“Information is (still) power..”

Another good, and interesting, discussion from Thursday’s Hearts and Minds. Starting with the film Hunger and the competing claims about that time, the report goes on to reference The Blanket, and talks to editor Carrie Twomey, bringing into the conversation historian Eamonn Phoenix – covering, in a timely fashion, revisionism, the use of propaganda, The Process™, censorship, and how, to misquote Francis Bacon, “information is still power” in Northern Ireland.

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  • Comrade Stalin

    On an unrelated note, I had no idea Carrie Twomey was an American. Last I heard of Bobby Lavery, he’d run off with an American as well, and Crip McWilliams was trying to wangle the same thing. What is it about chuckie prisoners and the need to find themselves American wives to disappear off with ?

  • Kevster

    The thing I always loved about Carrie, having corresponded on various bulletin boards for more than 15 yrs now, was nobody could shut her up. Though American, I believe her commitment to Republican ideals isolated her here, and eventually, it seems, over there as well. I understand her family has moved down south now. I hope they find peace and happiness.

    ps I’m an American, for those who don’t know.

  • Pete Baker

    Comrade

    Where did you leave the ball?

  • Garibaldy

    I always laugh when the Blanket people accuse others of revisionism. The activities of the Provisionals right from their origins demonstrate that their programme was never about socialism. The whole project is one of revisionism etc. The one truth they refuse to speak to themselves is that they were active in an organisation engaged in numerous sectarian murders of working people that had nothing to do with republicanism, never mind socialism.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Pete,

    I’m not on the attack, just making an observation. I’ll expand on what I mean below.

    Kevster,

    The thing I always loved about Carrie, having corresponded on various bulletin boards for more than 15 yrs now, was nobody could shut her up.

    ‘Tis the nature of the internet. I know nothing about Carrie Twomey. If she was one of those behind The Blanket, then I can’t fault her intellectual depth even though I might not agree with her opinions (which she has every right to). And if she’s made the leap to come and live over here, you can bet she’s made some personal sacrifices.

    I’ve nothing against Americans but I don’t understand how “commitment to republican ideals” can occur for someone who did not grow up here and who was not personally effected by what happened here. Aren’t there plenty of causes in the USA for Americans to identify with, why do they pick the ones over here ? I mean, you’ve got the AIM for a start (Bobby Lavery used to take them for wee trips around the New Lodge), you’ve got black civil rights, you’ve got tonnes of issues over there with poverty, access to healthcare and education, etc.

    I can certainly see how the deal is so nice for republican ex-prisoners. They can have someone around who won’t judge them, is even more committed to “the cause” than they were (often by virtue of not having had to actually live through it), where the aging American thirtysomething divorcees get to hang out with a tough guy with blood on his hands, believing he is some kind of misunderstood action hero.

  • Pete Baker

    Comrade

    It wasn’t an invitation to “expand” on your playing of the man/woman.

    It was a suggestion that you stop doing it.

    Try to focus on the actual content of the post and accompanying video.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Damn you Peter and your unionist bias! Um, no, wait .. 🙂

  • Garibaldy

    I thought Phoenix was naive to say that in 30 or 40 years historians might be able to sit down and come to an agreed position. Irish historiography will remain politically charged (though probably not as much as now), while historians revise previous work otherwise they stop being historians.

  • Pete Baker

    Garibaldy

    Possibly. But he did make a good point about the importance of contemporaneous documentation.

    Which is, of course, why we need more ‘stupid’ questions now, not less.

  • Garibaldy

    Totally Pete. Although there is a question about the place of oral history or memoirs when talking about conspiratorial organisations that as a rule did not record as much information as a government might (not of course that everything is written down or recorded there). We need more, not less, despite their inherent problems.

    More generally, NI may well be the most over-reserached place on the planet, but I’m not convinced that much of that research is worth very much.

  • Pete Baker

    “More generally, NI may well be the most over-reserached place on the planet, but I’m not convinced that much of that research is worth very much.”

    Indeed.

    We need our critical faculties to be operating along with the documentation.

  • Garibaldy

    Yeah, and part of the problem over the past decade or so has been that as the organisations have opened up and sought to put their versions on record, people have been too ready to take them at face value. The classic case is NICRA, but as I’ve alluded to above, the portrayal of the Provisional project as a socialist one is another. Critical faculties have been far too easily suspended not just by the media, but by academics who like the glamour of associating with the gunman.

  • Kevster

    Comrade,

    I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but believe it or not, there are many Americans with family ties to the place. There are also organizations that have existed here for more than a century that concern themselves with the state of affairs in Ireland. And one can, of course, involve one’s self with more than one issue. In fact, I can remember Bernadette Devlin having quite an impact on people I knew regarding civil rights for black Americans.

    It’s a small world.

