So, I have to admit, it slipped my mind that the embargo was up already on the preview of Peter Taylor’s elegiac look on the Trouble when he asked the question few have dared to: who won the war? Now it’s everywhere it seems.
This is as much an elegy on the part of a veteran journalist, a last look on the appalling vista he brought consistently brought us right throughout the troubles. There’s some interesting effects in playing old codgers their own words from when they were in full flight.
As a history, it’s fairly predictable even plodding at times. But that’s a problem with the whole field of study, not just Taylor’s film in particular. There are very few books these days that bring much that’s fresh to the Troubles table.
When it comes to his turn McGuinness momentarily knits his brow when he lifts his eye to meet Taylor’s from his older, bolder self boasting about now ‘only the cutting edge of the IRA’ bringing freedom. It’s not just the old soldiers like McDonald, McGuinness and Hutchinson who signally fail to explain their sudden change in tack.
Strangely, given the events of yesterday, one of the few who does pull it off with some aplomb is the First Minister Peter Robinson, but then his compromises were more like late accommodations: he hadn’t played much part of the actual deal making.
But there’s telling moments too from former players who’ve since moved on. Notably Jonathan Powell, who makes a oddly brief appearance:
The thing about extremes is that it is very difficult to be extreme when you are worrying about water rates than when you are waving a gun.
There’s almost enough material in that one short statement for whole other programme on ‘winning the peace’.
The thought it begs is to ask how fit are men who were well suited to organising in conflict to building foundations of a peaceful. The understandable focus for Powell, Blair, Ahern, Clinton and latterly Bush was to end war, rather than sow seeds of peace.
In fact what we’ve actually learned since is that, with or without their guns, men of war don’t actually worry about water rates.
Nor the delivery of services, the prevention of poverty, the development of new economies fit to take up the challenge of an ever changing world, no more than Churchill was fit for the challenge of building the Welfare state after WW2.
None of it, frankly, is or ever could be epic enough. So the zero sum continues within the peace. War by other means.
Who won? Taylor balances his bets. Clearly the IRA lost, but in future, he says, there is no reason why it’s leadership might not have a united Ireland in future. The key to that is winning the peace.
Who Won The War? is on Monday 29 September on BBC One Northern Ireland at 9pm.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty