Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers

Rate this book
Once known for its exquisite tea, drowsy climate, and amiable people, Sri Lanka was the Indian Ocean jewel of the British Empire. After Independence, the island enjoyed a liberal parliamentary democracy with a lively independent press and a booming economy. It had a judiciary, an efficient economy, and a stability envied by emerging nations. The world expected a leader amongst nations. Instead, in pursuit of power and fundamentalist Buddhism, an oligarchy of Sinhalese political leaders and monks hi-jacked democracy. In response a brutal enemy was the Tamil Tigers. The result, one of modern history's longest civil conflicts, spawned a host of horrific suicide bombers, child soldiers, death squads, violent Buddhism, and murdered journalists. But ethnic conflict is only part of the story. Twenty-seven years on, with Iran, Burma, Libya, and China as its closest allies, democracy has been reduced to a cabal of brothers who control the economy, the courts, and the media. Today they tout their bloody conquest of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas as an example for other nations with 'terrorist' problems. Gordon Weiss, a veteran journalist and UN official for two decades, was firmly entrenched in the conflict as spokesperson for the United Nations in Colombo. He was a close observer as, in just four months in 2009, tens of thousands of civilians perished, cornered, along with the last of the Tamil Tigers on a windy spit. This account unravels the compelling history that leads up to that horrific moment, peeling back the Sri Lankan government's cloak of silence to reveal the events of those weeks beat by beat. "The Cage" offers a rare glimpse into the reality behind the daily the inner workings of media manipulation, and the plight of international aid workers struggling to provide humanitarian assistance to those caught in the crossfire of a deadly civil conflict.

352 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2011

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Gordon Weiss

4 books4 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
129 (32%)
4 stars
172 (43%)
3 stars
78 (19%)
2 stars
9 (2%)
1 star
9 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews
Profile Image for Murtaza .
664 reviews3,401 followers
June 18, 2015
Before their stunning defeat in 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were one of the most legendary militant organizations in contemporary history. Their mystique, built in part on their global diaspora network, their fearsome military capabilities (they also pioneered the tactic of suicide bombing) and their seeming invincibility made them one of the most successful insurgent groups on earth. The fiefdom they established, a nascent homeland for the Tamil people in Northern Sri Lanka, was governed like a state of its own. The group maintained not only a small airforce but a formidable merchant navy (the Sea Tigers) and an advanced special forces capability (the Black Tigers). It also extended its reach across the planet, into organized crime and legitimate businesses around the world.

The sudden collapse and total vanquishment of the Tigers in 2009 was shocking in a number of ways. The Tamil diaspora, engorged thanks to years of conflict and oppression by the Sri Lankan government, mobilized as best it could to engender an international intervention which never came. Legendary, elusive figures like Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman, Soosai, Nadesan and other top Tamil Tiger figures were drawn out and killed in the last days, as the group made a futile last stand against the Sri Lankan army.

As the author documents well, the brutality of the conflict was in many ways an extension of the way post-independence Sri Lanka had learned to deal with such issues. Sinhalese-Marxist uprisings by the JVP had been brutally put down, perhaps even more brutally, in intervening decades, and the ultimate fate of the Tigers was the same. Today Sri Lanka has become enthralled with a militant, political Buddhism the seeds of which had been sown decades earlier, and which now has the state in its thrall, expressed through government monks and the ruling oligarchy of the Rajapaksa brothers.

This is one of my favorite types of non-fiction books: grippingly written yet non-narrative in structure, and filling in the blanks of an immensely-important yet little documented recent episode in history. It can drag a bit at times, focusing too much on the UN response (the author was a UN observer) but at other points is absolutely enthralling and brilliantly written. Recommended.
Profile Image for Steven Fake.
Author 2 books9 followers
September 1, 2015
A solid introduction to the end of the conflict and the background. A damning indictment of the Rajapaksa government. The army continues after the end of the conflict and demise of the LTTE to control the economy of Tamil areas and to change the demography. book was blurbed by everyone from noam chomsky to gareth evans and jon lee anderson

xxiii the way the Rajapaksa government rejected international investigation after the war and commissioned its own domestic inquiry to deflect international accountability is very reminiscent of Israeli strategies

xxiv anti-Tamil riots in 1983 government orchestrated pogrom known as Black July killed several thousands and led to widespread emigration and growth of the Tamil Tigers

xxv Sri Lanka has right-wing monks (whom politicians pay homage to) with nationalistic claims to the land as Sinhalese based on obscure ancient Buddhist texts - again just like Israel

ICRC, Int’l Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts - the report observes that the global response to terrorism has boosted the government use of terror

plantation tamils suffer worst of all but have a quite separate story

Burgher community - mixed European and Sri Lankan ancestry

4 China armed the Sri Lankan gov’t

5-6 tragic assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge who foretold his own death

7 Tigers had history’s only instance of an insurgent air force

9 nothing has changed in the situation for tamils that lead to the birth of the Tigers

12 “…Sri Lanka can usefully be compared with Israel, another modern nation state that embraces two major ethnic groups while rejecting the full occupancy rights of one.”
Ancient religious monuments are given ideologically driven useful meaning by modern governments.
some 2000 Vedda people are the remaining indigenous inhabitants of Sri Lanka

14 “…the Mahavamsa is cited as literal evidence for the Sinhalese claim to the whole island as a matter of historical record and right. …. Just as the Old Testament is treated as the literal command of God and an immutable force of nature by Zionist nationalists to dislodge the claims of others, so the Mahavamsa is deemed to be the literal transmission of the Buddha’s will.”

16 the British in the 19th Century were the ones to unearth the Mahavamsa and to interpret it as signifying Sinhalese historical claims to the entire island. “…the Sinhalese were hailed as a kind of lost civilization, an Aryan outpost dangling from the dark Dravidian underbelly of India.”

17 it was only after a ruinous coffee blight that Britain transformed Sri Lanka into a world famous tea exporting nation using tamil tea pickers in bonded labor

18 tamils and sinhalese had lived side by side for 2,000 years with little record of specifically ethnic or religious conflict and much fusion

19 through the British Tamils came to occupy a class of highly educated professionals in the 19th and 20th centuries and were resented similar to the jews in europe

22 there were attempts (notably by Dharmapala) to link the Sinhalese to Aryan lineages

26 fatal weaknesses in the tamil cause due to the division between the eastern indian tamils and the norther sri lankan tamils

28 there was Sinhalese admiration in some quarters for Hitler in his era

32 1956 saw passage of anti-tamil legislation and mobs killed hundreds

35 the late 1980s witnessed brutal government repression (killing tens of thousands) of a Sinhalese youth Marxist movement

40 this violent suppression of the JVP was supported with arms by the US among others

41 circa 1972 Ceylon was rebranded Sri Lanka and various Buddhist signifiers were introduced, the renaming seems to have been an exclusionary religious-ethnic-nationalist move

43 tamils were driven out of education and civil administration in the late ‘50s and following decades

46-48 Black July details

49 the civil war with the LTTE was really sparked by Black July

57 1987 marked first use by Tigers of a spectacular suicide attack

66 Prabakharan was a fan of Phantom comics and Clint Eastwood movies as a boy

67 PLO trained some tigers in the late ‘70s

72 government was always far more deadly against civilians than the Tigers

88 tall palmyra trees, the symbol of Tamil Nadu in India

89 government bombed hospitals in violation of laws of war in its 2009 final assault on the LTTE

91 “Just as in Israel, where Israeli children no longer speak Arabic and have never met a Palestinian, conflict had entailed a total separation of nationalities.”
Sri Lankan gov’t told UN staff they were “unable to guarantee the safety” of their staff

98 The LTTE placed guns close to hospitals, quite possibly to intentionally draw fire to the hospitals

103 government artillery fire was striking UN positions despite repeated coordinates being given to them - just like Israel!

104 many civilians died from this shelling who had thought they’d be safer near the UN

107 in 2006 the government struck an LTTE school full of schoolgirls killing some 60 girls
108 government argued it was a LTTE training camp

114 government explained it bombed the hospital because it believed the LTTE leadership to be there. HRW: “Repeated Sri Lankan artillery attacks striking known hospitals is evidence of war crimes.”

115 Weiss on whether hospitals retain special protection under international law when used to commit hostile acts: “The key determinant then is whether the anticipated advantage of destroying that capability outweighs the magnitude of the wrong committed when one kills civilians and medical staff, or fighters who are hors de combat because of their wounds. …. A hospital is, in effect, innocent until proven guilty.”
There was no evidence senior Tiger leaders were at the PTK hospital or that it was an artillery base.

116 The Tigers certainly did use civilians as human shields and the Sri Lankan government justified attacks on civilian targets on such grounds. Those who would defend Israel on this basis must also defend the Rajapaksa government, which had a far stronger case against the Tigers.

