susantha Goonatilake is most welcome. Many of us were disturbed by his article and protested but we were not given space. Good that at least one article exposing Susantha's lies is published here

Posted by: bandarage | October 17, 2009 03:57 PM

Applause and kudos to you! A great response.

"It is so much easier to revile the defeated foe in the North than to address its mirror-image practices in the South" is apt and says it all well.

Posted by: Daniel M. Asaipillai | October 17, 2009 07:53 PM

Up through the 8th paragraph, this article served as an excellent rejoinder to Mr. Goonatilake's original analogy with post-WWII Germany. Starting with the 9th para, though, the article began degenerating into an anti-Sri Lankan and anti-Sinhala rantfest perfectly designed to be ignored by everyone but fellow travelers. It is a shame given that I'm a critic of the govt's policy of interning the Tamils and denying them free movement.

Mr. Ramachandra has not disputed the fact that Germany- both East and West- were occupied by foreign armies that made it impossible for Naziism to return. It makes little difference that the primary mission of these armies did not involve suppressing Naziism; the point is that liberal democracy in West Germany was backed up by US and UK guns.

Mr. Ramachandra also appears to lack the ability to distinguish between ideologues and armed militants. The danger is not from LTTE sympathizers or Tamil nationalists but rather from hardcore cadre who are hiding among the general population. His ignorance of LTTE ideology- which was far more extreme than anything else in Tamil nationalism- is particularly striking.

For all of Anagarika Dharmapala's talk, the fact is that there was no ethnic cleansing or extermination campaigns conducted by the Sinhalese as the Nazis had done. What does Mr. Ramachandra make of the LTTE's treatment of the Jaffna Muslims?? Do words mean more than actions to him?

Posted by: wijayapala | October 17, 2009 10:26 PM

de-nazification is not an apt analogy for what happened in Sri Lanka. In Germany Hitler came to power first through electoral process. Afterwards he consolidated and expanded power

That was not the case with LTTE. Tigers never got power through electoral process

To compare both is wrong. Its even more wrong to cite Germany as example and urge some form of de-nazification here

Very good of Ramachandra to contest this false analogy

Posted by: Thillaiambalam S | October 17, 2009 11:02 PM

Excellent reply to Mr Goonathilaka.

Here with I have included my reply to him my reply is not elegant as yours.
Mr Goonathilaka , The only way You can stop the Tamils Regrouping and restart a liberation struggle is is by giving them their self determination . Tamils of Srilanka are A PEOPLE they have A distinct language, historical habitate, culture, ancent history as early as sinhala or even before, they ruled themselves before the colonial masters dismantled their Kingdoms and united them with Sinhalees.And Your the Buddhist Sinhala Supremacistes like the NAZES tried to supress the Tamils in their own home lands since independence , When you have used your military immoraly, violently to supress Tamil's Democratic, resonable passive agitation, only tamill took up arms to liberate themslve. You CREATED THE LTTE (VIRUS accoding to you) The vaccine to prevent the virus mutating and infect and destroy you will be to grant Self determination to Tamils and recognise their home lands.

Posted by: Glen.Eagle12 | October 18, 2009 04:30 AM

Well written response to rants and raves of a Nazi minset

Posted by: Ragu | October 18, 2009 01:56 PM

A decent, enlightened response to evil arguments

Posted by: Gloria | October 18, 2009 09:43 PM

No sane Sinhala person takes this neo-fascist seriously

Posted by: Satya | October 19, 2009 03:34 AM

How do we de-nazify the fascists in Sinhala society?

Posted by: Cicero | October 19, 2009 05:28 AM

Tamils in Sri lanka are free to do anything that Sinhalese and others can do also. If this is not enough for you, and you have to keep agitating for a Tamil Only Homeland in Sri Lanka because you think you are somehow entitled to it, then sorry but you are out of Luck.

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | October 19, 2009 02:11 PM

Devinda F

Who deserves credit for annihilation Apey Mahinda or Apey Sarath?

If LTTE was annihilated totally then why are we keeping IDP's interned?

Posted by: Andare | October 19, 2009 10:41 PM

Vinoth welcome! good attempt. Continue to voice your opinion. we would appriciate.

Posted by: TRN | October 19, 2009 10:59 PM

The curreent government appear to be worse than the Nazis - if one looks at what has been happening for the past couple of years.

We have also forgotten the 1983 massacre of the Tamils and their properties, the burning of the Tamil books and the library, apparently directed by two cabinet ministers in person!

All the political satygraha by the Tamils for nearly twenty years ended up in mass beating and killing by the sinhalese - THIS RESULTED IN THE FORMATION OF THE LTTE.

Our memory seems very short!

Posted by: Canaga | October 20, 2009 03:27 AM

The conspiracy of not re-settling the Tamil people back in their Vanni homeland is a Rajapaksa version of de-nazification

Posted by: Anbarasan | October 20, 2009 06:21 PM

Anagarika Dharmapala, Golwalkar and Savarkar can not be reduced to the 'blood and soil volk nationalism' of the Nazi's as alleged by Vinoth Ramachandra. Vinoth needs to study his subject before making wild allegations. The three individuals were complex personalities who had constructive legacies as well.

One can not blame the Sinhalese alone for the Aryan/Dravidian racist theories as alleged by Ramachandra when Tamil parties in India and Sri Lanka did the same! The LTTE was a fascist party that repeatedly used civilian shields while attacking the military.

The Tamils of Sri Lanka are in crisis. What is clear is that Vinoth Ramachandra's views and denunciations are not quite relevant today. We need the healing touch and a constructive voice, not embittered denunciations all around.

Posted by: Jeyaratnam | October 25, 2009 07:51 AM

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