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My Bloody Sunday 1972

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 05:34:16 PM EST

(Now also available on Booman and in Orange where a member of the family of one of those killed has commented).

Bloody Sunday was for me one of those life defining events, to be remembered a bit like the day JFK was assassinated, Nelson Mandela was freed, and I first heard Neil Young's "Harvest" and "After the Gold Rush" holed up in some Lexington, Virginia attic after some kind students had offered me a lift and a place to stay for the night as I was hitch-hiking my way down the east coast of America in 1973.

I was a student in Trinity College Dublin at the time of Bloody Sunday in 1972, not very happy with myself, my course, or the world into which I had been born. The world seemed to be a place where the powerful did more or less as they pleased, and the little people always got squashed. Paratroopers firing dum-dum bullets at unarmed civil rights marchers seemed to capture that feeling perfectly. I was enraged, and could do absolutely nothing about it.

Some of my contemporaries joined the Republican Movement, the anti-Apartheid Movement or Amnesty International. A Cabinet Minister and future Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, was dismissed for allegedly supporting the running of guns to the then almost quiescent IRA.

The picture of a Bogside mural at the top of this Diary is somewhat misleading. Father Edward (later Bishop) Daly did carry a white handkerchief as he was helping the wounded to safety under fire. But the attempt to portray a paratrooper standing on a bloody civil rights banner gives the misleading impression that he was standing with them and not shooting from cover some distance away. Neither were the IRA active in defending civilians. That was the time when the letters IRA were mockingly referred to as standing for "I Ran Away".

I studied Anarchism and Marxism and wrote for the college rag. It didn't amount to much.

That summer I worked as a summer student on a community development project in the nationalist estate of Kilwilkie, Lurgan, in Northern Ireland: a ghetto surrounded by a motorway, a railway line, and hostile Protestant estates. Every night we had the pigs - Saracen armoured cars screaming through the streets - and hauling people off to internment - indefinite detention without trial, and often with torture as a routine part of the process.

As a group of student volunteers we had everybody confused: Irish, English, Australian, my German name and passport at the time; Catholic, Protestant, Quaker, and a Krishnamurti devotee. Who's side were we on?


We had originally been invited in as part of a VSO project organised by the (relatively) middle class Community Centre Committee. We got on fine with them organising children's activities, adventure trails, street football leagues, arts and craft classes, sports days and the like.

It was a good learning experience for me in terms of the importance of tribal identity. We would put red arm bands on one team, and blue on another, and instantaneously the two teams would be transformed into warring factions ready to give blood for the cause - whatever the sport or the ostensible purpose of the exercise. No matter that brothers or best mates were on opposing sides.

After a lifetime's involvement in competitive sports I have always marvelled at how coaches talk about having to motivate teams. Our problem was to stop them killing each other and keeping passions down to a manageable level. Of course all were best friends again after the battle was done and the arm bands removed. That is the beauty of sport when done properly by those who know how.

But it was our tribal identity as a student volunteer group which was the larger issue. We had status in the eyes of our middle class patrons because of our third level studies and the good work we were so obviously doing with the kids. But we were viewed with extreme suspicion by the local Stickies (the Official IRA), their mortal enemies the Provos (provisional IRA), and the various branches of the local socialist and communist groups. Who were we spying on, and for whom?

Being an outsider was an advantage in terms of navigating the many rivalries and petty jealousies within the local community which often prevented local community initiatives from getting off the ground if they were seen as the brainchild of one or other group. But it was a distinct liability if any one of the more militant groups came to regard us as spies. We did our best to get along with everyone, and our willingness to listen and learn the differing perspectives of different protagonists earned us a certain grudging, if distant, respect.

One thing we had to do however, was to demonstrate our solidarity with the community as a whole. Each of us were living with a different family on the estate and we had to be sensitive to their feelings. And so when a big Civil Rights march came to town, we made sure to join virtually everyone else (other than our more conservative middle class sponsors) on the march.