  • Oscar

    Eamonn Pheonix, I think, means well, though I also suspect that he’s a bit naive. He put a coherent, academic-based position as to how our ancestors should view Troubles-related events during the Hearts and Minds programme.

    It seems that history is only relevance when historians control it, rather than interpetating it. They’re quite happy to leave these matters to the contemporaneous British government papers, and with any luck, Gerry Adams’s personal papers. That’ll unravel the jigsaw, won’t it? No skeletons (literally). It’s not that simple, Eamonn.

  • RepublicanStones

    I think Phoenix’s point about the necessity to weigh the balance of history upon contemporary elements of the time was a valid one. To give as much credence to a memoir written 30 or 40 years after the event(s) as documentation/records of the time leaves alot more room for interpretation to affect historical record. Although to not consider such memoirs as valid at all is censorship. One needs to tread carefully when dealing with contemporary reocrds/documents as well, as the aul saying goes ‘history is written by the victor, which has been excellenty demonstrated by the until recently bullet-proof Israeli narrative of the events of 1948.

  • Comrade Stalin

    You seem to have the correct handle, as your namesake thought he could build socialism in a single country with disastrous consequences, especially for the reputation of socialism. Capital is international, and always has been, thus those who oppose it, whether in its entirety or its rough edges must also act internationally.

    Your snide remarks about Carrie are disingenuous as you are able to read her name, thus first she has family links with Ireland, secondly she hates injustice and inequality and thirdly she passionately believes in a 32 county socialist republic. Now tell me would be the best place to combine all three of these beliefs and put them into practice. On a keyboard in LA or on the street etc in Ireland?

    Instead of sitting at her keyboard in LA and NY, Carrie came over years ago, one would have felt you would have admired some one who put her principles before her own home comforts etc. Still you are not the only one to attempt to smear Carrie about her US citizenship, as I wrote on my blog others in a far more powerful position than you have done so before, shame on them, shame on you.

    She and her husband now have two fine Irish Gaelic speaking children, who I’m certain will also become as internationalist as their mother is, as thankfully is the way with many young people these days.

    Garibaldy

    From your comments I wonder if you were a regular reader of the blanket, comrade forgive me for saying this as I am probably mistaken but these days on slugger you seem to attack those who fought back against the inequality in the north, more than you do those who maintained it. I see nothing wrong with criticizing the PRM but surly it need to be kept in perspective, otherwise how does it move the struggle on.

    Comradely regards.

    By the way I thought the Hearts and Minds snippet with Carrie Richard O’Rawe etc was very interesting and well worth a look.

  • Carrie in her own words: “Life with fear. Living with the shadows.”

    And from another source:

    “Irish activism was always in my family,” said Twomey. She said she came to Ireland because, “I wanted to contribute something of substance.”

    It isn’t just those who play with fire that get burnt.

  • Garibaldy

    Mick,

    I read the Blanket regularly – in fact I probably read all the articles. But I also remember how the Provisionals treated dissent in areas where they sought to exercise control while the people involved in that whole ex-Provo group of writers were members of it. And suffice to say there is little evidence of them complaining when other parties were being intimidated, say during the H-Blocks protests, when SDLP members’ cars were stoned or when the ICTU’s northern headquarters were burnt by their organisation for failing to fall into line. There are other and worse examples of course.

    As for the challenging of inequality in the north. Again, the Provisionals’ struggle has been recast. So Adams says in the early 1980s just as he was taking absolute control that a bill of rights had no part to play in their struggle. Now apparently the whole thing was about civil rights.
    As for prisoners’ rights, let’s not forget that while other organisations such as the Union of Students in Ireland had a list of 10 demands for decent conditions for all prisoners, the H-Block protestors specifically wanted the restrictions on other prisoners that were in place to stay there so they could be marked off as special. So I am less inclined than you to accept that the Provos were primarily about challenging inequality in the north.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that while I am glad that the people involved in the Blanket and Forthwrite etc woke up to the authoritarian nature of the organisation they were involved in and fair play to them for challenging it, that authoritarianism did not come about magically with the peace process.

    And as I said above, I cannot reconcile either republican or socialist principles with the activities of the Provos. In terms of my recent criticisms made on this and a couple of other threads, I guess it’s because I’ve seen a lot of people of progressive instinct lost to populism, and becoming allied to sectarian blocs. The next five years are crucial for the future of progressive politics in the north. There is a possibility for building a united community bloc from broadly progressive elements to challenge the sectarian natures of the state. That alternative needs to be articulated.

    In terms of moving the struggle on, I am very happy to work in tandem with people of differing viewpoints on progressive campaigns – be it in anti-war work, water charges, integrated education, the Lisbon Treaty or whatever. The left needs more of it, but equally debate amongst ourselves needs to continue. I’ve just realised how long this is, so will stop there.

  • Garibaldy

    Thanks for this, my mistake.

