Victimhood and pony riding

In the midst of the arguments during the Eames Bradley launch there was an episode where Cedric Wilson was told by Bob Morrow the DUP chaplain of Upper Bann “Cedric we were all victims.” The TUV have made an issue of this which is entirely reasonable. I am slightly unsure what Mr. Morrow means by this: if he was a victim, I am truly sorry for him. If, however, he means everyone here was a victim: there is a significant problem. I think in fairness to both Mr. Morrow and the DUP it must, however, be admitted that the idea that we were all victims would not be accepted by either the DUP nor probably Mr. Morrow. The DUP have tabled a motion condemning Eames Bradley which is to be debated this week. If Morrow really meant that we were all victims, it was probably simply a throw away remark during a heated exchange. He should not have said it, but trying to equate this with DUP policy, is maybe a little unfair. However, the episode did bring back into focus the notion that somehow we were all victims and I would submit that is one of these woolly falsehoods which should again be challenged.I know quite a few victims; Fermanagh has many of them. There are people whom I have met who had friends and relatives murdered, others who were physically injured or psychologically damaged by the dreadful things which happened here. I, however, cannot be described in any way as a victim. Prior to my marriage (long after the ceasefires) I was related to no victims, despite being almost as old as the troubles, none of my immediate family were killed, injured, traumatised or had their livelihoods damaged etc. As such by no stretch of the imagination could I self define as a victim. I am sure that some people who read this web site are genuine victims; however, I suggest many of us are not. Non victimhood is of course by no means unique to the unionist community.

A Roman Catholic woman from the city-side in Londonderry with whom I worked once recounted a story from her student days which I am sure will ring true for many on both sides. She was at Queen’s but a young man she was at school with (also from Derry) was at university somewhere in GB. He rang her during the first term and was recounting his discussions about Northern Ireland with other students. He had clearly been showing off about how tough a time his childhood had been (both my friend and the young man in question were from moderately privileged Derry backgrounds). My friend provided the perfect putdown saying with overwhelming sarcasm: “Oh yes it was awful: sometimes when the army were stopping on the bridge we were late for horse riding lessons.” The ludicrous reality, however, is that if we are all victims, my friend who was late for horse riding could, in the barmy Newspeak of Northern Ireland, be described as a victim.

It is worth remembering that, awful as the troubles were for many, there were others of us for whom they were not personally terrible. We may have regarded what was happening as utterly dreadful but it did not in any particularly major way impact on our lives. As such we were in no real way victims. I would further suggest that those of us who were clearly not victims should studiously avoid ever pretending that we were.

The reasons for this are actually fairly simple. The first and most overwhelming one is that for non victims to try to try to invent for themselves the status of victim is utterly unfair to the real victims and survivors. To pretend that the minor irritations to our lives during the troubles in any way compared to what happened to some people is extremely insulting. We may care deeply about what happened to our fellow citizens, however, we did not have the problems that they had and should not pretend that our minor irritations were anything other than trivial in comparison. An analogy might be with Ashkenazi Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK compared to those in mainland Europe during the Second World War. They clearly cared deeply about the plight of their coreligionists in Europe and would have had a grave fear that if Britain were invaded then they would have been in mortal danger. However, even when things were at their lowest ebb in 1940-41 the very considerable bulwark of Fighter Command and the Home Fleet stood between them and their potential oppressors. For such a Jewish or JW person to try to pretend that they suffered in the Holocaust would be extremely insulting to those who really suffered.

Another more political reason to avoid invented victimhood is that if we all pretend that we were involved in the troubles that can be a way by which we can, initially in a very limited way, begin to legitimise the perverse argument that we were all involved in a real war rather than a nasty criminal campaign. That can itself begin the road to legitimising the terrorists as “soldiers” rather than the criminals which they clearly were.
In addition if we were all involved in the troubles, then that begins to give some sort of credibility to the idea that we are all responsible for what happened. That of course is the sort of argument the terrorists and their cheerleaders would like to have us accept: they see it as reducing their culpability by trying to drag us down into the moral gutter which they inhabit. This must be resisted: individuals who committed no immoral or criminal acts should not be made to feel guilty in any way for criminal acts supposedly carried out “in their name.” My horse riding friend was as utterly innocent of any and all IRA murders as I am of any and all loyalist murders.

Of course with the “we must move forward” brigade there is always the next step which is, I submit, a powerful and utterly cynical reason for trying to suggest that we are all victims. If we were all victims and we were all involved then the logic goes that we are all responsible for “moving forward” and ensuring that these things “never happen again.” This set of moral and logical gymnastics can then be utilised to demand that we accept things like Eames Bradley and other clearly immoral ideas.

As such there are political reasons why those of us who did not suffer in the Troubles should say that we were in no way victims. However, overwhelmingly there is the moral argument. How dare any of us whom the Troubles had little effect on presume to don the mantle of victimhood? Those who had that mantle thrust upon them would, I am sure, much rather not possess it. For us non victims to try to wallow in some sort of pretended suffering is just another insult to real victims: people for whom the Troubles were much more than being late for pony riding.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.