Unfortunately our Australian student (and Krishnamurti devotee) had been in a serious motorbike accident not long previously, and could only walk on crutches for a limited period of time. He was in a lot of pain returning from the march, and we were forced to take a short cut home through a neighbouring Loyalist estate.

Troops watched from corners, and an army helicopter circled over-head. Groups of denim clad youths kept a close eye. We were subsequently informed by our Provo contacts that they had been monitoring the Army radio frequencies and that there had been much chatter about a group breaking off from the civil rights march and heading through a loyalist estate.

Eventually we were confronted by a large group of young men. "Are ye Taigs or Micks or what are ye?" came the inevitable question - to our somewhat strangely attired group - well the 60's didn't come to Ireland until the 70's after all. Steve, for it was he of Australian and Krishnamurti fame, was the first to respond, remarking on the strange superficiality of tribal identities and the essential transcendental nature of Man. (Or that was the gist of it as far as I could recall, being more exercised by the increasingly hostile expressions on our interlocutors faces...)

As the two groups seemed to move ever closer together I blurted out something to the effect that he was an Australian - which appeared to have an instant clarificatory and calming effect on our inquisitors. I was so glad they didn't think of the obvious riposte - ah yes, but is he a protestant or catholic Australian? Although some of us were protestant, none of us gave any hint of any religious affiliation: It would only have divided our group and set up the others for "special" treatment.

We were given a fools pardon and let go on our way, but not before our Quaker leaders' pacifist convictions and skills were given a good run out. It's amazing how much immense moral courage, a friendly demeanour, and relaxed body language can do to diffuse a fraught situation.

As we turned the corner we came across another British Army patrol with their rifles cocked at us and a rather nervous look on their faces. The English accents amongst us really helped to diffuse that situation, and soon we were back on "home" ground in Kilwilkie.

My subsequent switch to Sociology and Politics, a lifelong interest in conflict resolution, and a conviction of the importance of economic, social and political development in transforming lives for the better can all be traced back to those formative experiences. I never did join the Provos, nor the Quakers for that matter, but the rage at injustice is with me still.

And so I hear today that a British Prime Minister has deigned to say what almost every Irish person alive then has known in their bones for the past 38 years:

Cameron 'deeply sorry' for Bloody Sunday

British prime minster David Cameron said today the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday has found the British soldiers' actions in killing 14 people were in no way justified.

The 14 were killed in Derry on January 30th, 1972, by British soldiers following a civil rights rally in the city.

The inquiry set up to investigate the deaths was set up in 1998 under the chairmanship of Lord Saville of Newdigate, and it published its final report today.

Addressing parliament, Mr Cameron said the Saville findings were clear in finding the soldiers' actions both "unjustified and unjustifiable".

The prime minister said the British government was ultimately responsible for the actions of the army and therefore said he was "deeply sorry" for what had happened on Bloody Sunday.

However, he added the Saville report found there was no evidence of a conspiracy, cover-up nor premeditation over the day's events or matters relating to it since.

His last sentence is all the more remarkable given the actual findings of the Saville enquiry:

Main findings of Saville Inquiry

Firing by British soldiers of 1 Para caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.

This also applied to the 14th victim, who died later from injuries.

"Despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers."

Report says no one threw, or threatened to throw, nail or petrol bombs at soldiers.

The accounts of soldiers to the inquiry were rejected, with a number said to have "knowingly put forward false accounts"

Members of the official IRA fired a number of shots although it was concluded paratroopers shot first on Bloody Sunday.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, second in command of the provisional IRA in Derry in 1972, was "probably armed with a Thompson submachine gun", and though it is possible he fired the weapon, this cannot be proved.

The report concludes: "He did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire".

It is even more remarkable in the light of the fact that the original Widgery "Whitewash" Tribunal had declined to use the evidence and testimony of a soldier who had said just what Saville has now found - and was in an ideal position to testify as he had a direct line of sight and had also been a radio officer and could hear all the orders and reports coming through.

That soldier also testified that soldiers kept a "private" supply of bullets which they filed into dum dum bullets and that this could account for the discrepancy between the number of bullets "officially" fired by the British Army and the newsreel footage sound recordings which demonstrated that a far greater number of bullets had actually been fired.

Perhaps now, 38 years on, some soldiers will be prosecuted. Wearing your Nation's uniform should not be a licence to commit murder.

Much of the mayhem into which Northern Ireland descended can be traced back to that fateful day. The IRA was main-streamed and constitutional politicians sidelined. It would be 30 years before constitutional politicians regained the initiative, and it took some outstanding peacemakers to make it happen.

John Hume led the process, and David Trimble, Martin McGuinness, and even Ian Paisley eventually saw the light - helped by more constructive attitudes from the British and Irish Governments. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have a lot to answer for, but their contribution to the Peace process cannot be gainsaid.

Meanwhile I'm still raging at Israelis persecuting Palestinians and the politically serious people who tell us this situation must be tolerated by us all. If only we could remove their tribal identities as easily as we could take the coloured armbands off kids. If only life could be so simple again...

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

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I'll have to ask mother what I was doing in 1972. I doubt it was edifying.

I'd be a lot more interested in seeing the prosecutions of the people who sent paratroopers into Northern Ireland, repeatedly. When I write my book of counsel for evil tyrants, one of rules will be "Do not use assault troops to quell riots unless you want to see innocent bodies on the street."

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 03:15:33 AM EST
A) There was no riot
B) The troops had been sent to NI allegedly to "protect" the nationalist minority
C) The myth of military discipline is again exposed.  The only discipline on show was the "message discipline" of collective lying.
D) The myth of empire:  They need us to protect them
E) The myth of power:  we'll show them who's boss and then they will come to heel...
F) The hubris of militarism: we are in control...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 04:37:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well done Frank, and thanks for drawing all those tangents into a circle.

Like a lot of people, I knew traces of the basics, have seen the prisons from the outside and wondered "what would I have done in their situation", while watching politicians infect, then protect and inflame racism with the flawed but powerful logic of class warfare which their adherents rarely see.

Of course, most would agree that these types of incidents are the logical outcome of colonialism as the power source fades, just as similar acts are done when the power source is ascendant. There is always a Cromwell and a Netanyahu clone who will pull the chains for the scrapes and glory they get in return for convincing distant soldiers to kill with hidden ammo and fake reports.

But what you have written points to the energy that would have been needed, even if there were a leader so inspired, to do what Gandhi did in India in similar circumstances to the same failing empire...and again, what would it take to do that in the Levant to some beneficial conclusion?

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 03:58:27 AM EST
One of the great sadnesses of my life is how the Provisional IRA took over the civil rights movement and the logic of militarism was accepted by many in the nationalist community as the only logic to which the Empire would listen or understand.  

And to a degree they were right.  Britain only changed its tune when it realised it had a conflict they couldn't win by purely military means. And it wasn't for the lack of a Gandhi.  John Hume, Ivan Cooper, the Peace People, and many others championed non-violence and civil disobedience in the face of ridicule and intimidation often from their own side.  

My problem with violence is not just the direct suffering it causes, but that it tends to favour the most ruthless and the most powerful - and the often unseen damage it does to those in whose name it is carried out.  Northern Ireland, and by extension, Ireland and the UK lost nearly 30 years to a pointless ever diminishing cycle of violence, suffering, and ever more violence.  

Socially there is still huge deprivation, demagoguery, bigotry, fear and racism.  People don't change for the better through violence: it brings out and reinforces the worst in them. It becomes a self justifying and self-perpetuating cycle.  