117 The Sri Lankan military had for several years drove civilians from the front lines through the use of “warning bombardments” which themselves frequently resulted in civilian casualties to compel them to flee…. so reminiscent of Israel’s door knocking bombs

120 ICRC notoriously visited concentration camps in WWII and delegates failed to warn the world of any horrors they might have witnessed

123 China Russia and India all blocked UN action to restrain Sri Lanka tho China on the SC was most significant

124 the Tigers also used heavy artillery agains areas with civilian concentrations

255n25 “Traditional Sinhalese customs of polyandry, polygamy, easy divorce, several marriages in a lifetime… conflicted with [Victorian British notions]”

280n8 Americans widely used declaration of ‘free-fire zone’ tactic in Vietnam and used it again on Fallujah in Nov 2004. the tactic contravenes customary international law which requires positive identification of combatants

280n9 proportionality see Rule 14 of ICRC compendium of customary international humanitarian law

297n12 Sri Lanka also used drones over the battlefield, the author calls them “a constant meaning presence, even without the capacity to fire missiles at targets.”

137 international journalists were largely relegated to their hotel rooms

143 the Sri Lankan gov’t convened its own commission of inquiry post-war to prevent an international inquiry

149 By 2010 there was wave of murders of street beggars reminiscent of Latin America in the dirty years

155 Sri Lankan ‘terrorism experts’ paraded around on television to explain the Tamil Tigers in coordination with Sri Lankan diplomats to buttress the government narrative of the conflict

167 in Deuteronomy there are injunctions agains the cutting of enemy fruit trees

169 the SLA drone fleet was obtained from Israel

170 the final 16 week siege of the Tiger held areas resulted in 10,000 to 40,000 dead. the size of the invading forces were similar to Cast Lead, though the SLA siege was far more lethal

173 SLA restrictions of UN and Red Cross personnel

174 Sri Lankan gov’t blamed all civilian casualties on the Tigers, just like Israel

179 US moved post-war to increase support to Sri Lanka

191 oblique reference to Jai Lalaitha and her political opportunism re: Sri Lanka’s tamils

201 the author called the defeat of the Tigers “The extinction of Tamil hopes for political and social equality…”

204 SLA strikes on hospitals

220 The Sri Lankan gov’t continues to operate death squads that leave dissidents in mortal fear. A Sinhalese supremacist ideology prevails.

225 in the post-war era the Tamil area has been broken up and populated with army camps, “It is ethnic cleansing of the Israeli rather than the Yugoslav variety…”

226 “The prospects for a majority of Sri Lanka’s Tamils do not look good.”

227 Walzer Just and Unjust Wars, “the revolutionary reveals his freedom in the same way as he earns it, by directly confronting his enemies and refraining from attacks on anyone else.”

227-8 the government is committed to the “complete subjugation of the Tamil population by force and an intention to sustain a grip over this restive group through terror and ethnic cleansing.”

229 US is worried about ‘losing’ Sri Lanka to China and has therefore continued to attempt to curry favor
Profile Image for Dennis Dason.
29 reviews1 follower
November 4, 2012
Although I bought the book months before, I was waiting to read the book from the appropriate place - My Home, where I can feel as a Thamizh.

Before moving further, I make sure that eventhough I have very deep sympathy towards the Sri Lankan Tamizhs and their cause of Eelam, I don't have any soft corner for LTTE and their Ego.

For people who haven't had a chance to know the core issue like me, this book provides a detailed account of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. And the great thing that surprised me on this book is it's neutrality. It's also propaganda free and unbiased - which gives a very reliable account of the war, tearing the masks of both Sri Lankan Government and LTTE alike. It is easily understood that only because of its neutrality, politicians of Tamil Nadu didn't even utter a single word about this book which is written by an UN Observer, even though it pictured the grotesque face of Sri Lankan Government.

5 out of 5 for its Neutrality.

Profile Image for Jim Rimmer.
157 reviews12 followers
March 6, 2012
Weiss’ book delves deeply into one of the filthiest of all the ‘dirty little wars’. One would have to be heartless not to be challenged by the level of detail and analysis within the reportage, but even more so by the reprehensible culpability of action and inaction at various times across the history of this conflict.

There are two types of reader I would recommend The Cage to:
1)Those who know, because they’re unliklely to know this much, and
2)Those who don’t, because they really should.
Profile Image for Nithya.
10 reviews
January 7, 2016
Never knew something of this sort has been written and published from Canberra. And author seems to be a professor in University of Sydney. Very well, at the least I have come to know about it now, and read it.

