I Just Don’t Get The Troubles

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…

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  • Zeno

    “why they believed what they did”

    Believing in what you do or did does not excuse murder. It doesn’t excuse attacks on civilians. Extreme Muslims believe in what the do.

  • Zeno

    If you excuse and laud the “combatants” and “freedom fighters” it will only give succor and encouragement to others following the same route. All murder of innocent men women and children must be condemned and described for what it was. Sectarian slaughter.

  • Skibo

    Pray tell how long does an invading force have to be in a country before they can claim the right of the oppressed and call those who fight for the return of their lands as terrorists? Sectarian slaughter is what happened before the plantation. What came first the chicken or the egg?

  • Zeno

    So this “invading force”, who pumped billions into the country and continue to do so were the problem and the way to get rid of them was to murder local men women and children? And that’s why we should laud the brave freedom fighters and not condemn those who engaged in sectarian slaughter, used human bombs and kidnapped and disappeared people?

  • Skibo

    Zeno have you ever read the history of Ulster? You do not want to accept that peace and reconciliation has to start somewhere. If you are going to keep looking back over your shoulder at the last 40 years picking out the atrocities that were attributed to the Republicans, then Republicans will continue looking over their shoulder at the previous 70 years of Unionist domination in Ulster and further back for around 700 years at English occupation.
    Know what happens then? Both cannot see where they are going and end up going round in circles.
    Look ahead. Look to the future. Start from today and say I will love my neighbour as myself. A very famous man said that 2000 years ago.

  • Zeno

    You are talking like someone who had no experience of the dirty little sectarian slaughter. Maybe I’m wrong. did you have any friends or family murdered?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I understand forwards and backwards why they believed what they believed. But if anything, their ideology makes the crimes worse. They weren’t just seeking to kill people but negate their humanity and blame them for the terrorists’ own cruelty.

  • Skibo

    And the British army believes what they do is right. It includes deaths of innocents. Any war guerilla of out and out warfare includes the death of innocent people. Look at how the USA ended their war against Japan. They killed a third of a million people with one bomb and when it did not have the effect they wanted they repeated their action. How in a Christian outlook can that be acceptable.

  • Zeno

    With that logic, you excuse the Paras for Bloody Sunday and the Shankill Butchers cos it was all just a wee bit of war and these things happen.

  • Skibo

    That is your view and your are entitled to it. Just because you repeat it does not make it right.
    I have my view that Unionism is not prepared to accept their action in creating the conditions for the Troubles. Do you think they have any case to answer.
    Had the people of Ireland as a whole accepted the decision of the majority of people, could we have had home rule in Ireland before WW1?
    Had unionism not formed a private army in 1912 and armed it with German guns, would the Irish citizens army ever have been armed?
    Had NI when it was set up in 1922 been truly democratic and Catholics not been deamonised and been accepted as equal to their protestant neighbours would we have had troubles during the fifties?
    Had Stormont moved during the sixties to introduce civil rights for all, would the troubles as we have known them ever have happened.
    I do not wash the hands of Republicans for their actions. They know there were many actions by their hands that were and are impossible to defend but nobody can walk away with clean hands.
    I am a parent and when my children fight, when thinks have calmed down, I take them back through their actions and show how actions or lack of actions on each side could have prevented the situation from exploding into full blooded confrontation.
    When you criticize my community for their actions don’t be surprised when I tell you how your community could have prevented the full blooded confrontation.

  • Skibo

    Zeno, Zeno, Zeno, when I point out atrocities that have been committed by others that I believe you would approve of, it is to show the complete lack of consistency in your argument i.e this atrocity is acceptable because we did it against the bad guys but the bad guys can’t do it to us.
    I do not accept that murdering of innocents is right and it is done by all when war starts. Nobody holds the high ground when the gun is lifted.
    You have been brain washed into thinking anything done in the name of Britain or Ulster is acceptable or am I wrong.
    Maybe I missed it where you condemned violence and discrimination inflicted by the Unionist community or in their name without mentioning the IRA.
    AS for the Shankill Butchers, I hope you would not hold up them as the protectors of all that is good in Loyalist society.

