Bare with me on this one, I grew up in Chicago-land, which makes me an outsider on this topic. It’s more than obvious I’m an outsider, even if you grew up in Dublin it’s fair to say you’re an outsider. I could go the whole route with my mother, and a family that came from Derry long ago, the refugees from a war far, far away, but that would be, you know, bull shit. That would make me the type of American Bono complains about before they play Sunday, Bloody, Sunday. It just wouldn’t be fair to take that route. I liked U2 growing up, they were one of my favorite bands as a child, at best they are the most educational band a child can listen to, & even though they’ve committed a fair few latter-day sins I don’t feel the need to completely nail them to the cross.
Instead I’ll go through my father. Why not? The man is always good for a nightmare. I’m sixteen, it’s my birthday, I just discovered The Cranberries, & instantly became a fan. Who wouldn’t at that age? You know, back in the day, in the 90s, Dolores O’Riordan was hot. Who am I kidding, she’s still hot. Where was I? Right, sixteenth birthday, my mother gets me a copy of Everyone Else is Doing it So Why Can’t We?, feeding the fetish so to speak, & my father, being my father, gives me a copy of Children of “The Troubles” by Laurel Holliday.
I guess he thought they went well together:
As of this writing in September 1996, the fate of Belfast once again hangs in the balance after the IRA cease-fire tragically ended on February 9, 1996, with a powerful and murderous IRA bombing in London. It remains to be seen if another cease-fire can be instituted and all parties can be tolerant enough of each other to work out a permanent peace accord.
Jesus Christ, dad, you have always excelled at giving me the birthday and Christmas presents that are assured to completely & totally depress me.
By & by, when I turned 18, it he got me My War Gone By I Miss it So, by Anthony Loyd, different war, but the same basic theme. I guess that goes along with the whole, “that’s disgusting, I have to learn more about it” thing, but generally it’s something you don’t give as a gift on the days you’re supposed to be celebrating.
I’m not really complaining, Children of “The Troubles” will certainly tear your heart out, but it is something you absolutely have to read, even if you live in Chicago. For me, it developed a life long fascination with the IRA, especially in college. I spent a lot of time studying revolutionary movements in Latin America. It made sense at the time, you know? If you’re really going to learn about your country it’s best to start with the skeletons in your closet & Americans have a LOT of skeletons. You can see a sort of model, a common theme in all the revolutions, militarily speaking. The ones that followed Che’s Guerrilla Warfare seemed doomed for failure, despite the clever drawings of tanks stuck in trenches. Tout Che all you want as the revolutionary hero of the planet earth, but you really shouldn’t do what he tells you to, at least not if you want to live.
Get a whole bunch of guns, go hide in the mountains, & you’ll win.
OK, it’s an over simplification, but you get the point. The bottom line is, if you’re serious about fighting a war, it’s best to ignore Che. You can trust me on this, Latin America is full of dead revolutionaries that followed Che’s model & really accomplished nothing because of it. Look at Chiapas, thanks to Che, they don’t have a chance, thanks to the IRA they are still there. On the other hand, you had groups in Latin America that followed the IRA’s model, and they ended up somewhere other than a mass grave. Some of them even succeeded. So, you know, you start studying revolutions & you inevitably find your way to the IRA, & there’s a reason for it, they’re Irish, they’ve been doing it for well over 800 years. You’re going to learn a thing or two when a conflict lasts that long.
So yeah, “The Troubles” are a great starting point if you’re going to make your way through college studying History. Ireland is really where you have to start.
It’s really unlike anywhere else in history. You have your psychopaths on both sides, your fools that are just itching for a fight. You know, the people who actually think it’s noble to fight & die for your cause. You find A LOT of that through history. Any war you read about, if you’re just picking up the text books, you’re going to read about John Wayne. It’s almost like Marat wrote the book on every conflict the world has ever seen & The Troubles are no exception.
That’s sort of the reason you don’t read the text books. They are all black & white & far too straight forward. The text books will warp your mind, slowly you’ll start to believe that Bobby Sands was a genius for starving himself.