Exceptional and a balanced book about 2009 war SL war. None in the market does justice to the SL war as this book, even the Samanth Subramaniyam's is kind of travelogue. Solid introduction, about the reasons behind the Sinhalese Chauvinism. Starts as early as Henry Olcott, to Angarika Damapala, and their Buddhist politics. None of the other books, deals with this part of history to a great extent. Infact, I found this book, when I was searching for writings of Damapala's, and the case which was fought by him in India for Buddha gaya. I am yet to set my foot on the reference sections.

You will understand the book better, and may end up seeing this book, along with the information provided there on, and whole SL war, from a very different angle, if you even have a slightest know how of Buddhist politics and its system that ran the country, before raise of Bhakti movement back home.

History of Tigers, their violence, and the poor SL Tamils, caught between Devil, another Devil and deep sea. My heart goes out for them. There were times, when my father use to write short stories for Ceylon radio station along with the tamil songs. He still preserves those letters of appreciation, and his pen friend's letters from Jaffna. With so many SL tamil friends in Sydney, and their affection towards my country's culture, I think we had let them down, with our disastrous foreign policy.

From now on, Tamil and it's people would share the same fate as the Jaffna library. Physically available, but contextually absent. Go for this book, to the least to gets some facts straight on Tamil Tigers and their marxist origins, but the irony there is, they chased all Muslim from North of Sri Lanka, which were under their control, away, so that only temple bells could be heard there on. Me and my wry humor.
Profile Image for Tara.
10 reviews2 followers
April 30, 2013
I read this while traveling through Sri Lanka and while it doesn't paint a pretty picture of the country, it was helpful to get some background information about the civil war that took place there. The first few chapters give you a good idea of the country's history, from the origins of the Sinhalese and Tamil cultures in Sri Lanka, to the more recent political events that fueled the war. The author also does a great job of gathering accounts from people who lived through the war, lending the book some nice narratives that are a break from the more analytical parts of the book. I think he also seems quite fair, not labeling any one group the "good guys" or "bad guys" (though he does come down pretty hard on the family that's currently in power). I would recommend this book to anyone traveling to Sri Lanka or anyone who would like to better understand the horrible war that took place there.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,797 reviews1,309 followers
January 18, 2013
At heart, I don't think Gordon Weiss is a long form writer. He was formerly a UN official, and the prose and structure of The Cage seems to show someone who more naturally writes briefing papers than full-length books. Although The Cage is a short 230 pages, at times I felt it could have been edited down further still (and benefited from another editorial pass because of some occasionally clunky phrasing). These quibbles aside, I think this is well worth the read: Weiss details the last stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka, a conflict which was largely ignored or dismissed by the international community. It's a pretty damning indictment of all sides involved, and a lament for the fact that those responsible for so much pain and suffering will probably never be held accountable. Not an easy read but a worthwhile one.
Profile Image for Kusal Perera.
28 reviews10 followers
October 23, 2011
Quite a revealing narration on the SL war that rolled out as one without witnesses. For most who would not want to accept the ground truth, Weiss would be a "Western Traitor". Yet reading through his book on the war and how it was organised by the SL regime, there is no doubt it was ruthless, brutal and was waged with very little concern about the ordinary civilian.
As most foreigners do, Weiss has also faulted in recording and interpreting the pre war history in many instances, but they don't necessarily intrude or impact negatively on what happened during the last few months of the war that left a human tragedy on the soils of SL.
For just that, it should be read by those who are not familiar with the last phase of the SL war waged without witnesses, but had left enough evidence.
1 review
February 6, 2023
The Cage is an essential read on the Sri Lankan civil war.

Impeccably researched; brilliantly written – it is a superb work of investigative journalism.

It provides a comprehensive, unbiased and at times visceral account of the decades long conflict between the Sinhalese dominated government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) which came its brutal and bloody conclusion in 2009.

Weiss artfully chronicles the origins of the insurgency - rooted in religious and ethnic incompatibilities and the legacy of British imperialism – the dynamics and policies that allowed it to fester and metastasize by successive governments, through to the disastrous final stages of the war where tens of thousands of innocent civilians were slaughtered in a bid to obliterate the LTTE for all time.

In his capacity as a UN spokesperson at the time, Weiss bore witness to the culmination of the war. No side escapes criticism, nor the UN and international community for their response, or lack thereof.

