For its metaphorical allure on multiple fronts, as an exceptional introduction, I begin with a rather bawdy apocryphal anecdote which delighted us, when we were schoolboys in 1960s. This relates to the sponsorship of China in the building of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in Colombo. Following the banquet to fete the visiting Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Chinese leader Mao had become somewhat inebriated. He moved towards Sirimavo, grabbed her bosom and said smilingly, ‘Now I have whole of Sri Lanka in my hands’. For this unexpected intrusion, the ever sober Sirimavo nonchalantly reached for Mao’s crotch and countered, ‘Now, I have the essence of China in my hands’. Mao laughed uproariously and offered to sponsor the building of BMICH. The Sri Lankan Madam’s bosom was a metaphor for her touted image as the first woman prime minister in the world. ‘The essence of China’ was equally the apt metaphor for a virile and erect China, transformed by Mao from its spineless and docile existence for more than a century.
‘The essence of China’ – that’s the most appropriate phrase to describe Mao’s deeds as a military revolutionary. In the post-Industrial revolution period of global history, none in Asia could stand in parallel with Mao. But it has become fashionable among the political paupers (Sri Lankan Presidents and historian wannabes included) in Asian countries to mute Mao’s military deeds, for crumbs of economic handouts from the Western powers who never felt comfortable with Mao, when he was living. September 9th marked the thirtieth anniversary of the passing of Mao Ze Dong (1893-1976). Whatever commemorative features which appeared in the Western newsmedia, portrayed Mao as a curio and felt comfortable in ignoring Mao, the military genius. These include,
(1) Jane Macartney’s piece (‘A cigarette is tucked into the statue’s hand. Thirty years after his death, Mao is revered as less than a god but more than a man’. London Times, Sept.9, 2006),
(2) Emma Graham-Harrison’s ephemera (‘Thousands queue to see Mao on anniversary’, Washington Post, Sept.9, 2006), and
(3) Joseph Kahn’s trivial analysis (‘A textbook example of change in China’, International Herald Tribune, Sept.12, 2006).
On the relevance of Mao to the Eelam campaign, I reproduce what I wrote 18 years ago, when LTTE was battling the Indian army (the so-called IPKF), in a rejoinder to a condescending piece contributed by David Selbourne to the ‘Tamil Times’ in January 1988. To quote,
“The Westminster model of parliamentary democracy could work in the United Kingdom to cater to a single ethnic and single religious constituency. It has failed to take firm root in other countries with multi-ethnic and multi-religious constituencies. So, the younger generation of Tamilians drifted towards the military ideology of Mao Ze Dong, since 1977. One may label it as a reckless move. But it remained as a practical alternative. And among Tamils of Sri Lanka, a small faction led by trade unionist N.Sanmugathasan had espoused this cause, though not with much popular support.
Mao (the foremost tactician of guerrilla warfare) summed up his method in just four lines:
‘When the enemy advances, we retreat;
When the enemy camps, we harass;
When the enemy tires, we attack;
When the enemy retreats, we pursue.’
Mao should have known what he was talking about. In 1930, Chiang Kai Shek’s forces were superior by ten to one, against his raggedy-pants army. Chiang led a 900,000-strong army, formations of 300 bombers and a German General van Seeckt. Mao’s guerrilla army amounted to only 140,000 poorly-armed men (c.f., the present scene in North and East of Sri Lanka; 50,000-strong Indian Peace Keeping Force with superior artilleries against the LTTE rebels, a cadre of 5000!). The results of Mao’s victory against the combined strength of Chiang’s forces and Japan’s Imperial Army reveals that the great leveler TIME doesn’t put much faith in the numbers and sophisticated weaponry.
How are the chances for a victory for LTTE rebels in a guerrilla war against the IPKF? General Mao has also noted the five requirements for victory in a guerrilla war. These are: (1) support from the masses, (2) party organization, (3) strong guerrilla army, (4) favorable region for military moves, (5) economic self sufficiency. I leave it to the readers to assess, how many of these requirements are satisfied by Tamil rebels at present.
Like the Ten Commandments, Mao also formulated the following norms of conduct for his army.
1. Speak politely.
2. Pay fairly for what you buy.
3. Return everything you borrow.
4. Pay for anything you damage.
5. Do not hit or swear at people.
6. Do not damage crops.
7. Do not take liberties with women.
8. Do not ill-treat captives.
In the present conflict in Sri Lanka, which side (the IPKF or the LTTE) has abided by these norms of conduct? It is only those who follow these commandments who will win the hearts and minds of Tamil population.
