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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Number 181: July 2010

Bloody Sunday: Tragedy, trauma but eventually truth

The Saville report into the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 has eventually delivered something approaching justice, but certainly vindication, for those in Derry, and elsewhere, who have struggled for so long to get to the truth. The killings were unwarranted, those dead were innocent, and – although this is mainly outside the remit of the report - the whole event ratcheted up the Troubles by a number of degrees. British policies drove many into the hands of the IRA and no single action did so much for IRA recruitment as Bloody Sunday.

The Saville report was worth every penny of the just over a hundred pounds per head of Northern Ireland’s population which it cost. Of course it might and could have been done differently, with less money lining the pockets of lawyers, and more assembling of the facts which were known anyway, but it needed to be done some way. The original Widgery report was such a travesty that it meant any further report had to be meticulous. However in fact one omission is that Saville does not lay blame further up lines of command, e.g. in the British Army, where it might better rest, and with the governments of the day (the Parachute Regiment had already been responsible for a number of killings in Belfast months before).

As Eamonn McCann has indicated, the Saville report nevertheless sets a standard for the level of detail possible in such an enquiry. That standard may rarely be met but it is there. People associated with other major violent and traumatic events in the Troubles may feel jealous and regret that they have not arrived at such an enquiry, and are not likely to do so. But that is not the fault of the people of Derry and the Bloody Sunday bereaved families. They deserved their report, the truth, and the apologies subsequently made by leaders of state and army, and more.

The story is also, fortunately or unfortunately, an example of the perseverance necessary in such a campaign. Admittedly Saville has been working away for years but it has taken 38 years to get the official truth. There was no quick win but rather years of despair and hard slog. Northern Ireland eventually turned a corner and, as part of that turn, the review of Bloody Sunday became possible.

Sadly, such perseverance may be necessary in nonviolent campaigning for justice. It should not need to be but given the intransigence of states, and the vested interests on many sides including within armies, the ability to campaign, campaign, and reactivate a campaign again, may be necessary to achieve the breakthrough needed. Some questions still remain about culpability at the top but at least ‘the facts’ on the ground have been mainly established.

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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Existential Confusion

As the following examples illustrate most, if not all, of the calamities that humankind and the nonhuman world suffer from are direct results of our existential confusion.

In a time of economic austerity the estimated £100 billion that the UK government seems committed to spending over the coming years on a new generation of nuclear submarines is absolute folly. Even from a military perspective they serve no useful purpose. The decision to build them is based on the strong emotional sense Britain has of itself as an important player on the world stage. Likewise with India which spends billions on space exploration while 300 million of its citizens live in utter destitution. Rarely off our front pages is the environmental calamity in the Gulf of Mexico, which according to Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 19th June 2010, the 60,000 gallon daily oil gush could continue for between two and four years. The list of woes is long and includes global warming, loss of biodiversity, depletion of fresh water supplies, loss of top soil, the genetic corruption of life-forms, and the continuing growth of the human population. Other calamities include the loss of languages and cultural knowledge.

How did we come to act against our own best interests? I would contend it is a result of misunderstanding our place in the web of life, hubris, and not knowing what is best for our personal and communitarian interests. Our existential confusion can in part be credited to living in a world of information over-load and the false depiction of what it means to ‘live the good life’.

When we are directly faced with the question of what is best for us, such as on Election Day, or when we are about to spend a substantial sum of money on a new product, our decisions are usually based on trust, loyalty, fear of risk taking and what appeals to our sense of taste. In other words as sensual beings with a strong sense of tribal identity our decisions are usually based on emotion rather than rationality. (Events such as the World Cup bring many peoples’ sense of tribalism to the fore.)

Our psychological / emotional disposition makes us vulnerable to manipulation by disreputable political and commercial interests. On this point Felicity Lawrence in The Guardian, 23rd June 2010, writes: “We live in a culture in which adult appetites are shaped by marketing that preys on our insecurities and emotional needs.” Examples of the effectiveness of such persuasion include the poor voting for public representatives who behave as Robin Hoods in reverse, US President George Bush for instance, well-meaning liberals who vote for warriors presented in the guise of peacemakers, US President Barak Obama seems to be such a person, and people who vote for candidates who promise to protect their freedoms but have every intention of curtailing them.

To create an environmentally sustainable, economic and socially equitable, non-militarized society we need to unlearn a great deal of what we have been taught. Planet Earth does not exist for us alone. We do not have a right to extinguish other life-forms, level mountains and change the course of arterial rivers. We do not have a right to pump global warming gasses into the atmosphere without restraint. We need to develop a sense of humility, a new moral code, and learn about our rightful place in the bio-world. Within a framework of respect for human rights we should allow others to live as they chose without persecution. Such a sense of what it means to be human may seem hopelessly unattainable. If this proves to be the case we will leave a world of ash for our children.

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2010 Glencree Summer School looks to the next generation
The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation’s annual Summer School will take place from August 27th to 29th and focuses on the role of youth in providing political leadership in sustaining and advancing peace and reconciliation both on the island of Ireland and around the world.

Every year the Glencree Summer School focuses on a topical and relevant theme which seeks to further knowledge of the challenges of conflict and potential solutions to these challenges. Previous themes have included ‘What the North needs to say and the South needs to hear’ and ‘Courage to continue the journey – dismantling divisions’ and previous speakers have included FW De Klerk, Mo Mowlam and Johannes Gastung.

The 2010 theme is entitled ‘Leadership for a new generation – power, politics and participation’, which is strongly focused on the future roles of a generation that, in an Irish context at least have lived most of their lives in a post violence environment. This throws up a number of interesting considerations: Do the next generation have the same prejudices and baggage carried by their parents who were essentially on a war footing in Northern Ireland?, Will they have a broader perspective than the current political leadership who for the most part have existed in an environment of instability and mistrust? And does their lack of experience of conflict increase or decrease the likelihood of a resumption of old hostilities?

It is a very interesting time in that the next generation of leaders in Northern Ireland will have served their apprenticeships as politicians rather than activists or even combatants, while in the South, the old civil war party divisions are more diluted than ever before. Are our younger people, therefore, well positioned to maintain and progress the peace process?. Although much has been achieved, significant threats remain, not least that of dissident violence. What can be learned from those who have lived through and participated in the conflict?

Younger people’s role in international peace and reconciliation is also in focus. As a nation we have traditionally been heavily involved in peace activity, going back to the work of Irish missions from all creeds, our work with the UN and the roles played by NGOs including Glencree throughout the world. With the relative success of the peace process, what is the role now for Ireland in using our learning from peace building for the benefit of other regions and groups in dispute while continuing to add to that experience by learning with them?

Glencree itself has done this in microcosm by applying its experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland to countries as diverse as Haiti, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Israel/Palestine.

The format of the weekend will include panel discussions as well as an Open Space forum. Open Space is a method that allows the participants to set their own agenda. Parallel sessions then take place, facilitated and chosen by the participants themselves with the Glencree programme team leading the session. Attendees are therefore able to join a sub group discussing a subject of interest or even proposed by them. The overarching question for this session is:
What is the role of young people in moving beyond a legacy of violence?

Among the panel discussions for the weekend, subjects include: What kind of leadership do we need? What is the role of young people in creating change, and how do we move from a legacy of violence?

The Summer School will take place at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation from 27 to 29 August. The cost of attending the weekend which includes all meals and accommodation is €100. For more information or to book a place contact Emmet MacSwiney on (01) 282 9711 (00 353 1282 9711 from outside the Republic of Ireland) or email

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