Simply a must read.
1 review
January 30, 2023
An insanely entertaining read about one of the greatest tragedies ever committed on our Planet.

Both a historical magnus opus ... and a page-turning rollicking thriller.

I was entranced from the foreword alone.
3 reviews
November 6, 2021
This was a harrowing read. The author writes the following in his preface: "When the civil war ended in Sri Lanka on May 18, 2009, few knew what had transpired."

And that's true of myself, a Sri Lankan, who grew up in SL right alongside the war. Sure, our lives were occasionally touched by the embers of the raging inferno in the north, but the government propaganda machine was so relentless, so unforgiving, that we were complete strangers to the plight of our own countrymen a few hundred kms to the north and east. And that's a devastating realization to come to, even more than a decade later.

This book is an essential read for all Sri Lankans in my opinion. At least for anyone not content being swallowed whole by the propaganda machine of the Rajapakse oligarchy. The book describes in excruciating detail the final days and months of the war, and how the country descended to these depths of horror and misery in just a few decades, from the dizzying heights of hope and promise post-independence. And it does so objectively for the most part, dealing in facts and eye-witness accounts, not conjecture.

Ultimately, it's also a verdict on missed opportunities, on a country ripe with vast potential just a generation or two ago, but took the wrong turn at every opportunity to create history, to create prosperity, to create peace. Hundreds of thousands of lives later, decades of unspeakable brutality later, it's hard to feel optimistic about post-war Sri Lanka. In fact, by electing "the Sinhalese Prabhakaran" as president a couple of years ago, a majority of Sri Lankans have re-enforced the very deep-seated distrust and discordance that led to the war in the first place.

This was a difficult book to read, but also an important one.
1 review
October 6, 2014
This is a great read, Not just because it has given a good insight about what happened in those horrid days but also for the style of narration. It goes in a rapid pace and writer keeps your interest throughout. He also backs his claims with good evidence.

In terms of plot I am a sri-lankan and Tamil, precedence here is important. It is clear that certain power in sri-lanka doesn't care whether it is Tamil, sinhalish or any other ethnicity, the people in power want to enjoy the power and they are happy to do any thing for that.

It can be seen even during JVP time people in power did not have any humanitarian consideration in slaughtering people. What annoys me is that this power hunger has been fabricated as ethnic war and using one ethnic's struggle to repress the other. i.e Now people in power are using name of LTTE to repress the rest of the community.

Anyway I got carried away with my patriotism but over all books is an enhoyable read if you have the patience to go through the first chapter as that talks lot about history. I enjoyed that but some might find that not very interesting.

Profile Image for Lauren.
768 reviews34 followers
April 5, 2021
Such a good book. Covered the history of Sri Lanka (briefly, in two chapters), modern political history (2oth + 21st century), and then focused on the Civil War and particularly on the last stand of the Tamil Tigers in the so-called "Cage." Also raised issues of human rights and justice after war-time atrocities.

Highly recommended.

Caveat: My family is from Sri Lanka, and so, the subject was particularly resonant for me. Still, an excellent book and I am grateful that such an intelligent, incisive account of modern Sri Lankan politics exists.
Profile Image for Shaun.
3 reviews12 followers
June 20, 2013
Essential reading for anyone studying The causes and final stages of the Sri Lankan conflict. Extremely well written 'The Cage' provides a compelling insight on the factors that would sow the seeds of insurrection and the policies of successive governments that would ultimately bring on it's bloody end.
Profile Image for Shaun.
3 reviews12 followers
June 20, 2013
Essential reading for anyone studying The causes and final stages of the Sri Lankan conflict. Extremely well written 'The Cage' provides a compelling insight on the factors that would sow the seeds of insurrection and the policies of successive governments that would ultimately bring on it's bloody end.
143 reviews20 followers
January 20, 2013
It's shocking that this happened and barely an international eyelid has been raised. Hardly anyone seems to even know about it. And so the Australian govt goes on imprisoning Tamil asylum seekers and the Australian and Sri Lankan cricket teams go on playing games. So it goes.
Profile Image for Anandraj R.
31 reviews4 followers
November 30, 2013
Heart wrenching book!

Very sad account on how Tamils have suffered at the hands of Sinhalese, Army & Tamil Tigers.

