A recent article on the blog Slugger O’Toole titled Why the Irish can’t “get over” ‘The Troubles’ raises a number of great questions. It is also relevant to centenary year as a number of political commentators have claimed that Jubilee celebrations in 1966 acted as a catalyst to the conflict that started some three years later. Tenuous claims, rebutted below, but claims nonetheless.
In asking the above question, the writer draws comparisons between the conflict in the north of Ireland and other conflicts around the world. Conflicts such as World War 2, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia. It claims that these places experienced far worse conflict than the north, in terms of numbers dead, tortured and property destroyed, yet they have managed to “get over” their past and even flourished. The Olympics in Tokyo, just 19 years after the atomic destruction of two of their cities as well as the rapid economic and technological expansion of Japan, is used as examples.
Quite an unfair comparison really given that Japan was completely destroyed and humiliated and then rebuilt from the ground up by the USA and its allies after the war. This was not the case nor was it necessary in that respect in the north of Ireland. Furthermore World War 2 was open warfare and the conflict in the north of Ireland was hidden guerilla warfare. It is also unclear as to how Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Rwanda have since faired.
The comparisons to World War 2 as a whole is inappropriate. World War 2 was broadly speaking fought in the UK and mainland Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. Where that war was fought, particularly in Europe, they haven’t ‘got over’ it either. World War 2, and offshoots of it, is still hotly debated in Berlin – http://peterk.podomatic.com/entry/2016-04-17T04_40_02-07_00
Also, a significant part of the English population cannot let go, despite being on the “winning side”.
However, the writer, Samuel Thompson, raises valid questions. He asks whether the argument is perplexed by the fact that we are unable to define what happened between 1969 and 1997. Nobody can clearly state, accept or admit to the fact that we may have experienced a “…low intensity civil war, an armed insurgency against British Rule or a law and order problem?”
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy said that “War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political communities”. Is this what happened? There is a very strong, and possibly undeniable, case for agreeing with this as a definition for what happened in the north of Ireland.
Therefore, describing what happened there from 1969 to 1997 as “The Troubles” is wrong. It’s misleading. Shooting, bombings and torturing cannot be euphemistically referred to as “Troubles”. The British Government lead this euphemistic charge through Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Roy Mason. He introduced the policies of “Normalisation” and “Ulsterisation”. Normalisation attempted to criminalise Irish Republicans while Ulsterisation attempted to leave matters in the hands of locals in the north to police. Both of these policies failed as the British army and SAS were deployed, so the conflict with the IRA was neither criminal nor local.
Finally, in rebutting claims that the 1916 Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1966 lead to the conflict, the following must be considered:
- Gerrymandering across the north of Ireland six counties
- The B Special and Loyalist attacks of Republican neighbourhoods which lead to;
- The Battle of the Bogside in Derry and the arrival of British army troops.
- Not to mention attacks by British terror paramilitary groups, such as the UVF in 1966.
I dare say these tragic events had a lot more to do with the start of the 1969-1997 conflict that a bit of pomp and ceremony up O’ Connell Street.
Too much has been revealed for anyone to believe it was a simple sectarian conflict. Too much has been produced and written by experts, over the last 30 years to believe that it was so. Like so many other conflicts in the world it was dirty and local divisions were more likely exploited to serve another agenda. What was that agenda is another question that needs to be asked.
When we openly discuss and “get over” what happened in Ireland between 1969 and 1997 as well as what lead to this, maybe we can make build a present that everybody can live in. This may also mean that all sides will have to face up to what they did and face possible prosecution for war crimes – this excludes nobody. A final question therefore must be – Are we ready to “get over” it?