Senaka De Fonseka
I am writing to share with you the simple truth: that there can be no winners in human conflict. We are not wired that way. Even if we do what we think is the right thing to do. Even if we prevail over a so-called enemy who is armed and intent on ending our lives, it still hurts us as humans to harm our brothers and sisters. War and violence is at best, a ‘lose-lose’ proposition.
My brother Jani was a badass. He was a commando. If that wasn’t badass enough: he passed out as ‘best commando’ in his batch when he underwent his ’30 days of hell’. If that wasn’t badass enough: he was a member of a group of volunteers from within the 1st Commando Regiment, who operated (or should I say ‘lived’) mainly behind enemy lines in 4-man teams. These guys were so hard-core that they even wore cyanide capsules around their necks (so they could instantly take their lives in case they ever faced being captured).
He was such a badass that the so-called enemy came to know him by name and refer to him as such in radio transmissions (which were intercepted by the Army). He was more adept at jumping out of helicopters and moving Land Rovers than I was at jumping off a moving Sri Lankan bus (and let me tell you that having ridden those suckers for a good 20 years of my life, I became pretty good at it). At one time he was the head of Prime Minister’s Security. Another time, he was the head of the Anti-Hijack and Hostage Release Team. Then he moved on to Group Delta who were completely badass. They lived in the jungle, laying in wait and ambushing their so-called enemy. These guys even carried their poo around with them so as to to avoid detection. Jani had a false identity, a budget to go with it, and an all-area-access ID (which involved the right to board any aircraft). Badass!
Unfortunately, ‘badass’ doesn’t mean ‘bullet-proof’ (although these guys came pretty close). Jani was killed in action, while leading his group as ‘point-team’ for a larger group on a search and destroy mission. He was celebrated as a war hero, awarded various medals and promoted to the rank of Captain, posthumously (I don’t mean to belittle these things, but I’d rather have my brother than those old pieces of metal and wall-plaques, any day!).
So there you have it: a snapshot profile of the real-life Jason Bourne that was my brother. What I have just shared with you though, is what the public already knows. It is the stuff that was written about in the newspapers at the time (ok, maybe not all the the details I’ve shared, but most of them). I’d like to share another side to my brother’s story. I’d like to tell you some other things that only I know, as his younger brother and as someone who often shared a room with him.
Jani was 8 years my senior. As an older sibling, he bore a fair amount of the responsibility for my welfare and upbringing when I was a child. He could often be seen dragging my snotty-nosed younger-self to and from school. School life in Sri Lanka wasn’t without it’s share of drama. I remember how he turned up on his 10-speed bicycle, to take me home after riots had broken out in the country and the transport system had been shut down. I also remember how he once carried me, way above his head, when our school had been flooded out after heavy rain. The authorities had opened some man-hole covers to help drain the water but pretty soon, the water level was such that you couldn’t tell where these open man holes were. Now that there was a risk of us falling in, my brother wanted to make sure that I had a fighting chance if we did.
Jani was a great sportsman. From rugby to basketball to athletics and swimming, he did it all and did very well at it. He was chosen to represent Sri Lanka as part of it’s first ever national rowing team. The guy travelled to Hong Kong for a competition at around age 17. This was his first trip abroad. When he returned, he brought with him various nick-nacks – things you would expect from any teenager, like a new Sony Walkman (which was all the rage at the time). But we were all surprised to also find that he had bought some clothing for the baby of a a lady who had worked for our family many, many years ago.
I remember the nights he lay awake, unable to sleep, after his girlfriend at the time had broken up with him (the fact that he was unable to sleep meant that I was unable to sleep as well). I can’t tell you exactly how many times he got out of bed to re-wind and re-play Dan Byrd’s “Boulevard” (a break-up song from the era) but I can tell you it was a lot!