The fag end of the war is described as one of the bloodiest in history & what's more saddening is d pathetic & hopeless condition of the Tamil population even after the war!
129 reviews3 followers
March 2, 2014
It delves into Sri Lanka, a buddhist nation that has had one of the most violent and longest civil wars. It details the historical context, end of LTTE and the purported outcome - brutal victory, little reconciliation, iron grip with strong security forces controlled by few.
Profile Image for Larry Bassett.
1,415 reviews300 followers
December 3, 2015
Excellent resource

My daughter just moved to Sri Lanka to teach English for the next year as a Fulbright scholar. This is a book that I read to learn a little bit about The recent history of Sri Lanka.
Profile Image for Srinivasan Iyengar.
20 reviews5 followers
August 31, 2012
well written book. sadly though the world has not done anything to get justice to Tamils in Lanka. probably another Prabhakaran from amidst the Tamils.can only redeem the situation
Profile Image for James.
13 reviews4 followers
July 24, 2013
any one interested in Asia, I recommend this book.
1 review
April 9, 2022
Don't usually leave reviews on goodreads but I feel like this is a badly marketed book and anyone thinking of reading it should know that.

This book is not only pretty badly written(repeats itself constantly, making the same point over, and over, and over again in a way that doesn't add anything, with the author being so openly opinionated you often feel like you go a very long time without getting any concrete information) but it's just not what it leads you to believe its going to be based on the title and tagline.

This is not about the Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers. That is incidental, necessary context that is only explored shallowly in order to contextualize the actual focus of the book, which is:

a)the suffering of civilians caught in the conflict zone and war crimes by the Sri Lankan army, particularly towards the very end of the war and more importantly

b)the experience of NGOs and UN organisations in Sri Lanka at this time, the evidence they encountered of atrocity and suffering, and how they were interfered with and restricted by the Sri Lankan government, and finally

c)the authors insistence that Sri Lanka did all these horrible things and should be punished for it. I would say about 40 percent of the page count is not about the war or anything that happened. It is the author, over and over again, explaining the rationale and origins of international war crime laws and the relevant laws themselves, and then saying Sri Lanka broke them. Over and over again, with these same arguements, trying to justify the idea that ther countries have the right to do whatever it takes to stop and/or punish Sri Lanka's actions here.

The writer was a UN official in Sri Lanka at the time. This is NOT a look at an interesting time and place in history. It is the author airing his grievances about his time spent in Sri Lanka in this period, and devoting the entire book to furthering his political agenda, trying to prove that Sri Lanka did the bad things he says they did, and that the right thing for the rest of the world to do is punish them for it immediately. Everything is skewed by those priorities. Reading this book you'd almost think foreign NGOs and the UN are the main characters of Sri Lankan politics.

If it was better written but still cleaved to this basic outline it could have been at least alright and found its audience. If it had a title and tagline that made it clear this was about the international response to later stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War and the war crimes that took place there, and it repeated itself a lot less, it would be at least coherently mediocre. As it is it's a waste of your time if you just want to actually learn about what happened; not in the sense that you won't learn anything, but in the sense that there must be so many books that will convey the actually present information in more detail, with much less annoying filler(like half the book), and in a better written, more enjoyable way.
121 reviews13 followers
December 16, 2019
Gordon Weiss 'The cage' is about the Srilankan Tamil problem, especially its cruel final war which was waged by the Srilankan government to destroy the LTTE. Caught in this battle in between were innocent civilians who were brutally killed. The book starts with a brief historical account of the Tamil problem in Srilanka. After gaining independence, the majority Sinhalese Buddhist population imagined a nation defined by Sinhalese language and Buddhist religion like many European countries which are identified through a single language and religious background. Unlike India which understood the importance of decoupling religious/linguistic identity with national identity, Srilanka defined its nationhood based on the majority language and religion.

The Tamils who were a significant minority felt alienated and left alone. Through multiple constitutional changes, the Tamils were effectively sidelined from administrative roles and opportunities in higher education. The 'Tamils' had a significant influence in Srilanka before independence due to their command over the English language.

The LTTE under the leadership of Prabhakaran believed in the use of force to resolve the ethnic conflict. They created a military state which was in perpetual war with Srilanka, through suicide attacks they were able to instill fear in the majority Sinhalese population. By effectively channeling money through various means they created an army that controlled the northern part of Srilanka.

Prior to the last war, there was a negotiated ceasefire that existed between LTTE and the Sri Lankan government brokered by the Norweigan peace mission. After it broke down, the Srilankan government started a bloody war through which they wanted to destroy the LTTE once and for all.
The Srilankan government had strengthened its army over the period of ceasefire through Chinese military help, the world had changed after September 2001 with world governments having little sympathy for the brand of terrorism that the LTTE represented, with India not willing to help the LTTE due to the fear of Chinese domination in the island, the LTTE was isolated.

