Paradise Afire

Paradise Afire

Adrian Fontanellaz and Tom Cooper
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
"What though the spicy breezes blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle .. " (Hymns A&M 358 )

This is the first part (1971-87) of a narrative about the strife, civil war and terrorism that engulfed Ceylon as it moved forward from independence to a situation where the Sinhalese attempted to lord it over a large minority of Tamils with links to India. Unsurprisingly Tamil agitators stirred or coerced their fellows into an uprising. Out of a rag-bag of disparate groups the Tamil Tigers emerged as well-organised, motivated, armed, trained and disciplined, and an effective threat - via a litany of atrocities - to a government that was somewhat laggardly in recognising the scope of the problem, which its conduct in turn often exacerbated.

The account here is very detailed and we see, for instance, the government's want of strategy, and how the almost random procurement of all categories of military hardware produced a plethora of types while requiring strange adaptations like using a DH Heron as a bomber. For the government, already strapped for cash by its mistaken economic policies, the resulting inefficiencies in operational and maintenance training, to say nothing of the management of the spare parts inventory, must have been a nightmare.

Although it was inevitable after WW2 because our basic bankruptcy - engineered by the US - was making the alternative unaffordable, de-colonisation was also pushed along separately by the US to smash Imperial Preference and give US business better access to our Empire markets, and by the USSR and the Left in order to reduce more of the world to Communist political and Marxist economic misery, in many of the 'new' countries the result was conflict and misery in large doses for the mass of the population, particularly those on the losing side of endemic racial or religious divisions from which impartial British rule had protected them. This book is a confirming worked example of that. In Ceylon (the English language name for what the locals call Sri Lanka) the seeds had been sown years before the start of this narrative, for example by the changing of bus number plates to Sinhalese (decreed to be the national language) script, done deliberately pour épater the Tamils.

The book is a good professional analysis, if short (64pp), with a useful bibliography and well-sourced references, which yields a fair and impartial account of the events of the period. The A4 presentation is elegant and well-illustrated (particularly in its six pages of pictures of Sri Lankan aircraft and fighting vehicles involved). It finds its place among similar works in Helion and Co's 'Asia at War' series.

The tragedy is that such a beautiful island should slide into such chaos infused with so much evil.

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