Victims of a Big Political Swindle

Patrick Murphy, in today’s Irish News (subs only), writes of the remnants of the war: old soldiers that now must be tidied away. “The remnants of war must now be tidied away, so that a new and sanitised version of the past can underpin their joint achievement of political power. The most obvious of those remnants are the ordinary people who were encouraged to fight that war in the first place.”
“Some may say that those who fought did so through choice. But how much choice did you have if you lived in Divis Flats or Newtownabbey, or if you were unemployed in Brixton? The battered bodies and broken minds of many of them are now being swept under the carpet of history.”
“Many would argue that anyone who took part in the Troubles, on any side, deserves no sympathy. But how much of what happened was prolonged for specific electoral outcomes? Thus if Sinn Fein, the DUP and the British government now expect praise, they must also accept their respective responsibilities for creating the problem they claim to have solved.”
Full article after the jump.It’s time to dump those who fought in the war
By Patrick Murphy, Irish News

If history is but a fable agreed upon, the DUP and Sinn Fein have made history at Stormont. Central to their agreement on law and order is their tendency to distance themselves from any contribution they may have made to the politics of violence here over the past 40 years.

The remnants of war must now be tidied away, so that a new and sanitised version of the past can underpin their joint achievement of political power. The most obvious of those remnants are the ordinary people who were encouraged to fight that war in the first place.

Together with the British government, the most vociferous protagonists in the Troubles will now quietly dump those who fought for republicanism, loyalism and the crown. Many people have no sympathy for those who engaged in political violence, but the nature and content of the secret talks at Stormont raise one significant question: were those who fought – on all sides – the victims of a great, big political swindle?

There is little doubt that the Troubles could have been avoided or, at worst, shortened to a matter of a year or two. Had that happened, of course, the two most powerful parties would not now be carving up political patronage between them.

Some may say that those who fought did so through choice. But how much choice did you have if you lived in Divis Flats or Newtownabbey, or if you were unemployed in Brixton? The battered bodies and broken minds of many of them are now being swept under the carpet of history.

There is nothing new in soldiers returning from war to find that the cause they believed in no longer exists, or that the society they fought for has moved on without them.

British soldiers returning from the First World War expected a land fit for heroes, but they found only hunger and hardship. Thousands of Russians who fought off the Nazis were subsequently imprisoned and executed by Stalin. Soldiers with Gulf War syndrome are still being ignored in Britain.

In this country organisations that thousands fought for, and hundreds died for, have now gone. Many former members feel betrayed by the disbandment of the Provisional IRA, the destruction of its weaponry and the abandonment of its aim of a united Ireland.

Many RUC members had a similar experience. They fought for what they believed was the defence of their country. Their reward was the disbandment of their force, a collective medal from the Queen and a curt thank you from Tony Blair.

The UDR/RIR followed the B Specials into historical oblivion, having fulfilled the political role for which they were created. Traditionally those who enlisted in the service of the Crown were given the Queen’s shilling. In this case the Queen gave them money to leave.

Loyalist paramilitaries are going through that same process now. Having previously colluded with loyalists by providing them with intelligence and equipment, the British government is now giving them money not to kill Catholics. They have served their purpose and will soon be discarded.

Many would argue that anyone who took part in the Troubles, on any side, deserves no sympathy. But how much of what happened was prolonged for specific electoral outcomes? Thus if Sinn Fein, the DUP and the British government now expect praise, they must also accept their respective responsibilities for creating the problem they claim to have solved.

War is little more than a political fashion statement. It is a process whereby the politically influential lead the politically naive into situations which enhance naivety and expand influence. It is often fuelled by simplistic phrases: brave little Belgium; the Jewish threat; weapons of mass destruction; Brits out.

It operates on a system of people, mainly young men, fighting each other. When their fighting ability declines with age, or when politicians no longer need some fighting to be done, they tend to become redundant. They may subsequently take pride in what they did, or recoil in horror at it.

Either way their careers do little more than contribute to the world of politics, where more illustrious careers are built on their sacrifices, and power is carved from the sufferings they both inflicted and endured.

George Bernard Shaw pointed out that you could always tell an old soldier by the inside of his cartridge boxes. The young ones carry cartridges in them: the old ones, grub. All of which suggests that old soldiers never die – they just become an embarrassment. What an embarrassed society we live in.

  • Rory

    Murphy’s article is contemptibly trite, shining, as it does, on the innate goodness of his own soul which it seeks to spotlight rather than to throw any illumination on the circumstances of conflict which is always with the human condition. Murphy finds it comfortable to argue sweetly that conflict is “not a good thing” and that politics is “a bad thing”. Which strikes me at least as the journalistic equivalent of a Miss World finalist appealing for the acceptance of her superiority through expressions of hopeless piety.