History is also replete with examples of powerful armies winning the battles and then losing the war. In his book, ‘Himalayan Blunder’, a combat participant in the Chinese-Indian border war of 1962, Brigadier J.P.Dalvi, has critically analyzed the debacle of the Indian army. Two interesting paragraphs from that book are worth reproducing for those who are interested in military science.
‘In difficult terrain, be it mountain, jungle or snow-covered steppe, it is sometimes militarily unavoidable to trade space for time. This is a stark military fact. Military history affords many examples to prove this. In war, the primary aim is the destruction of enemy forces. It is not the holding of impossible ground for political reasons or the undertaking of operations to appease an aroused public opinion.
Both in 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, and in 1941 when Hitler launched an invasion, the Russians drew the advancing armies deep into Russian territory. They relied on their most formidable weapons – snow in winter and the dreaded spring thaw (facetiously known as Generals January and February) which turns Russia into a vast sea of mud, that brings armies to a grinding halt. In both cases, the Russians sapped the vitality of the advancing army; and on both occasions mighty Russian counter offensives regained all lost territories and destroyed or ejected the invaders.’
So, losing ground for strategic reason is a time-tested design in warfare. Mao employed this sound technique against Japan’s Imperial Army in late 1930s…” [‘Rejoinder to Dr.Selbourne’, Tamil Times, March 1988, pp.14-15].
A sincere tribute to Mao is to study Mao’s military mind. It has been my view for long time that Eelam Tamils have been too much Indo-centric in their world view. Among Eelam Tamils, for three generations, we have had hundreds of arm chair experts and politicians who could talk for hours on the liberation ideology of Gandhi and Nehru. But, one could count in two palms, Tamil specialists who have read Mao in-depth (at least in English translation).While nothing is wrong in being comfortable with Indo-centric thinking, it would also help Tamils if we expand our world view beyond the boundaries of India and elicit some interest on India’s neighbor China and its politico-military history of the 20th century to comprehend what Mahatma Gandhi’s junior contemporary Mao Ze Dong contributed to China’s liberation from her oppressors.
It may not be inappropriate here, if I provide excerpts from a letter of mine captioned ‘Battle for Jaffna’ which appeared in the Asiaweek magazine (Hongkong) of Dec.8, 1995, in which I have noted Pirabhakaran’s use of Mao methods in the battlefield.
“Whenever I see a casualty figure in the proportion of 4:1 in favor of the Sri Lankan armed forces, I’m inclined to believe that it is a spurious statistic emanating from their propaganda desk.
Your statement that ‘As Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his lieutenants fled Jaffna, they also forced tens of thousands of civilians to leave with them’ implies that the LTTE had lost the fight. Far from it. One should interpret it as a tactical retreat in the guerrilla tradition patented by Mao Zedong. Prabhakaran is an ardent student of Mao’s tactics.
In the Tamil language, there is a proverb, “The tiger lies low, not for fear but for aim.” If you have some doubt about the aim of the LTTE rebels, you can check with the Indian Peace Keeping Force.”
And isn’t it a bit amusing that General Ashok Mehta (one of the IPKF top rankers, who himself failed in his designated mission in the field, between 1987 and 1990) is now predicting doom for LTTE, in his new avatar as an arm chair military analyst?
To refresh ourselves with Mao’s thoughts and tactics for the battle field, I provide below an article contributed by Colonel Francis Fuller to the ‘Military Affairs’ journal in 1958, on Mao as a military thinker. I reproduce this article in full with all the 37 foot-notes, since I consider it as of educational value. Readers are advised to ignore the time-worn, loaded labels such as ‘Communist’, ‘Reds’ and ‘brainwashing’, since this article appeared during the zenith of American-Soviet Cold War and the author was an American Colonel, identified with a foot-note as “a long-time student of Mao Tse Tung and of Chinese military affairs”. For proprietory reason, I have retained the spelling of Mao’s name (MaoTse Tung) as it appeared in the original. Also, the words or phrases in italics, as well as dots, wherever they appear, are as in the original.
“…Mao’s principle of war, to ‘preserve oneself and annihilate the enemy,’ indicates the absoluteness with which he aims to conquer his enemies ultimately. Alliances, neutrality, truces, and co-existence are but temporary conditions permitting consolidation of gains and preparation for complete victory over that segment of the enemy he has isolated and marked out for annihilation. …“