    Mick

  • Garibaldy.

    Defender of murderous empires both the British racist one and Stalin’s totalitarian one.

    F—-g hypocrite lecturing people, sort your own house out first.

  • Garibaldy

    Garry’s Baldies,

    Thanks for your helpful comments. Can’t remember your former user name, but I see the idea that maybe things like free market ideology and class might have had an impact on responses to the Famine has proven too radical an idea to imbibe.

    I was offering an opinion rather than lecturing. And my opinion is that sectarian murder and religious nationalism are reactionary, not progressive. But I’ll consider your eloquent contribution and maybe change my mind.

  • Oscar

    I think, guys, that this Hearts and Minds programme was very important. It went to the crux of, not only how are we going to be able to dig out the truth about what actually happened during The Troubles, but how can we ever expect the warring parties; the Brits, the cops, the Provos, the INLA, the Loyalist paramilitaries, and God only knows who else, to exhume the skeletons in their own cupboards? Every side wants the other side’s dirty little secrets to be aired in public, but they want to bury their own.

    Makes it virtually impossible to take any of them seriously.

    Also, What value a Truth Commission? Only an idiot would expect any of these people to throw the hands up (and I’m talking leadership).

  • Trebor

    @Oscar

    Actually, in an historical context I’m not sure if the “skeletons in the cupboard” or “dirty little secrets” are necessarily going to be that important to how the troubles are viewed. History is not as often a morality tale as our view of current events, especially the further we are away from it.

    When we view history we tend to do so in terms of grand narratives. Or at least the public do even if fashion amongst certain historians might not do so at a given time. So what will be the story of the Troubles? What was the cause and what was the effect? Part of this depends on what happens next. In thirty years time we might think.

    A) The troubles were about discrimination giving rise to violence which could only be abated once unequal treatment was rectified, like an extended US civil rights campaign narrative with an angry afterglow. To be filed in a box marked with various 60s campaigns around the world and apartheid South Africa in the late 80s / early 90s.

    B) The troubles were part of a last gasp of petty nationalism in Europe, as with the Basques, the Kosovans / Serbs, the Corsicans, now subsumed and solved by a mixture of incorporating all these areas into our new federal United States of Europe with a high degree of subsiduarity. Perhaps with the agreement being viewed as a prototype of political arrangements applied elsewhere to solve similar problems in our new uber-Switzerland. A warning about what can go wrong without proper attention being paid to consociational structures.

    C) Maybe the last gasp of the concept of Britishness as the United Kingdom has split into smaller parts, perhaps with most (now secular as with their Catholic counterparts) Protestants having peacefully accepted a place in a united Ireland once they saw that Britishness was an outdated concept.

    D) An occasional bout of a perennial tribal problem. Winston Churchill’s “dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone” which unfortunately has flared up again in 2032. Perhaps a problem which was never solved or even eased by the existance of a united Ireland in which it has been just as bad as before. A problem that seems to descend into violence of one sort or another every couple of decades like some kind of western European version of the Lebanon. Perhaps a warning we should have heeded before we created other “multicultural” societies elsewhere through policies of immigration and failure to assimilate them into a single national identity while France struggles with it’s Muslim seperatist problems.

    I think that when we will look back at the troubles we will see it through spectacles coloured by our own present.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    Your snide remarks about Carrie are disingenuous as you are able to read her name, thus first she has family links with Ireland,

    Aside from my comment on the general trend of how ex-republican prisoners seem to hook up with Americans of a particular demographic, I said nothing about Carrie, although I did question other people’s characterizations of her.

    I don’t think having family links is the same as having grown up in the sectarian/tribal quagmire of the troubles. I’ve said the exact same thing to those crazy nutters in South Carolina and nearby who align themselves with the loyalists.

    I am aware of some of the background of how republicanism operated in the jails, through the Saoirse organzation, and I have to say it was impressive in it’s scope and execution. I know of all of the bus tours that they organized, bussing the overweight hyphenated Americans wearing their his-and-hers matching raincoats around various parts of Belfast to take photographs, stay with “soldiers” and see some of the ongoing “oppression”. The setting up of “penpals” between prisoners and women, usually in the USA, was actively encouraged, presumably as a way to improve the morale of the inmates, as it gave them something to look forward to for when they got out, and that’s why so many ex-prisoners have buggered off to the USA, turning their back on the “socialist republic” dream, leaving the rest of us to figure out how to fix the mess they helped create. There are exceptions to the rules here, a few of these American pro-republican women are intelligent and know what they are talking about (I count one of them as one of my best friends), and I am sure Carrie falls into that category, but the fact remains that a greater number of them are just desperate to get themselves shacked up with a heroic freedom-fighter tough guy.

    secondly she hates injustice and inequality and thirdly she passionately believes in a 32 county socialist republic.

