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My Bloody Sunday

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 30th, 2022 at 03:31:09 PM EST

I'm republishing this diary, first published in 2010, on the 50th. anniversary of Bloody Sunday, one of the worst atrocities which kick started the war in N.Ireland.

(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

The college years are certainly formative. Mine were from 1962-66 living in the states. Living the American Dream in technology, race to the Moon, the American astronauts and the local McDonnell Aeronautics building the Gemini capsule.

Reality coming in with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, nuclear attack imminent, for many years school drills to hide under desk in classroom. Real sadness and dumbfounded by the assassination of John F. Kennedy in a hateful Dallas Texas, the hope of the Free World, West-Berlin speech, Peace Corps. Further shock the murder of suspect Lee Harvey Oswald by gangster Jack Ruby inside Dallas police station, surrounded by FBI agents, police officers and basement filled with photographers and television cameras. White-wash report Warren Commission. Unbelief! Vietnam War expands rapidly in 1965 with monthly draft quota doubled to 35,000 men.

Civil rights legislation pushed by president Johnson - a social heart - disgust FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, dramatic year 1968 with TET offensive, for me the clear lies by Robert McNamara (RAND alumnus) about American success on the battle field, Martin Luther King speaks out against the Vietnam War breaking with Johnson, assassinated on April 4 in Memphis TN. Johnson wants to end the war through negotiations in Paris, won't run for 2nd term, in Summer candidate Robert Kennedy assassinated. Kissinger as traitor to the American cause in Paris, foiled success of the Paris Peace talks under Johnson. War continues until evacuation of US Embassy on April 30, 1975 long after Nixon resigned in the face of impeachment. Appreciation of a bipartisan Senate investigation of the Watergate break-in. Respect for Sam Ervin.

Images of the horror of Vietnam War: girl running away from napalm strike, daily tv images of death in the jungle, Saigon police chief executes a Viet Cong fighter on camera, later under Nixon and Kissinger devastating Christmas bombing of Hanoi. Dominoes and horrific war crimes. Veterans get blamed for losing the war. Politicians further their cause to bring democracy to your home at any cost.

For me too much violence in American society and FEAR! Decided to move back to Europe. Difficult, but never looked back.

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Mon Jan 31st, 2022 at 11:15:38 AM EST
Some parts of the IRA and NI puzzle me throughout the years ...

IRA expanded bombing to attempt on life of Margaret Thatcher in seaside hotel in Brighton during a Tory convention in 1984.

Semtex explosive material provided by Libya, Gaddafi

At Tip O'Neill's urging, President Ronald Reagan encouraged Margaret Thatcher to try something new. In 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in which the Dublin government was given a say in the running of Northern Ireland in exchange for accepting that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority living there voted otherwise, became the bedrock on which the current peace process was built.

On February 7, 1991, terror found its way right to the heart of the British government. A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) operative launched three rounds from a homemade mortar at the cabinet room in No. 10 Downing Street. None reached its target, but one exploded in the back yard. Inside were then-Prime Minister John Major, members of his staff and his war cabinet for the first Gulf war.

The Bishopsgate bombing occurred on 24 April 1993, when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated a powerful truck bomb on Bishopsgate, a major thoroughfare in London's financial district, the City of London.

George Mitchell: Building Peace in Northern Ireland

Role played by America in the Northern Ireland peace process and negotiations chaired by George Mitchell. President Clinton used economic incentive, a promise for investment in Northern Ireland. A blueprint for peace in Ukraine?

Irish-America, the End of the IRA's Armed Struggle and the Utility of 'Soft Power

Devastating ...

The Omagh bombing  was a car bombing on 15 August 1998 in the town of Omagh in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It was carried out by a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army (Real IRA).

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Mon Jan 31st, 2022 at 11:53:35 AM EST
Yes, a well recorded litany of a sordid history - you have an amazing recollection of facts and dates. I'm not sure Clinton and George Mitchell ever got quite the credit they deserved for the time, energy and political capital they expended on trying to end the conflict against a very hostile Thatcher and her Tory successors.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 31st, 2022 at 12:25:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not too difficult ... two year before the bombing I stayed in a nearby seaside hotel in Brighton. We visited an annual Electronics Convention. Quite an old building, busy so my room was up a number of stairs ... in case of an emergence no escape possible 😉 English fire regulations. So I checked the roof top, easy way out of the window ... I felt safe.

'Sapere aude'
by Oui (Oui) on Mon Jan 31st, 2022 at 01:53:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A feature of old men is that they like to sit around and remember (mostly through rose-colored glasses) their youths. And then extrapolate those youthful experiences to offer guidance to today's youth about how things should be run.

There was a big story in the newspaper here yesterday about the 50th (and some other older) anniversaries of ski areas in Colorado; all about how great things were back in the good old days. Well I skied at those places in the good old days and they were not so good. Impossible roads, lousy accommodations, long lift lines, expensive--it was not as terrific as is reported.

And every time there is a demonstration about something I get messages from my college pals along the lines of "well that is not how we did it in Boulder in 1972!"

Just yesterday:

"We cannot have a Munich moment again," the panel's Democratic chair, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, told CNN's State of the Union, referring to the 1938 agreement by which allies ceded parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, believing it would stave off war.
Sure, because Russia in the 21st Century is just re-running Germany from a century ago. Watch the History Channel and they will explain it all with colorized movie clips.

Maybe the best thing would be for everybody over the age of, say, 40, to be gagged?

by asdf on Mon Jan 31st, 2022 at 04:23:58 PM EST
by Cat on Fri Feb 4th, 2022 at 10:20:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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