Thankfully some people managed to break it - and here I would have to give credit, too, to Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinnness, Ian Paisley and to a few less prominent leaders on the Loyalist side.  But mostly it was a lot of very hard work by community leaders on both sides on the ground.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 04:57:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for an insightful diary, Frank.

One of the great sadnesses of my life was not being able to visit Donegal in 1979, even though a train went by every day through the town of Balbriggan. Why? The only answer I was given at the time was to blame it on William of Orange, who lived in 1650? Never made sense to me, why all these handsome young Irish lads would want to kill one another. But that's just the way war is. It's never made sense to me. Thankfully, due to the good efforts of many (yourself included), things have finally changed for the better, calmer minds prevail and violence is no longer the order of the day.

by sgr2 on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 06:10:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 05:12:25 AM EST
Nice!
by sgr2 on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 06:18:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Despair

Once, i wrote a poem
about love;
i can't remember the poem;
forgotten.

Once, i wrote a poem
about man;
i can't remember the poem;
forgotten.

Condemned by the throne
surrounded by concrete
encircled by chrome
alone.

Once, i wrote a poem
About nothing;
i CAN remember the poem;
it is written

On the faces of the people
i had known;
on the walls of stone
enclosing my home.

Once, i wrote a poem
about death;
i can remember the poem;
i can see it

on the streets that i roam;
from my perch
on the dome
of the cathedral of hate.

22/3/1972


Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 05:21:20 AM EST
Lovely poem. Sad, but lovely nonetheless.
by sgr2 on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 06:19:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
good essay. I've had my say elsewhere so I won't repeat, but I must ocntest this;-

The picture of a Bogside mural at the top of this Diary is partly a Provo embellishment of history. Father Edward (later Bishop) Daly did carry a white handkerchief as he was helping the wounded to safety under fire. But there were no Provo gunman offering their "protection" to the unarmed and wounded civilians. That was the time when the letters IRA were mockingly referred to as standing for "I Ran Away".

It is quite obvious in the picture that the armed man is a paratrooper, his shoulder patch is quite clear, wearing an anti-tear gas mask. To emphasise that he is depicted trampling on a bloody Civil Rights" banner.

He is also the more prominent and largest subject of the picture to emphasise that the paratroopers were the Active and Responsible Participants who loom large over all other persons depicted.

This mural is also an indictment of the CRA, as well as the paratroopers. Clearly showing them hiding behind a wall as others died, unable to protect the community, and only concerned with saving themselves as others stepped forward. the message from the IRA here is "This is what we, and only we, save you from"

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 06:24:43 AM EST
Apologies for my poor eyesight.  I tried in vain to find an image of the original iconic photograph of Father Edwarde Daly holding up a white handkerchief whilst leading a small group carrying a wounded civilian to hoped for safety although Of course there was no Paratrooper in that picture - they were firing from cover some distance away.  I assumed that the armed figure was a depiction of the IRA protecting the civilians - which of course never happened - but neither was their a paratrooper standing there in a protective mode.

So the artistic licence invoked by the mural painter doesn't quite work for me either way - there was no one with a gun standing to provide cover for the wounded - and the attempt to use the mural to show a paratrooper stamping on civil rights ends up giving a misleading impression that he was standing with the civilians.

I will amend the diary to avoid further confusion.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 06:45:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither was there a bloody banner of "Civil rights". Art does not portray events as they were, it attempts to show what they mean.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 07:01:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Helen:
Art does not portray events as they were, it attempts to show what they mean.

i really like that aphorism. is it original?

it reminds me of picasso's 'art is the lie which tells the truth'

very pithy, thanks

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 10:10:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is original, but it seems that ceebs has blown some of my "meaning" out of the water.

Picasso's version is waaaay better

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 01:14:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My version would put experience instead of meaning. "Art does not portray events as they were, but as they were experienced".

Although many of the artists I know would not recognize that statement, because they do not work from identifiable events, but from presences.

