Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Er, and apologies for invading your blog

A footnote to the previous post:

I spent some time in the UK (inlcuding in Belfast, which yes, is legally a part of the UK) and I love it with all its mad contradictions. Above all, I love Northern Ireland with a passion, in spite of its horrendous weather and dubious taste in fashion. Maybe that is why it makes me angry to see someone write about the British government's "bitter campaign" against the IRA as a instructive parable for living with terrorism in dignity. Especially when mentioned in one breath with Churchill's "we shall fight on the beaches" speech.

So here are a few things I want to say about the "English" and their own struggle with terrorism:

I admire many qualities that the British have, but in the north they remember that "we shall never surrender" of Churchill's for all the wrong reasons. Cf Margaret Hilda Thatcher:
"Thatcher believed that resources should be concentrated instead on taking a much stronger stance on security policy in order to tackle paramilitary groups. A prime example of this came with Thatcher's uncompromising attitude to the Republican hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981."
Thatcher loved that Churchillian stance, that core staunch Englishness. Her years in power are some of the darkest in Northern Irish history - her position on security aggravated a situation that was virtually impossible anyway. Cheers, Maggie.

The changes towards the present day, relatively peaceful situation is to quite an important extent due to Tony Blair. I don't like Tony much these days, but credit where credit is due, he and Peter "Prince of Darkness" Mandelson (then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) were some of the better things to come to NI from Westminster. But when I say that credit is due, I mean only in British government. The real courage is not theirs. The real courage is that of of the politicians on the ground. Tony Blair's great inspiration was that the best people to talk to were the Northern Irish, all of them. I'm with the Nobel Prize Committee in believing that it is people like David Trimble and John Hume who deserve to be praised for talking to "the other side", including the terrorists, and keeping the talks going. But don't praise the English for dealing with the IRA. Don't praise them for their "no surrender" stance. The best thing the British government did in dealing with the IRA was reconsidering that infelxible stance.

To summarise, I guess this is why your post makes me angry:
1) The implication that the conflict in Nothern Ireland was something the English dealt with successfully, or with dignity (check out Amnesty's reports on the subject). This is nonsense. At best, the British govermnment guided local politics (British/Irish) with some measure of success.
2) As implied above, English does not equal British, and the English did not fight WW2 without the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish. Speaking of the English only in this context, as well as the Northern Irish context, is not an oversight, it is an insult.
3) To go against the rule of not introducing new content in a summary I would like to say that I resent the implication that the English courage was somehow superior during WW2. It is far easier (though never easy) to be defiant and brave when you are not occupied and in a good definsive position (that island thing again). Now try the same if you are, for example, a small, poorly armed country right next to Germany.

Finally, let me just say that I do see your point, and hear what you are saying. But it is a pity that in saying a very, very sensible thing, you somehow also get mixed up in the stereotypes and rhetoric which are not what make the Brits admirable. They may well be a good example in some of the things they do to deal with terrorists, but some nuance is in order here.


EDITORIAL ADDENDUM: New to the blog? Confused about what the hell TDEC is referring to? See the original post for deeper insight. -Drek


Blogger Drek said...

Hey, TDEC, it's good to hear from you. And don't ever worry about "invading" the blog- you've graciously agreed to be our European Correspondent and that means I'm always pleased to hear from you. Especially when you disagree with me.

You raise a number of very interesting points that I don't feel much, if any, inclination to contradict. This is mostly because you're absolutely right. I do, however, want to clarify a few things about what I wrote.

-I didn't actually mean to imply that the British government's policies towards the IRA were, in any way, successful. I was more making the point that they've had more experience with domestic terrorism than we, and haven't learned to stop it yet. Considering we have commentators on Fox News ("All the News we can Make Up!") claiming that what the U.K. needs is a Patriot Act... I think it's a point worth making. Honestly, in my view, both the British and the Israelis (Who I also referred to in passing) are textbook examples of the ineffectiveness of a hardline approach to a determined domestic opponent. As you say, the best thing that happened to the Northern Ireland situation was the relaxing of the British hardline position- which is something I agreed with in reference to the Israelis, but not the British, which was an oversight on my part.

-Similarly, I wasn't trying to imply that only the English had fought, and suffered, in World War II. To do so would slight my own country as well as countless others. I don't even mean to say that the English were the only people, or the U.K. the only country to suffer against terrible odds- the resistance activities in many occupied nations (the French resistance being the best known in the U.S.) would give lie to any such statement. The English are not the only people with courage, nor the most courageous in the world, but in perfect honesty, I think we can credit them with a certain amount of it, even if at other times they have shown dreadful cowardice. I feel much the same way about my own countrymen, who have shown substantial bravery at some times, and yet now have descended to torturing prisoners of war in the Guantanamo Bay facility- which is an act of craven depravity in my view. I was merely singling out the English because of recent events. In other words, they were rhetorically convenient.

-My points about dignity were really more oriented towards the common people. I think the first type of dignity one must show is to continue living one's life, rather than letting fear and hysteria take over. I brought up Churchill's speech more in reference to this idea than to specific governmental policy regarding terrorism. I think, as well, that there is an element of wishful thinking in my post- a hope that the British citizenry will respond to these attacks in a manner we can be proud of.

Of course all of the above reflect my failue to clearly communicate my meaning, so I appreciate your taking me to task for them. To anyone else who felt I was not being fair, please accept my apologies. I have no particular hero worship for the English, I respect greatly the contributions of all nations to the effort during World War II (with the exception of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Their contributions, we could have done without), and I recognize that atrocities were committed by both the British and the IRA during that conflict (Again, much like the Israelis and the Palestinians).

Finally, TDEC...

Keep up the good work!

Friday, July 22, 2005 8:25:00 AM  

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