You go a bit beyond then textbooks & you learn that Bobby Sands had a mother. He wasn’t created in a factory and destined for martyrdom from the moment he stepped off the assembly line. He had a child named Gerard & a wife named Geraldine. It doesn’t take longer than a second to come to the conclusion that Geraldine & Gerard would much rather have Bobby the father than Bobby the martyr. That’s the beautiful thing about The Troubles, a lot of things have been written about it, it’s really a singular conflict. It’s the one war in history where the civilians have done the majority of documentation.
You read about it & you really get the sense of loss. It might be an Irish thing, you’ve heard the term associated with them, “bleeding heart,” it’s a tragedy, & everything you read about it breaks your fucking heart. It’s a story of brutal bloodshed & brutal oppression. You flip back & forth when you read it, the IRA are an army of demons & you can’t really sympathize with their cause, not after reading about what they’ve done to the Irish, not after reading about how many innocent people have been murdered in the crossfire. But then, on the other hand, you read about the Troubles, you hate the British, they are a nation of devils. From Henry to Cromwell to Thatcher the way they have treated the Irish leads you to the conclusion that they are evil personified. You can’t side with the British either.
On one hand you hate what the IRA are doing to their own people, but on the other hand you can understand exactly what is driving them to do it. You read about The Troubles & even an outsider like me understands why a kid in Belfast would join the IRA. It’s not glory, its pure frustration, you start to understand how these people can come to the conclusion that there is no other way out. You see what the British do & you can understand why the peace accords just break down. You see what the IRA does & you can understand how the British can see themselves as peacekeepers in a land gone insane. The IRA is brutal, they’ll kill seven of their own people to get one British officer, they don’t care about the bystanders or anyone else that gets between them & their free state. But then you can read more than one account of the British torturing civilians, & gunning down rugby fans, to an outsider, it looks a lot like the British don’t see the Irish as human. But even that goes both ways.
It’s what’s unique about the Troubles, it’s why historians love it. It’s a singular conflict, even a German kid is going to read about World War II and instantly come to the conclusion that the Nazi’s were bad. You really can’t deny it you have all these accounts of the Holocaust to back up the belief that the Nazi’s were bad. But the thing is, its human nature to look for the good guy. Since the Nazis were bad, then World War II was good, right? It stopped the Nazis. The American Civil War, same thing, slavery is bad, the war ended slavery, therefore the Civil War was good & you can’t deny it because Upton Sinclair & Harriet Tubman proved to you that they needed to be free. It’s simple enough. The American Revolution, same deal. Clear good guys & clear bad guys. That’s what happens when the belligerents write the history books.
The Troubles are different. You read about the Troubles & you go back & forth, back & forth, back & forth, back & forth, & in the end the only people who make any sense, the only people you really care about in the whole entire mess are the ones stuck in the middle of it screaming at the top of their lungs,”just fucking stop!“
But then again, those people are the ones that have written the most about it. It’s beautiful in a way, The Spanish Civil War was one of the only wars recorded by the losers, the Troubles is certainly the only war recorded by the poor people stuck in the middle.
That’s what makes The Troubles unique, unless you only read about it in The Daily Mail, the stories that you get are coming from the families that lost their loved ones & just want it to end. It’s why The Troubles are really a gift to the world, because those people are part of every conflict. They are the majority of every conflict, & they were there during the Civil War, & World War II, & the American Revolution, but the thing is, they had no voice, you really have to dig to hear their stories.
The Troubles, as tragic as it is, gave the innocent a voice, & it’s probably the first time in history, the first conflict in history where you dig into it & its the people stuck in the middle that you hear. The problem is, we don’t learn from the past, even the people who study history don’t learn from the past. So we have the Troubles & with them we are blessed with voices of the people stuck in the middle, & yet we refuse to apply those voices to any other conflict, & that is an epic failure on the part of humanity.
But then, like I said, I’m an outsider. So I could be wrong.