Jani loved our Mum dearly. In return, she doted on him – more than on any of us. It’s like she always knew that his time on this Earth would be brief. Looking back, I am so glad she treated him as she did. Anyway, Jani was in the Army when our Mum had to move to the U.S. for cancer treatment. He wasn’t really the type to write letters and cards (that’s more me and my sister). Yet, he wrote to her all the time. I still have the many ‘aerograms’ he’d crafted in his ultra-neat handwriting – written lovingly, to the person he loved the most.
Jani took many lives in the course of his time with the Army. You couldn’t tell from the way he conducted himself in the face of the so-called enemy, yet I know that it took its toll on him. I know that he particularly hated the fact that some of the lives he took were of people who were as young as his own kid brother. He would often tell me how they reminded him of me.
As young as I was, I could see the journey my brother made from being an up-beat, young and enthusiastic officer-cadet, who drank for fun, to the weathered and wizened veteran, who drank to numb his pain. At times, he even spoke of leaving the Army.
My brother left his Earthly body on the 15th of July 1991. He was killed with a single shot to the head by a so-called enemy sniper, while trying to recover the body of one of his fallen men (bodies are regarded as ‘trophies’ by the so-called enemy and their recovery is vital for troop morale, not to mention to the families of the fallen).
This brings me to the part that becomes relevant to you, the reader. I didn’t write this post to tell you what a wonderful person my brother was. That is a fact, whether I or anyone else writes about it or not. I didn’t write to tell you what a badass he was or to describe in detail why he is regarded by many as a hero.
Throughout this post and for as long as I continue to write, I will never use the word ‘terrorists’ to describe the type of people my brother fought. While I may not agree with their methods or condone their actions, I won’t label them in that way, because I know better. I will not speak ill of someone who gives their own life for a cause greater than themselves. I will not put down somebody who undergoes hardship so that others may lead richer lives. These are the very things my brother did. If I resort to name-calling, then I leave the way open for someone else to call my brother names too.
It is true that Jani was a member of the army. It is also true that he was under a presidential (and constitutional) commission to protect the republic. It is true that he didn’t intentionally kill women, children, the elderly or the unarmed and his killing had the sanction of legality to them (at least in the eyes of some). Yet, having practised as a lawyer, I can attest to the fact that justice and legality are not one and the same. What is allowable in the eyes of the law can often be both unjust and immoral. It is simply a matter of perspective. I can appreciate and understand that to the families of any of the people my brother killed, my brother may not be seen as a hero but a villain.
I also use the term ‘so-called enemy’ to describe the people my brother did battle with. I do this because I don’t consider any of those people as ‘enemies’. They are pretty much like my brother and I – people who want to be free and live in peace. Just like my brother, they risk their lives for a greater cause than themselves. I can’t help but respect that.
I hasten to add though, that from a spiritual stand-point, there can be no ‘enemy,’ for we are all aspects of the same Consciousness. This is something I am doing my best to come to terms with. I intellectually understand that it is true, but I have trouble accepting it at times. Sue me.
To the families of those whose lives my brother ended: I didn’t write this by way of an apology on behalf of my brother. I don’t have the right to do that. But I did want to point out that he suffered greatly, from being away from friends and loved ones, from seeing his comrades die, and from taking the lives of others. If that wasn’t enough, he gave up his own life. It may not be the apology you seek, but now you will know that your own loss came at a high cost to him and to those who loved him. We are all in this together. I am sorry that we all had to go through this. But we have all suffered in vain if we don’t learn from our experience. Don’t let it be that way.
In closing, I want to point out to you, that as badass as Jani was, and as close as he came to the fictional Jason Bourne, his last act on this Earth was that of a real human being. His last Earthly deed was one of love and compassion for a fallen comrade and his family.
To many, my brother is a hero because he performed courageous deeds and gave his life in service to his fellow-men. I appreciate Jani in this way too. Yet to me, my brother is a hero because he held on to his humanity and his compassion, despite all the horrible things he had to live through.
I say again, there are no winners in war. Please remember this and don’t ever be duped into hatred or conflict. Yet remember, that humanity wins every time we show love and compassion, no matter where we are and what we do.