    Altogether too, too sick making, Alice.

  • Miss Fitz

    Gosh, I almost dont know where to start disagreeing with Paddy on this.

    The article lacks a historical perspective, an insight into where all of the acts fit into a larger frame.

    War is nothing at all like a political fashion statement, and that sentence offends me greatly. The Troubles were never going to be over in 2 years, because the Troubles didnt start in 1969.

    The root of all of our problems has to be seen in the 17th century and the consequent inability of our two tribes to ever trust the other side. Irish and British history are taught from two distenct perspectives, and little work is ever done to marry up both sides of our past.

    The battles and wars that have been fought in or about Northern Ireland have shaped our destiny and contributed to this historic moment where we now stand.

    Not only is this article an insult to the beliefs and convictions of those who fought and died, it is an unbelievable affront to the thousands of victims left in the wake of centuries of strife.

    Actually, its a shameful piece.

  • Henry94

    Rory and Miss Fitz have said it all.

  • don’t mention the war

    So what happens to the veterans of war is of no consequence, or is it just not a convenient time to ask about it given the historic wonderful news everyone is celebrating.

    Looks like Murphy’s point was entirely missed in fits of righteous indignation.

  • Wilde Rover

    Children of the revolution are always eaten by the revolution.

  • SFM

    You couldn’t make it up. Provo supporters rush to poo poo a few statements of fact with their skewed and just right wrong attempts to use history as an excuse to kill to advance politics. If Mary Loo is not an example of war as fashion statement, FF carpet bagger chic that Adams is now going in for, past fashions including revolutionary Marxist chic, faith of our fathers famine chic and Armani international statements chic I don’t know what is. For anybody that doubts the case made by Murphy I direct you to The IRA and Armed Struggle (Cass Series on Political Violence)by Rogelio Alonso the first real study of the troubles that is not an attempt at propaganda but actual analysis I’ve read in a long time. Love the way Kieran Nugent gets the plaudits – now there was an old solider that wasn’t discarded for the latest political fashion. Keep on following yourselves Fitz and Henry just please don’t try and fool any others anymore.

  • Miss Fitz

    SFM
    May I ask if there was a point in there somewhere?

    You cannot re-write history, it remains as fact. You can look to history to try and understand why we are where we are today, and to contextualise modern happenings.

    I find it hard to take you seriously since you have labelled me a Provo supporter.

    My point remains that Patrick Murphy’s piece lacks depth and insight, and does little more than provide a clever little sound byte

  • Q&A

    You are not a Provo supporter, Miss Fitz, you are a Sinn Fein apologist. There is a difference.

  • Miss Fitz

    Ach I’m not really, Q&A, I’m actually a lot more neutral than that and just see things from an informed outsider’s perspective. It can be good, but it can also be bad.

    I see myself more concerned with the bigger pictures, like telling the truth about what causes our problems and stop identifying the wrong ‘enemy’. I also see myself concerned with emerging from the Troubles of the past few centuries with some idea that we can live together and govern together.

    I suspect that may bar my claim to being an SF apologist.

  • gerry

    I think the piece is good. Even if it is only a sound bite. If the ideas in the piece are expanded upon, it can be seen that all through history those that fought, whether in the trenches in WWII or the trenches in South Armagh were nothing more than stepping stones for opportunists to walk on. Mis Fitz if you really want to look at history, then look at all of it, even the horrible stuff. Not just romantic pieces to support your own view.

  • Miss Fitz

    Gerry
    Dont be silly, I have never been accused of romanticing this stuff. There is a difference between myth and history, a point I have been trying to make for some time.

    My main objection with the piece is the easy cynicism, the lazy way of saying: yes well, you were all tossers anyway.

    Soldiers are pawns, certainly, but this goes beyond that, it smacks of a more sinister political motivation that belies the passion and commitment of the people of all wars who fought and died in them

  • gerry

    It’s myth that the men who fought and died in any war were used in a political campaign to further the careers of those in political parties.
    I don’t see where he is saying they were all tossers anyway, in fact he is pointing out the cynicism and double standards of those in politics. Perhaps you don’t see that, since you have been involved in political parties, maybe you need to look at the historical bigger picture?