    Indeed, it’s a real shame that nobody else does.

    Now tell me would be the best place to combine all three of these beliefs and put them into practice.

    Happily, Mick. At the hustings and in the ballot box. Are we going to get a chance to vote for this socialist republic ? If we’re not, then precisely what does your work “on the street” consist of ? How will you translate activism into results ?

    On a keyboard in LA or on the street etc in
    Ireland?

    You tell me. Another contributor was explaining how he had been corresponding with her on bulletin boards for the past 15 years, and she is described above as the editor of The Blanket. That involves a lot of keyboarding. It saddens me to have to respond to your misinterpretation here, because I made no specific criticism of the person, and I think keyboarding is a perfectly valid way to press your agenda. The Blanket is a consistently good, well argued, and well-written read, clearly organized by people with a clue – even your articles, even though you’re a crazy old trot. My point is that the “struggle” is something which is borne out of people who have been in the thick of sectarian tribal conflict.

    None of the people who joined the IRA, and that includes McIntyre, Sands, and all the rest, were intellectual revolutionary poetry-writing types when they volunteered. They were merely ordinary people caught up in the conflict at the time, and they wanted to get back at the Brits. The intellectualization of the conflict, and of republicanism, came later, inside the h-blocks. So I completely reject the idea that someone can read a few books or talk to a few people and become embued with the same passion as have been people who were in the thick of it. It’s a completely different dynamic.

  • Robbie

    ‘So I completely reject the idea that someone can read a few books or talk to a few people and become embued with the same passion as have been people who were in the thick of it. It’s a completely different dynamic.’

    We’re going to have some considerable problem assessing any subject, or writing any kind of history if ‘we had to be there to be able to talk about it’. People who say this kind of thing normally have very tenuous connections to ‘the thick of it’, as those ‘in the thick of it’ tend to be very careful indeed about boasting about it. Actually it is precisely the sense of ‘distance’ that allows the historian to fulfil his function, step back, pool the list of sources (primary first, and secondary), and look into the heart of the debate. Phoenix – a fine historian himself – describes the hisorian’s most desired document as possessing that ‘immediacy’, and the value of the historian is that he/she looks at sources from both kinds of storm-centre in the Troubles, i.e. ‘the thick of it’ from the point of view, say, of both the Shankhill Road and the Falls. But if you’re saying we had to be in the ‘thick of it’ to write about it then it reflects dubiously on you. This is normally the kind of thing very lacklustre middle class denizens of Ireland propound as people who have not lived through anything much at all.

    Hearts and Minds is a superb programme though, the level of this edition extraordinary in light of other programmes on television.

  • ‘I don’t think having family links is the same as having grown up in the sectarian/tribal quagmire of the troubles.’

    Comrade Stalin

    Forgive my short reply but it is late, I understand the point you make [see above] and whilst I personally have some sympathy with it, over all I reject it as the conflict in the north has not been between just the two working class communities. The UK State played the main role and the southern state was far from a silent partner and those actually pulling the strings on the Unionist side were almost all middle or lower middle class, then their was/is the Catholic church.

    Thus it was imperative that the RM extended their struggle for a united Ireland way beyond what can be described nastily as the killing zone. If you use your analogy no middle class person could be a socialist as they have no personal experiences of working class poverty, mass unemployment/whatever etc. Now whilst I have met some very stupid and arrogant middle class lefties, I have also met some who are very fine comrades.

    Robbie

    You make some important points which i agree with.

    Best regards to you both

    Mick

  • Garibaldy

    I think that CS has better put something I was trying to say earlier myself. Which is that the reasons people gave for joining the Provos after they had been in gaol were different than their motivation when actually joining. For example, when Brendan Hughes died I read about how he said he spent an average day in the early 70s, which was an account of purely military activity. Yet this was at a time when mass demonstrations and political agitation was continuing, and having a serious impact, as can be seen from the Stormont government’s private papers, which display a great deal of concern at civil rights and political agitation. There was no sign in his account, or in many of the other reminiscences of his comrades, of political activity, of challenging inequality in this context. Yet that history has been recast, which is why I was expressing concerns about revisionism earlier in the thread.

    I agree with the criticisms made of CS’ other points. In one sense he is right to say that people who live in a given situation are those who have the deepest understanding of it, but all of us take positions on foreign events, and it is right that we should, whether it be Apartheid South Africa, Palestine, or the US elections. Outside experience can bring a great deal but can never be relied upon to replace the activity of people who face their own challenges. And especially if someone moves to a place, then there is no reason that their origins should be used against them.

    On the point about writing history, it is sometimes suggested that people who aren’t Irish can never properly appreciate Irish history. Utter nonsense, with many of the best works on Irish history coming from foreigners.

    In short, we should be open to influences from abroad. Irish society always has been, and to attempt to reverse that is only to impoverish ourselves.