I watched BBC’s Panorama on state collusion in criminality during the troubles in a state of shock. I knew this kind of thing happened, we all did… people killed, people were killed, people enabled killings and people seemed to acknowledge that killing just sort of…happened.
I’m 28, I was born in May 1987 four days before the Loughgall Ambush, I was eight months old when the Milltown Cemetary attack took place, I wasn’t yet two years old when Pat Finucane was murdered, a month before my 6th birthday the Castlerock killings took place in a bar that many years later I would have lunch in. I only know these things because of Wikipedia.
Please don’t misunderstand my point here, I’m not in any way whatsoever trying to lessen the impact of what has come to pass. I actually feel an odd sense of…shame?… that all this went on, this affected so very many of the people that I interact with on a daily basis, that I walk past people on the street who have all of this in their mind somewhere. I should know, we all should.
When I watched Panorama a quote came to mind, “Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s not my fault that I can’t remember the past, but I could do more to educate myself of it… but should I really?
I can remember security checkpoints in Belfast, it being normal to see soldiers, I can remember being on the number 30 bus from Braniel to City Centre going through Short Strand and when the door opened, a small object was thrown on that began to hiss, my grandmother and the others on the bus screaming, then realising that it was just a can of coke that must have cracked or been cracked and was hissing coca cola out. That’s it though.
Even the Omagh bomb, I can remember seeing it on TV, but it seemed so foreign, of a distant world that I was no part of. When I hear people talk about The Past, The Legacy of the Troubles or whatever language is en vogue to describe the consequences of this era, I feel completely disassociated from it.
So many issues that we as a society face in modern times have issues and elements strongly (and often wholly) influenced by these actions that are beyond my understanding, I often casually dismiss them with, “Can we not just move on, yes, we faced bad times… they’re done…move on,” or words to that effect. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, in fact, I know I’m not. We talk so often about our divided society, and without a doubt it is, but what of the divide between those that have been there and experienced that.
I have written on Slugger before about how, even though I consider myself pro-union, I have no problem whatsoever with voting for a nationalist party and I have faced, shall we say… strong criticism, along the lines of “how dare you think that and call yourself pro-union.” I stand by my opinion, but from watching Panorama last night, and widening my knowledge a bit more about the troubles, I can now completely understand where this opposition comes from.
On my drive home from work today, BBC Evening Extra featured an interview with a man who survived being shot four times in the Grahams bookmakers shooting on the lower Ormeau road in 1992, he spoke calmly and concisely about what he experience that day and the effect it had on his family, it was a very emotional account to hear. (I didn’t catch the guys name but if someone knows, I’ll amend this to cite him) On twitter after the show I mentioned how I felt about it and people I know shared their stories of life during the troubles, some of which were… I actually don’t have words for them, sorry but I don’t. This is what I am not connected with.
We speak of how the troubles are a generational thing, perhaps I’m on that cusp of a generation that evaded being scarred by the troubles, but I don’t think I will ever be able to filter what happened and the extent to which it happened into my critical thinking. It’s like asking me to formulate an argument in Spanish, I know a little bit and I can probably bluff it to someone who has never heard Spanish before, but ultimately it would be from a fraudulent problem.
I’ve suggested before, not entirely unseriously, that Stormont should be repopulated with people who are not old enough to have that bias, that hatred or that emotional investment in the psychology of division… I’m not sure I believe that anymore. I could never fathom how to help someone deal with what they went through in the many, many atrocities. I don’t see how anyone who was never there could. As I said, it’s of a different time, a different place, a different world.
We do need to move forward to a place where it isn’t us and them (or is it them and us?), where peace walls are superfluous and political lines are drawn over policy and not past. A solution for that though? Is there anybody that knows? Is it just something that there is no solution for, that we just need to bury it deep in our collective psyche, so deep that it never gets the chance to surface? It’s interesting to note that at flashpoints when trouble occurs, the crowd tend to be around my age or even younger, it’s this hereditary hatred that can and should be rooted out.
My family without doubt faced events that damaged them, I have written before that I had family in the UDR, there are other connections also… whatever feeling they had towards anyone who wronged them was pushed towards me, we almost need this kind of public education to wider society, something with the message directed at those who suffered and saying “we get it, we do, you went through terrible times, but leave your kids out of it.”
As the years tick by, more and more people will have no knowledge of these events, Panorama style shows will be featured on the History Channel and not mainstream channels, the leaders of tomorrow will have less of a clue about the events I listed previously than I. But how can we make sure that where we go to and where we came from is as far away from each other as the troubles feels to me? Is it a case of educating people as to what happened? That never happened to me, and I do wonder if perhaps I’m happier in my peaceful ignorance…
Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.