first prize 1“If you smile at me, I will understand

‘Cause that is something everybody everywhere does

In the same language

I can see by your coat, my friend

You’re from the other side

There’s just one thing I got to know

Can you tell me please, who won the war ?”

“Wooden Ships” by Jefferson Airplane/Crosby,Stills and  Nash {1968}

There’s a television  documentary  about to be screened ,asking the question:Who won the war at the finish of the Troubles in Ireland ?. You might find that an odd question. I never really thought too much about it .I was only too glad for the whole sorry mess to end . Asking the question begs us to see the whole ruckus as some kind of competition like “Game for a Laugh”  or ” the Chase”. It’s as if everyone in Ireland was actually taking part in a kind of Olympic Games where medals were handed out to the winners. It’s a daft one really when you consider that one “side ” has decided that there wasn’t even a competition in the first place. Some will argue that there wasn’t even a “war” so how could anyone win it anyway?

The question reduces all our lives to a schoolboy game of conkers where the biggest and hardest chestnut wins and the owner of said nut  can strut about as king of the walk. Well, look around .Do you see anyone with a Big Gold Medal pinned to their puffed up chest.? I don’t see anyone saying “We won”. If they have won anything, what is it?

I think we’ll all agree there was a “conflict” of interests. Some might have reasons for putting another label ….like “war” on it. I’m not one of those. Did anyone win? Well let’s see. When the whole thing kicked off in the late 1960s , the  unionists seemed to be of the opinion that they were already living in a Golden State of Bliss and that nothing needed changing in their world -view . Any kind of change in the status quo was anathema to them . They were seemingly perfectly happy with the state of play , even though many of them  lived in  as squalid conditions as their Nationalist counterparts. There were problems with housing and  there was obvious chicanery afoot in the political sphere.They didn’t seem to value the idea of “One Man One vote ” and saw the Civil Rights Movement as an affront to their vision of a perfect society.  That might have a lot of people scratching their collective heads , but there you have it .Unionism generally was perfectly happy with their lot and that was that . There didn’t appear to be any real social movement for improvement  that caught the popular voice in their community.

Nationalists weren’t happy with their lot  and wanted some social changes that might make it a better society for everyone across the board  and make Northern Ireland a more equitable place to live in.  That was the nub of the conflict at that moment in time. It seems very simple, really …and it was. Everything that followed began with those simple differences of opinion. Of course, when the state’s police force and military were used against only the Nationalists it was bound to spawn a more violent answering response from those most affected.Those who were interned without trial might have thought that the system needed some radical changes that no amount of political tweaking would ever fix. It gave violent force  Republicanism a raison d’etre. Before that moment , they had no  real traction in the Nationalist society and really hadn’t  throughout the conflict until Sinn Fein disavowed violence . Nobody will lie down and be kicked forever, though. No one will respond to being locked up without a trial by simply complying.  Something was bound to happen then.

The Civil Rights Movement was asking for that fairer deal and was answered by Paisley’s vocal thuggery which in turn inflamed the dry tinder of Unionism’s latent fears and encroaching bigotry.It’s hard to argue with any of that if you actually lived through it all and saw it in front of your face, on the streets.Especially when the Civil Rights Movement was attempting to be  a cross-community movement. They were  only asking for a fairer deal for everyone, even if not everyone knew they needed a fairer deal. Paisley’s mad power- cult  almost single-handedly put paid to that. He had his own reasons and all the pundits are still arguing about the effects of his power-playing and eventual volte face, on both sides of the community. He was loved and loathed in equal measure and not just by one side.

Many talk of war or conflict as if there is some glamour attached to it .You can even see that in the stylings of uniforms and the decorative “salad”, braid and trim on the epaulettes  or the medals designed to bestow “winner” on some act of soldiery. I would not be of that school. War and conflict is about killing . The end result of our own little conflict was that at the furthest reaches of society it gave a carte blanche to every psychopath with a grudge to indulge their goriest kill-fantasies  . Many went beyond any cause they may have espoused  with their  hate-filled gore-fests of stabbings and slashings, never mind the bombing and shooting that was almost taken as the norm. Both sides have many closed rooms full of horrors. They all have things to bury. It all finally juddered to an impasse when it was realised by all sides that a  stratum  of violence could be maintained by every side at a low level…. forever, without any solution. Its time had run out and anyone with an ear to the ground could see that . Some , as usual , were slow to learn..The result was a strange hybrid of governance that so far has become as unweildy as a car without power-steering. Anyone remember those ? …Enough said.

So who won, after all that?  Well , certainly, if judged by the standards of 1968 , we are all winners in that we did get most of  those Civil Rights eventually . Nationalism got a better say in their collective political future, which is what they originally wanted .Unionism retained their  Union, even though that union is a radically different beast to its 1968 version which everyone, even themselves,  suffered under.Nationalism did gain the possibility of equality and  future change which it didn’t have back in 1968.  There is always the possibility that at some future date in  even more changed circumstances we may have a United Ireland {If everyone in Ireland can agree on what that might look like}, a Federal United Islands of Ireland and Britain possibly, or even a Federal version of a United Europe, uniting all of those aspects across the world .We don’t know , just as we were’t sure a few weeks ago whether or not Scotland would float off into the wide blue yonder, forever waving goodbye…… or not.

Unionism still clings to an unwarranted inferiority complex which has it putting much store in  parading and flying flags .To anyone outside of that community, it’s a case of “The lady doth protest too much”. ….way too much , really! That ostentation is taken by most as a profound weakness and it is sad to see.There is no need for it. If they want to feel British , it is thought, why do they not act a little more like our English and Welsh neighbours and be satisfied with a little less flag- flying and parading. If they really felt “British” with a capital  “B”, then maybe they’d act a little more like the British in the rest of Britain…. Then maybe we could all get along a little easier.Then we really could all act like grown-ups and all really feel like winners.

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