Archive for July, 2009
Life in NI is immeasurably better than it was during the violence. However we should not mistake the peace we have for a solution to the main problem – sectarianism. Sectarianism continues to pervert every aspect of our existence in NI. For many people, the Twelfth is the epitome of sectarianism. I am not someone who thinks that the loyal orders are equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan, as is often claimed. There are no doubt many people within the loyal orders – and more especially among those who follow the parades but do not participate in them – who mightn’t appear too out of place in that environment. Equally, there are many ordinary decent people for whom membership of the loyal orders is an embodiment of a deeply-held faith and/or a family tradition. These type of people tend not to be the crass bigots that some of their brethren are. So while the origins of the loyal orders lie in reaction, and while it has a far from proud record, we must be careful not to tar everyone in it with the same brush.
In that respect there are comparisons with the GAA. A lot of unionists – completely wrongly in my view – regard the GAA as a sectarian organisation and if you read the likes of sluggerotoole you will see people regularly say that the GAA supports terrorists, citing the fact that some clubs and grounds are named after people involved in the Troubles, and that GAA premises get used for event by organisations that were involved in the Troubles. This mistaken and undifferentiated mindset led to the murder of several GAA members, particularly towards the tail-end of the Troubles. In reality, both organisations contain people of widely differing views, and both are central to the social lives of communities. Obviously though they are different in that one is a sporting organisation and one a political-religious one. Both though are for many people involved an expression of national identity, at least in part. They are not though equivalent organisations, with the GAA quite clearly a much less divisive and much less political entity.
Part of the problem with tarring everyone involved in these massive and disparate organisations is that people end up so concentrated on the faults of “themmuns” that they miss the faults of “our ones”.
Which brings me in a roundabout way to this story from the BBC website. In a piece of symmetry that reminds us that sectarianism is a two way street, two halls were attacked last night. One was an Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall near Ballymoney, while the other was an Orange hall in Rasharkin, both in north Antrim. Both these attacks fit into a depressingly familiar pattern, one which intensifies during the summer.
Meanwhile, in Rossnowlagh in Donegal, the southern Orangemen were holding their annual parade. This parade passes off peacefully every year, and is accepted by the local residents without any problem. That this is so is often held up as an example of how the south is free of the sectarian problems that plague the north. This is largely true, although the riot in response to the Love Ulster parade in Dublin suggests that there are more people than we would like to think who don’t want expressions of unionism to be possible in the island’s capital. And such idiots showed their views if not their faces in Donegal. Road signs were painted green, white and orange, and ‘Brits out’, ‘Fuck off’ and ‘No marching’ spray-painted. This of course raises the question of what was meant by Brits out. Was it the British state, or did it mean Orangemen out of Donegal? If it did, then this would be the same logic on display in the Dublin riot, which tells unionists they are Irish whether they like it or not but don’t come down here, stay in the north. Hard to say, probably it meant the former but certainly it is ambiguous.
In short then, sectarianism continues to thrive despite all the changes in our society over the last 15 years or so. We cannot take our eye off that ball. The GFA manages sectarian conflict, it is not designed to end it. Far too many vested interest groups in our society have too much invested in the sectarian division in education, services, funding, and politics. So the loyal orders are a problematic element in our society, though not all the mindless ogres that some nationalist propaganda would have us believe. Sectarianism runs much deeper than that, and is not limited to either side. We cannot forget this, and must fight sectarianism wherever we find it. Otherwise we are cannot claim the legacy of Tone and Connolly.
I have just put up a post discussing an article by Toiréasa Ferrris on the problems faced by her party in the south should anyone be interested.
Apologies for the big gap again. Work is crazy. I’ve just read that at the age of 93 Robert McNamara has died. Given that he was the US Secretary of Defence during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was responsible for a great deal of the death and destruction wrought on the people of Vietnam, it might be expected that I would be unaffected by his death. However, I find myself feeling that his death is a loss. The reason for that is simple: in 2004 (I think) I went to see The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara and found myself both fascinated and impressed by McNamara as a man.
McNamara was a brilliant young man, and was headhunted by the US military during World War II. His job in effect was to provide statistical analysis of the effectiveness of bombing, and to apply his mathmatical skills to improve their efficiency. He talked interestingly in the film about the moral questions involved in improving the efficiency of bombing civilians in large cities. After the war, he worked for Ford, helping make it more successful and rising to become its President (the first non-Ford to hold the job) before joining Kennedy’s Cabinet as Defence Secretary. As with another President in whom a lot of progressive people place great hopes, Kennedy was keen on the use of US military power where he thought it could win, and McNamara was brought in to reshape the military. The result was a massive expansion of the US nuclear arsenal, and a Soviet response – in other words, McNamara and Kennedy were fundamental to the emergence of the arms race. Both also bear a great deal of responsibility for nearly bringing about nuclear war over the Cuban missile crisis. And as already noted, the extrance of the US into Vietnam was their idea too.
McNamara’s technocratic approach which had served him well during World War II proved to be his achilles heel when it came to Vietnam. While McNamara wheeled out statistics showing that the US was winning the war on every available numerical measure, he completely missed the point that the will of the Vietnamese people could not be broken, unlike the will of the teenage conscripts sent to Vietnam and that of a sceptical public opinion at home. As Defence Secretary until 1968, he had a huge amount of blood on his hands, despite his later claims that he saw early that the war was not being won, and that he opposed some of the more callous and brutal strategies desired by the military. McNamara afterwards served as President of the World Bank, when it was associated in many minds – including those of rabid anti-communists – with more progressive ideals than it is today, and he is associated with efforts to combat river blindness. In his retirement, he worked for various causes he was interested in.
The Fog of War – like McNamara’s 1995 memoir In Retropsect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (which I haven’t read) – is of course an attempt by McNamara to justify himself, and to rewrite history. The most obvious example of this in the film is an event where he meets (if I remember correctly and I might not) a minister from Vietnam at the same time he was Defence Minister. The Vietnamese tells him that all they wanted was their independence but that the Americans wouldn’t let them have it. McNamara goes on a bit about China and Communism, then eventually says we would have let you had your independence. This is clearly untrue. There was no chance of the US happily letting the South Vietnamese state be overthrown by its people and an independent socialist Vietnam emerging. Anti-communism was too strong, not least within Kennedy’s government and its successor. They hoped to replicate the war in Korea, or perhaps be more successful.
Nevertheless, despite all the problems with the film, it clearly showed McNamara as someone with a good deal of humanity, especially in his later years. Despite it all, he did not strike me as being the same as his counterparts in the recent Bush regime. A complicated man, who worked to undo some of the damage he wrought and achieve progress in other areas, he was worthy of respect, if not perhaps admiration.
ADDS: BBC Obituary