Another version, closer to my own view, is that all art exploits bugs in the human system, basically within the brain (which includes the optic system). And the biggest bug is in thinking that experience 'makes sense' - that is it has meaning.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 02:16:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sven Triloqvist:
And the biggest bug is in thinking that experience 'makes sense' - that is it has meaning.

um, that's a feature.

your homunculus is out to play... get him back in his box, quick!

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 07:05:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I'd say that what you see as the civil rights protesters hiding behind a wall I see as portraits of the people killed on that day, and what I think you see as a wall I see as an Army Land-rover,( note the windscreen wipers at the bottom)( I dont see a single IRA figure in this picture) I can't see this as an indictment of the civil rights movement, more a view of the history of this event in the struggle.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 12:54:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea, as soon as you say it, it's obvious

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 01:12:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Powerful words, images, reminding me of Kent State, of how much I don't know. And how little time there is left to know.
A "Diary" in it's true form, is, or should be, to me, a memoir. Personally revealing. Perhaps even painfully so. A look past the facade, a peek behind the billboard.
Music has a power to shed light on the world of the heart- the real world- better than anything else. The two together make a potent combination.

Thanks, Frank. I've got some thinking to do, and then if the diary is still active I'll write a comment of substance.
 This diary moves past the sterilized documents that have come to represent a "Diary" online.
 

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Thu Jun 17th, 2010 at 02:09:28 AM EST
Thanks, Geezer.  I've done  lot of "newsy", LQD, and incidental diaries in my time, but I occasionally ask myself - "why am I doing this, and have I anything new or unique to contribute that justifies my writing a diary?"  I don't want to be just a reporter or  smartassed columnist. I had two "newsy" diaries on the stocks almost ready to go when I asked myself that question again, and wrote this diary instead.  Your comment encapsulates why I am doing this.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 17th, 2010 at 08:08:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Geezer's right. Your diaries hit a resonate tone with me for just that reason: they are personally revealing. Not only do I go away with new information, I also come away feeling that I have had the opportunity to get to know you better, as a fellow human being, as I have had the chance to take a glimpse into your life and what makes it so. I think that's very special indeed.
by sgr2 on Thu Jun 17th, 2010 at 08:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Except that I am uncomfortable with making me or my experiences the issue.  The issue is always the larger picture of injustice or the consequences of tribalism.  If I ever felt that my writing diaries here was becoming a self indulgence I would just have to stop. I don't do novels or autobiography.  I do do, (in my own small way) economic, social and political change.  Sometimes we have to change ourselves if we are to be able to help change the bigger picture, but ultimately it can't be just about us.  What frustrates me is people not fulfilling their potential - out of fear, repression, lack of knowledge or support.  My poem above is about a time when I feared it could not be done.  My only purpose in publishing now, for the first time, is to encourage others to to believe that it can be done.  And the Saville Report is one of those small victories that make life worth living.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 17th, 2010 at 09:18:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Whoa there Frank, that wasn't what I meant at all. Perhaps it's my uncanny ability to show up at the wrong place at the wrong time, saying the wrong thing. Please allow me to try again. What was meant is that when a diary is set to a personal experience it reveals itself differently than a diary which only sets forth facts. If ones believes that everyone and everything is connected in some way, then it stands to reason that if we can attempt to understand and solve the problems of one, we have a better chance of solving the problems of others.
by sgr2 on Thu Jun 17th, 2010 at 11:17:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, but my comment was intended to speak to the issue of "Diaries" becoming so depersonalized that they come to be technocratic documents. At the heart of it, the story is about the many relationships among people and policy. Without the personal connection, the story is without a fundamentally important component, and fails.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Jun 20th, 2010 at 01:32:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - My Bloody Sunday 1972
The world seemed to be a place where the powerful did more or less as they pleased, and the little people always got squashed. [...] I was enraged, and could do absolutely nothing about it.

Sadly, the world doesn't look much different 38 years later...
by Bernard on Sat Jun 19th, 2010 at 12:51:56 PM EST


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