  • Zeno

    “You have been brain washed into thinking anything done in the name of Britain or Ulster is acceptable or am I wrong.”

    I’m one of the people who haven’t been brain washed and we are in the majority. I’ve condemned loyalist and republican violence and state violence. I’m not a unionist or a nationalist.

  • Skibo

    No problem Zeno, I am prepared to say if I have made a mistake. Can you point out where you have condemned Unionist/ Loyalist violence without noting the IRA?

  • Zeno

    Show me a thread where someone is excusing loyalist paramilitaries and I’ll show you my response.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think the unionists of that era do have a case to answer in contributing to the conditions in which the breakdown of law and order in the late 60s happened, of course.
    What I have a huge problem with is moving from a description of the inadequacies of the UUP in government pre-1969 to one of the extreme deliberate terrorist violence of the Troubles with barely a shift of gear.

    As I think we all now agree, the violence was never necessary and never part of the solution. Let alone it going for 30 years and taking 3,000+ lives.

    I think it’s a real weakness in the (for want of a better word) nationalist analysis of the Troubles that it so smoothly segues from legitimate protest into the IRA’s “Armed Struggle” as if the latter were some kind of inevitable consequence of the former. That’s surely missing a rather important trick, in the form of the Provisional IRA’s own agenda, goals and decision-making.

    They like to pretend now as if they were just “returning serve”, to use a horrible euphemism. They have their well-rehearsed, but it turns out utterly misleading, story around August 1969 to trot out to ‘prove’ their good faith. However, in reality they were leading the way in ramping up the violent tensions, instigating the violence from very early on and then using the break-down of law and order they helped provoke to develop their role as self-appointed “protectors” of the Catholic community. It was they who made the quite deliberate, planned decision in January 1970 to launch the “armed struggle” to end by force NI’s voted-for status as a part of the UK. They then proceeded to kill over 2,000 people in furtherance of that goal.

    It is a complete non-sequitur to go from criticisms of fairness and justice under the UUP governments to that. It ignores all the other courses of action that were available and ignores the fact that most Catholics at the time supported the SDLP’s, not the IRA’s, approach to reform.

  • Skibo

    I don’t have time to answer your post completely at the moment but in time I will.
    My biggest issue with it is how you stand over the democratic decision for NI to remain part of the UK.
    Are you referring to the establishment of NI as democratic entity at the barrel of German guns in UVF hands or the referendum in the seventies where all nationalist parties refused to be part of.
    The legal right of NI to be considered a democratic entity is what I would question as it was an act of terrorism. Something most Protestants would not like to be associated with (terrorism that is).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It was established imperfectly, but on a broadly democratic basis – the people within the NI unit were in favour of the region retaining its UK status. This has remained the case ever since, as even SF had to recognise in the Good Friday Agreement. It is agreed by all as legitimate. Look it up if you think it’s just me saying this. The Irish govt, SDLP and SF all agreed with NI’s legitimacy and accepted the democratic basis of its existence.

    Look at this way. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the pro-Union population in 1921 Ulster was about 900,000 and the pro-Irish-unity population was about 600,000. The solution we went with left those 600,000 people a minority in a country they didn’t choose. But the proposed alternative, a united Ireland, would have been worse: it would have left 900,000 as a minority in a country they didn’t choose. So I’m struggling to see the argument for going for the united Ireland option in 1921, or at any time since.

    There’s a good argument for drawing a better border – i.e. one that better minimised national minorities left on the wrong side – but not one for a worse border, as proposed by Irish nationalists of the time.

    Irish nationalism took a long time to fully realise its mistake, but to be fair, it now has. Yet there are signs of back-sliding and this is a danger. We need to keep moving the peace process further.