Friday, August 24, 2007

Operation Banner whitewashes over truth in the north of Ireland

Jim Gibney:

Operation Banner is the considered analysis from three senior members of the British army about their military operations in the north from 1969 until July 2006 when the assessment was written.

It is an important document for a number of reasons. It started its life as an in-house, private, confidential, almost secret assessment. It is the product of a military mind-set by military personnel who presumably did not expect to see their views in the public domain. That in itself provides an invaluable insight into the thinking of those who at various stages were in control of British troops on the ground in the north since 1969.

The document's authors are at pains to point out, and do so repeatedly, that the assessment is an 'educational guide for future commanders'.

Only one of the three authors is named, General Sir Mike Jackson. He provides the review's foreword. Jackson was one of the officers in charge of the British Paras who shot and killed 14 civil rights marchers in Derry on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

Despite having the advantage of hindsight the authors chose to maintain the fallacies, which have underpinned the British government's occupation of the six counties since partition in 1920.

Jackson's foreword sets the scene for the continuation of the myths: British military operations only started in 1969, no mention of their armed garrison of several thousand permanently here before '69; their operations were "waged on British soil" and "brought to a successful conclusion". He commends British troops for their "successes, which were considerable", while qualifying lessons are to be learned from "mistakes where they were made".

However, on the significant issue of whether the British army was involved in a war – the authors intend to say they were not, but run into difficulties with the number of times they use the word 'war' in the document.

There are references to a "campaign", an "insurgency" "the troubles". At one point the conflict is described as a "working-class war, between working-class republicans and working-class loyalists". Tactical decisions, which are viewed as a success are described as a "war-winner" while military discussions at the highest level are "war gaming".

The authors try very hard to set Operation Banner in a peace mission context. But their own facts militate against their arguments.

A quarter of a million British troops were involved in the war, 10,000 on patrol on any given day in the 1970s; 600 British personnel were killed, 102 in 1972.

The IRA is described as "professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient" but also "as one of the most effective terrorist organisations in history".

There is also contradictory thinking reflected in the authors' attempts to set the conflict in history – the impact of discrimination and the failures of Stormont, while beating the 'terrorism' drum.

It is obvious that the 'terrorism' argument does not apply to the conflict here yet it is advanced in this analysis because it is central to the British government's portrayal of itself internationally as a peace-keeper in Ireland.

Opaque language is used to mislead, for example "deep interrogation techniques" really mean torture; "an operational level reverse", a disaster; "information operations opportunity" a propaganda coup and "catch terrorists" is their explanation for the 'shoot-to-kill' period.

Operation Motorman in August 1972 was a "great success" and the IRA were "badly beaten" yet elsewhere we are told of the IRA's capacity to "survive and evolve".

As far as the authors are concerned they have only one enemy – the IRA.

Loyalist organisations are rarely mentioned and when they are as in the case of the UDA they are viewed "as the most respectable", while the UVF are "essentially terrorists".

The UDR provided a "major service" with "rare" "security breaches".

No mention of the numbers involved in sectarian killings or the ease with which loyalists removed weapons from UDR bases. The word collusion does not appear in this wordy document, hence no responsibility for hundreds killed; Bloody Sunday and the Falls Curfew are the only "two examples of poor military decision-making" in 36 years.

This document confirms what republicans have long said that the British government and its forces are in denial about their war here and its legacy.

The British have always been very good at coming up with ways to rationalize their colonial activities.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Flag-flapping British loyalists not waving but drowning in the north of Ireland

Brian Feeney:

The flag wars are over but there are still plenty of flags flapping this summer. Well, flopping in the rain might be a better description. Ninety-nine per cent of them droop in what are known as loyalist areas – in other words, pockets of poverty controlled by UDA gangsters.

Yet, only two years ago a large proportion of the north's highways and byways were festooned with Irish tricolours, Palestinian flags and on the other side of the fence a vast array of UDA, UFF and UVF flags, the unionist version of the Ulster flag, Israeli flags and so on. Now only impoverished unionist districts are defaced with bedraggled remnants of flags.

What happened? For a start, Sinn Féin opted out of the whole nonsense after the IRA decommissioned and stood its members down.

It was a smart move because it instantly improved the appearance of republican districts and at the same time drew attention to the general chaotic struggle in loyalism between the UVF and UDA and within the UDA as each faction marked out its territory.

It also pointed up the question why the police allowed gangs of men, who were clearly members of those illegal organisations, to take over roads with ladders, hoists and even cherry-pickers to erect the flags of their illegal organisations.

No-one was fooled by the UVF's lying excuse that its flag was actually the flag of the 1913 UVF.

Eventually in 2005 both groups were persuaded to stop flying UFF, UDA and UVF flags and replace them with 'official' flags – namely, the Union flag, their version of the Ulster flag and strangely, the flag of Scotland.

So that's what you see now – or for the most part don't see because only people who live in districts like Rathcoole, the Kilcooley estate in Bangor, the Wakehurst estate in Ballymena and similar salubrious locations across the north have to endure the fly-blown tawdriness their local loyalist terror gangs inflict on them.

Add in too a few feet of dirty bunting dragging across a wall with a wondrously creative mural of masked loyalist killers breaking in the doors of Catholic families and you have a typical loyalist enclave.

There are exceptions like Bushmills where, instead of having the flags confined to the more rundown areas, the entire miserable, cheerless town is transformed into your typical loyalist enclave with flags and emblems everywhere and placards of alleged unionist luminaries screwed to lampposts. What an uplifting sight for the tour buses coming in to visit the distillery – a glimpse of the full flower of genuine loyalist culture. You can only wonder what the guides say to explain the whole tasteless display.

Presumably the smart guides take the buses into the distillery at the edge of town and leave the same way without letting any visitors gawp at the mess the natives have made of their own town.

Yet a place like Bushmills is a perfect illustration of the fate of unionism.

What should be an outstanding tourist site, a cash cow for the district, is instead an embarrassment because of lack of local leadership, political cowardice and bloodymindedness.

It's more than that, of course.

The whole flag culture in unionism signifies a lack of confidence, a crisis of identity, an absence of vision for the future.

Once the ability to hang flags outside Catholic schools and churches with impunity used to demonstrate the dominance of unionism and its control over the levers of policing and justice. Now the flying of flags confined to loyalist districts is a sign of weakness, the retreat of unionism into itself.

To reinforce this point there is a direct correlation of flag-flying and poverty.

Where the flags and emblems and murals are at their most dense is on loyalist housing estates

where unemployment and hopelessness is highest and mainstream unionist politicians have walked away, leaving people to the paramilitaries and their drug dealing.

If they vote at all they vote DUP, a party that ignores the drug problem. Drugs? What drugs?

The flag-waving in those places is reminiscent of Stevie Smith's poem Not Waving But Drowning:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

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