Tuesday, July 12, 2005

192. Voodoo Drums ... The Glorious Twalfth!!

Today is the 12th of July, a major date on the Northern Ireland (Protestant) calendar.

This is the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne (July 1, 1690, on the old calendar) in which a discredited and unpopular King of England -- James II -- made a last stand in Ireland with loyal Catholic troops to withstand the usurpation of his throne by the English Parliament.

The Parliament had brought in a Dutch Protestant, William, from Holland, who was married to James' daughter.

William won the battle. England called it the "Glorious Revolution" in which Whig values (a new deal for the new rich, bugger the poor) prevailed, and this allowed Trevelyan to write his brilliant slanted History in the 19th century. Along with Macaulay, he's hard to beat for a damned fine read.

For Ireland it was a disaster. Betrayed by false friends in England since the beginning of the connection (about 1534, leaving out the Normans) this victory gave the English the chance they needed to really stick it to the locals. They introduced the Penal Laws against Catholics to keep them disenfranchised, down, and poor. Hitler used this as a model for his persecution of German Jews.

Catholic, ancient Ireland was fucked -- not to put too fine a point on it, and the situation lasted until 1829, when the first Catholic, Daniel O'Connell, was finally admitted to the British Houses of Parliament. The long road back had begun.

In the meantime Ireland was occupied, raped and nearly destroyed. There is no need to go into it here. The English can't remember and the Irish can't forget. This is one of the reasons we don't get along as well as we could. The modern English don't have a clue what's wrong (piss-poor schooling) and the Irish need to lighten up. There is a huge difference between my high school history classes and the high school classes of today. All I can say is that is good.

Nationalism is basically stupid, but freedom is not. Freedom is essential. And in Ireland, the expression of national feeling is never left up to the politicians -- we do referendums on everything. With a population of 5 million you can do that kind of thing. Plus I think we have the best talk radio in the world -- people call in and the government ministers get hauled on the line. You can probably only do that in a small country, but we are a small country.

-- Excuse me, Minister, but you are lying again.
-- No,no,no,no,no ... let me repeat what I was saying about (xxx)
-- Sorry, pal, you are full of shit.
-- Listen here, I know your father.
-- You do?
-- You're the second son, Liam. Am I right?
-- You could be.
-- So now, Liam, what were you saying?
-- You are lying again and your policies are full of shit.

I love it.

Northern Ireland, on the other hand, is depressing. Sinn Fein has done a good job (kind of) in kicking down the pillars of the apartheid regime. To do that they needed the IRA. But once you get into that kind of business, it gets very very difficult to get out.

Orange Parades?

Well, the Protestants are no longer triumphant. They come out with their drums and fifes (why not?) but it's a defensive, beleaguered thing these days whereas in the past it was an unquestioned display of ethnic (tribal) superiority and designed to intimidate.

A lot of people want to go back to those days. Well, they can't. Those days are gone forever. Thanks to Martin Luther King, basically. What? Think about it. Civil rights marches, the "I have a dream" speech, TV spreading all over the world.

The tragedy of Norn Iron (localspeak) is that the government responsible -- the indifferent, rather weaselly Brits -- supported the local Protestant power structure over the marchers whereas the American federal government, after a few hesitations and false starts, stepped in and overruled white supremacist State governors and brought in the National Guard to enforce the constitutional rights of minority citizens under duress.

That, my friends, is the major difference. There was no IRA to speak of in 1967-68. There was a new IRA (the Provisionals) by 1970 because they had lost all faith in the British government as impartial adjudicators of the problems being addressed by the civil rights movement and had simply kicked out the dithering old farts of the "official" IRA who didn't know how to deal with what was going on. So we had thirty long years (near enough -- a whole generation) of murder, bombs, assassinations -- a low-grade civil war in that _ONLY_ 3500 people ended their lives prematurely as a result of violence compared to the tens of thousands who died in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, not to mention what is going down in Iraq at the moment.

What we ended up with in 1998 (a power-sharing agreement within Norn Iron, not a united Ireland) is something that could have been worked out, with an absence of all that intervening grief, in 1969. I don't blame the IRA for what happened in Northern Ireland. The Provisional IRA were a predictable and inevitable reaction to what DIDN'T happen in Northern Ireland on the part of a government that failed to understand the situation, held their opponents in contempt, and then proceeded to rely on force as a substitute for reason.

Draw whatever contemporary parallels you will.