As the war was waged in 2009, the Tamil strongholds fell one after another from Killinochi, Elephant Pass, the Tamil population was continuously relocated before finally being trapped in a very small landmass near the ocean referred to as 'the cage'. The Tamil people were stuck between the Srilankan army and LTTE and were effectively were pushed deeper and deeper and trapped completely. The Srilankan government involved in multiple war crimes, like bombing inside the no-fire zone, bombing hospitals whose location was shared with the Srilankan army high command. There were instances where IRC centers were bombed right after their location was shared with the Srilankan government. The cruelties perpetrated on the hapless civilians makes you feel so sick to stomach, hope the people are punished.
30 reviews4 followers
December 10, 2012
In May 2009, after 26 years of fighting, the Sri Lankan army obliterated their terrorist scourge, the Tamil Tigers. These terrorists had appointed themselves leaders of the minority Tamil people and waged a dirty war for independence. Over the years, the blew up buses and airports, assassinated two heads of state (India and Sri Lanka), massacred civilians, used their own people as hostages, and forced children to become soldiers. The Sri Lankan government was well within their rights to oppose them. However, it is how the government opposed them that is the problem and the reason for this book. Weiss exposes an alternative to the government’s official narrative. One of his goals in writing this is to document eye witness accounts and expert opinion on what occurred in the final months of the war, despite the government’s blanket denials and obfuscation. There is extensive proof that the Sri Lankan government blocked aid from reaching the civilians displaced by the war, and there are many independent accounts of the government bombs killing thousands of civilians (including the targeting identified hospitals), yet the government claims to have done nothing wrong. But truth leaks out everywhere; for example, by the expulsion of the UN and independent media from the conflict area, it shows that it suited the army’s plan to have no witnesses. A second example is how the government prevented the Red Cross from collecting any data that would provide an overall picture of the dead or missing. As Weiss says, “If so few had died, it made no sense for the government to hide the dead and prolong the misery of those who survived, wondering at the fate of their missing relatives.”

I have been following the human rights situation in Sri Lanka since 2007, and so—for a lay person--have read quite extensively about it. I have also watched many hours of documentaries on the war, including the excellent Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, and the sequel, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields 2: Unpunished War Crimes. Opening the pages of The Cage: the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers, I felt that I had a good basis of knowledge on the subject.

Weiss, who was a political advisor and spokesperson for the UN in Sri Lanka from 2006-2009, goes into extensive detail on the history of Sri Lanka and how it led to the civil war and its aftermath. My conclusion from this is that through their decades of undemocratic and prejudice policies, the Sri Lankan government created the Tamil Tigers. In this important document of wartime atrocities, Weiss is “scrupulously evenhanded”—to quote a blurb on the book’s cover, and I was impressed by his fairness. He doesn’t accuse the Sri Lankan government of genocide, which others would have and I can see would be a tempting conclusion. He does, however, join the many NGOs and human rights organizations who are calling for an independent international criminal investigation into the government’s behavior during the war, in particular to determine if war crimes were committed. As Weiss says, “the way you fight a war does matter, even when your cause is just.”

One of the greatest strengths of this book is the fascinating final chapter, “Postmortem,” in which he outlines how he sees the future for this island. He talks about how there are “many tens of thousands of murders for which nobody has ever been held to account. Millions of Sri Lankans alive today—Tamils and Sinhalese—have direct experience of the terrible phenomenon of “disappearance,” and an abiding sense of injustice and unreconciled grievance.” The government operates with unprecedented secrecy, yet says they have nothing to hide. To stay in power, they rely on nepotism and revisionism, but mostly denial. Even three years after the war, Sri Lanka is officially deemed one of the most dangerous countries anywhere for journalists. As they continue to flout basic human rights agreements, they also view anyone who disagrees with them as having committed treason. As Weiss says, “media and public opinion remain full of trepidation in the atmosphere of Sinhalese supremacist ideology vindicated by the conquest of the Tamil Tigers. Even as this book goes to print… newsrooms are being wrecked and burned by gangs of thugs and journalists forced into exile (there is) ongoing persecution and disappearances of human rights activists, journalists and government opponents.”

When I come across a human rights cause that I know is controversial but seems so blatantly one-sided, so “how could anyone think otherwise?,” I start searching what the opposition is saying. The vocal opposition to Weiss, like that of most of the causes I search (from Tea Baggers to Jihadists), is a cacophony of nonsensical, shrill voices. As expected, they rely on logical fallacies, including the ever-popular ad hominem attack (you can’t say the government did anything wrong because the Tigers were worse!), but mostly screams of “Lies, lies!”. Yet, although Weiss blames both the Tigers and the government, it’s only the governments side who protest. Weiss doesn’t vilify any citizens. His version of what happened on the island is backed up by satellite imagery and by the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders, the UN, UNICEF, Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group, and Desmond Tutu. Yet, according to those who oppose his version of events, they have all been paid off by the Tamil Diaspora. I guess in writing this review, I have too. I’m looking forward to my big fat cheque arriving in the mail sometime soon. Rather, let’s just say that the postwar Sri Lankan government’s PR blitz is evident. As Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, says, “perpetrators always seek to obfuscate reality, to discredit the information that points to their culpability and those who provide it, routinely demanding further proof. They stall or deflect action. Buying time and spreading misinformation is, after all, in a perpetrator’s own self-interest.”

Rating: 4 stars. It’s actually 5 star quality, but I deleted a star for two reasons. First, there is way more information here than I personally needed. I think he was right in including it, as it completes the historical record; however, I did not need to know that level of detail. Second, this book gave me too many nights of poor sleep—not nightmares exactly, but troubled dreams. This is a heavy read.

Recommended for: Anyone who cares about human rights. I like the motto of Human Rights Watch: “Tyranny has a witness.” Since it’s probably that the right thing will never be done for the victims of the war in Sri Lanka, it’s important that people write—and then read--about it.
Profile Image for Becky Dale.
104 reviews30 followers
June 10, 2018
Perhaps this was not the best book to read as an introduction to the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict. By his own admission in the preface, Weiss spends little time discussing the origins of the civil war from the 1970s and instead leaps into the 1980s onwards. But to say that the story continues apace from that point would also be misleading; his storytelling is not chronological and the timeline of events to which he refers is tucked in the appendices - not useful to a curious ignorant like myself. So although I am sure there is a wealth of information in this book and perhaps sufficient degree of nuance to go with it, I spent the majority of my time confused by which point in time was being discussed, which also served to obscure the grievances of the different parties that motivated their drive to fight. I wanted to give it 2 stars, but at least I did learn things, so I'll give a generous 3.
Profile Image for Jer Clarke.
35 reviews3 followers
December 26, 2017
Very good book. I listened to the Audible version and it was a good adaptation.

This book is a good intro to the history both ancient and recent of Sri Lanka, with a focus on the termination of the civil war in 2011. It's emphasis is on the underreported tragedies at the very end of the war, but many pages are dedicated to providing the context needed to interpret these final events.

I listened to this in preparation for my trip to Sri Lanka for work and tourism, and my only regret was not finishing it before arriving, as the context provided would have been valuable for understanding the beautiful and complex people I met there.
Profile Image for Pallavi Thirunavukarasu.
28 reviews5 followers
April 28, 2019
One of the best books I have read on the history of the ethnic conflict in SriLanka. For these reasons:

1. A very comprehensive book, traces the strife and violence ridden history of the conflict from the early Buddhist days all the way to the end of the Ealam war IV.
2. A fairly unbiased view written by an UN official who was present in Srilanka during the conflict.
3. Fast paced narrative, unlike non fiction books

Heart wrenching to read about the civilian humanitarian crisis in the last days of the war.

Appalled to read about the violence perpetrated by both the tigers and SLA on the civilians and the meek stand of UN/international community.

Profile Image for Erik Champenois.
239 reviews5 followers
March 7, 2020
Covers the end of the Tamil Tigers conflict and the war crimes carried out by the government as they declared victory over the Tamil Tigers - killing tens of thousands of civilians in the process. A sad account of how ethnic and religious tensions were stoked prior to the conflict, to the government's denials and contradictory statements about the end of the conflict, to the ascendancy of an illiberal semi-democratic/semi-authoritarian government under the Rajapaksa brothers. A bit longwinded at times but an important book for understanding contemporary Sri Lanka.
Profile Image for Jeeva.
5 reviews
June 22, 2020
This book gives the raw details of the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war. It puts blame on both sides, written with a neutral point of view. The author also gives a very detailed history of the island and so many other interesting facts that I learned as a Tamil. He raises a lot of questions to the reader. I hope it can be made into a feature film one day!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.