Who won the war? More importantly, who if anyone, is creating the peace?

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.

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  • Lionel Hutz

    I was listening to this Nolan today. The whole violence pays argument.The only thing that came to my mind is “post hoc ergo propter hoc”.

  • Michael Henry

    Sinn Fein Support Peace- whilst the Americans / Brits and Unionists will support bombers killing next week-The latter three are back to playing the Crying losing game- a bunch of youngsters-

  • Morpheus

    Why he feels the need to even ask the question is beyond me.

    We have had 100+ years of terrible things happening in NI – let’s learn from it, leave it behind and move on

  • sean treacy

    I see that Journalistic icon so beloved of Slugger has finally come out.He states on UTV : “WE didnt bomb the IRA from the air”.Glad to see where Malachy O’Doherty’s sympathies truly lie!

  • Twilight of the Prods

    The IRA challenged the legitimacy of Dail Eireann, usurped the name and function of the Irish Army – Oglaigh na hEireann, – why shouldn’t a citizen born in the Republic of Ireland note that the Irish Air Force did not bomb Provisional IRA training camps or domiciles?

  • Bryan Magee

    I don’t think it would have been sensible for Unionists to go around saying anyone had “won”. So many people of both religions died, nobody won.

    I think rather than saying anyone won, you can say that the IRA’s objectives were not achieved – they aimed to take NI out of the UK and that didn’t happen.

    Unionists were not part of war, this was a terrorist campaign by the IRA on UK soil so the British government had to defend its citizens from that threat.

  • mickfealty

    From your lips to the ears of the outraged victims hungering for justice…

  • Morpheus

    And those hungering for justice care who won the war?


  • sean treacy

    Dont think Malachy was referring to the staters .Their capacity to bomb is nil.Also Mal self declared as a unionist lately.

  • Bryan Magee

    Sean: the UK had a duty to defend its citizens against the IRA’s campaign. It is no surprise to learn that Malachi is not on the IRA’s side, in fact he has always made clear that like most people he was appalled by the IRA.

  • Morpheus

    No, the UK had a duty to defend its citizens – fullstop. I give you Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy, Glenanne Gang, etc.

    Watch this for how badly its citizens were defended

  • sean treacy

    Malachi by using the words “we” and “bomb” has put himself in the position that the next time he gets on his high horse he is entitled to be robustly challenged about the nefarious activities of the British state.He has clearly taken sides in the conflict and can no longer hide behind “a plague on all your houses ” platitudes.

  • Zeno1

    Who won the war? More importantly, who if anyone, is creating the peace?

    It has really nothing to do with that Mick. The battle now is to see who can keep their voters indoctrinated the longest. West Belfast is a Sinn Fen power base but sooner or later they will catch on that the shinners do nothing for them. No investment , No Jobs, zilch. The hardcore Unionist areas are the same. it’s just a matter of finding how much shite the proletariat can eat before they wake up.

  • mac tire

    Of course Unionist politicians were part of the war. As were many of their voters – UDR, RUC and all the other alphabet organisations which made up the proxy gangs.

    The British did not defend its citizens when it gunned many down on the streets. They were Irish then.

    Does UK soil have a particular texture, smell, identifying mark? Soil lol. Blut und Boden! This is our problem.

  • Barry Walsh

    Imagine if the Nationalist/Catholic maintained a peaceful political campaign instead of the armed struggle, a lot more would have been achieved more quickly with less heartache for all.

    When the path of violence was chosen, the moral high ground was squandered. The argument became about terrorism and stopped it, not about equality and justice for all.

    If non-violence was pursued the UK government would have been under pressure from around the world to reform NI.

  • Morpheus

    Really? Because there was a period of 50-odd years there when NI could have been reformed from a having a ‘Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’ to something acceptable to all but the opportunity was squandered. Any attempt at reform was fought tooth and nail right up to 1998 and the equality brought by the GFA.

    Militant action was not necessary in my opinion but after the Civil Rights beatings, the burning of Bombay Street, the rise of state-aided loyalist paramilitaries, unfair policing, internment etc some and I repeat SOME felt it was necessay.

    There is plenty of blame to go around, don’t worry

  • carl marks

    Seriously “ unionists weren’t part of the war” UDA/UFF/UFF/UDR/THIRD FARCE/ULSTER RESISTANCE, and let’s not forget the first murders and bombings were carried out by unionists, would you like to reconsider that statement!

  • carl marks

    Barry Google who choose the path to violence; hint, Malvern ST, Silent Valley bombings, and what was the name of that bridge were the Civil rights marchers were attacked by Paisleyites, and all this happened before the Provies formed.

  • carl marks

    Didn’t take the duty to protect people from the loyalists and the British Army to heart, and seemingly neither do you!

  • gunterprien

    “No investment , No Jobs, zilch. The hardcore Unionist areas are the same. it’s just a matter of finding how much shite the proletariat can eat before they wake up.2

    I keep waiting for you to wake up to the economic disaster that is/was the Uk(raine)
    With shipbuilding/ Merchant Navy.
    Motor industry/ motorcycles.
    Steel making.
    Coal mining
    Everything de industrialized wastleland.
    So, When are you going to wake up..To the state of your beloved Uk(raine)?