  • Q&A

    Without wanting to divert the discussion or revive the McCartney debate, reference your comments on the “White Smoke” thread, which would have your optimistic vision of the future bend you so far to become said apologist. Only so much should be swept under the carpet with an eye to the future, Miss Fitz. Somethings do need a cold, hard eye cast on them for the betterment of us all, timing be damned. Your motive or hopes is commendable, the blindness, expression or result of them, not always so much.

    For example, your response to Gerry and the article seems to be at cross purposes; the article is, in a sense, lamenting the people who fought the wars with passion and commitment, only to be cast aside when politically expedient. It is not new, and certainly not new to Irish history, for political leaders to use young men (and women) and their passion, to send them to war and ride on the back of their wounds to their post-war power.

  • CS Parnell

    Actually, you had plenty of choice. I didn’t grow up in the Divis flats but I have relatives who did and they didn’t get “involved”.

    But the basic point is still correct – we need to have an open and honest assessment of the past. It’s no good pretending all the bad guys had crowns on their caps or wore Sam Browne belts – but why would the British state or the IRA (how can you tell the difference) want that to happen

  • Secur O’Crat

    Excellent article and good points from those agreeing with it, self proclaimed informed outsiders notwithstanding. Saddam Hussein was hanged today. Paisley and Adams were not. Who thinks the Looughall Martyrs would now be sawnning it with Mary Lou? The Great War poets epressed it all years before.
    The Provos ate their young, exploited them for the greater cause which turns out to be accepting partition and allowing the undemocratic failed entity to stutter on.
    As the Provos used to say: For those who know, no explanation is necessary and for those who don’t no explanation will do.

  • Aislingeach

    Interesting…I saw the article as an updated echo of the anti-war cynicism that arose with WWI–shades of Wilfred Owen warning against
    “The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.”
    Worse still, to live and see your struggle made moot. Why does it take so many deaths to get politicians to do what they should have done to begin with?

    Rather than an insult to those who fought in wars, I see it as a rueful note that leaders are careless of the lives they throw into battle–“those who give the orders are not the ones to die” as the song says.

  • Rory

    This is an article which provides no analysis whatsoever because it makes no attempt at it. It reads like the sugar coated, sickly sweet lyrics of a 1960’s teenage angst ballad of how terrible life is. It has all the smug ill informed commentary of any game provided by the hurler in the ditch and it comes as no surprise that it finds resonance with those desperate for moral self justification.

    Let us consider for a moment that all that Murphy writes is true. Then what? What would he now have us do? Put “Billy, don’t be a hero” on the record player, cry into our gin and lament the unfairness of it all?

    As for me I’ll stick with those who are doing their damndest to bring to fruition that which was approved overwhelmingly in country wide referenda. Boring ain’t it?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    The sad fact is only those who used the bomb and bullet can stop using the bomb and bullet. That is the way it has always been.

    If they deicide to give up the cant, they have used for many years to enter a democratic political system they have opposed, that however does make them hypocrites.

    Having forsaken all principles, welcome to the quick sand that is the establishment and ministerial trappings.

  • Victim

    Never mind the ‘old soldiers’ what about the innocent victims left in the wake of these murdering terrorists.

    When you read back or listen to the stories as told by victims who were doing nothing more than trying to lead a normal life under the circumstances and going about their legal & lawful way of life.

    It is time Sinn Fein ensured that these people were recognised and their needs met instead of ignoring them.

  • Garibaldy

    I liked this article a lot. Murphy has a habit of speaking truths people don’t want to hear. Note the references not only to the Provos but also to the RUC and government participation in collusion.

    I don’t think anyone can doubt that all the main political parties have refused to address the sectarianism at the heart of our problems beacuse to do so would threaten their electoral support. And in terms of deliberately stirring things up, we need only look at the often highly irresponsible attitudes to marches on both sides of the PSF/DUP divide, illustrated most recently in the riots over the Whiterock parade for which unionist politicians blamed the police and not the terrorists.

    What I do think is trite is the notion that just beacuse someone fought, went to prison or died for their cause we have to respect them. Nonsense. Some people’s causes and actions don’t deserve respect. Be it machine-gunning workers on their way home in South Armagh or massacring people watching the World Cup in a pub.

    Sectarianism kills. Those who kill for it, perpetuate it, or seek to profit from it deserve nothing but contempt.

  • Secur O’Crat

    Aislingeach

    Nice post and resonant of your own name. I was actual;y thinking of Mr Sassoon’s poem. If the Troubles are over, there has to be a ledger of lives lost and found. I find this article uch better than the endless Kremlinology concerning DUP/PSF.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQngDaXgUrM

    Suicide in the Trenches

    I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.

    In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.