Drogheda, Boston, Peterloo, TonyPandy, Derry.


Armies are for killing and intimidating people and breaking things. When they are used for 'pacification' or civilian efforts in difficult situations where their mission is not one that the surrounding population sees as legitimate, atrocities occur. The duty of a state to the combination of working people who need a career and middle-class sociopaths who make up most armies is clear; arm and equip them properly and, as far as possible, avoid letting them do their job.

I should perhaps qualify that. The United States Army has not done too badly in Haiti, and the armed forces of that republic were indispensable after the Indonesian tsunami. I think that forces like those of the USA, and possibly China, are so vast and rich though, that they are better seen as corporations with such economies of scale that they could adapt to anything. Europe's armies tend to be legbreakers or plastic police in comparison.

I grew up with a cultural memory of the Bloody Sunday killings, which occurred slightly before I was born. The tale of the massacre, which radicalised a generation and gave rise to any amount of IRA violence, was even set at my Catholic comprehensive school as our history coursework when I was sixteen, and just falling in love with history.

What happened wasn't, as the title of this post suggests, unique in history, though for what it is worth I think the greatest unindicted villain of the piece was Edward Heath. Lurking behind the Paratroopers' action that day is the general fuhrerbefehl he issued--and I can almost hear him doing it--to show the natives who was in charge. Europe, Derry, Rutland--the man was a full spectrum disaster.

Yet my thoughts today are mixed. Other states commit horrors; some take years to admit their behaviours. Some never do. The United States, for instance, whether at Abu Ghraib or My Lai, has a tradition of scapegoating, and Algeria or the Congo or Angola hardly covered some of our European partners in glory. Japan is not keen on acknowledging its criminality, and Russia only issues apologies for the various Soviet holocausts tactically. Many states simply revel in military injustice.

Yesterday, a British state (for all the ways in which traditional Tories and their fellow travellers cavilled) did apologise, and did respond; it did spend millions to uncover the truth, and it has swallowed its pride and reconciled itself to the basic political causes of the disaster that is the six-county state. The last Labour government can be thanked for that, but also a basic decency that sometimes is dragged through all the accumulated psychological strata and badness of the past five hundred years, ever since the Tudor gang and possibly since the Normans. As a general rule, after all, someone on these islands has been constructing self-serving histories of glory to disguise shabby land-grabs and bone-smashing for over a thousand years.

Still, one fact remains. After they have tried everything else, and when they cannot avoid it, the British will, ultimately, be fair and confess, and given enough time will apologise too.

Given the generally fallen nature of the world, that in itself is quite an endorsement. When capitalism, Euro-Hapsburg regionalism and small country nationalism finally crumble this country, the world will have lost something really admirable, in its mad way.

May the souls of the innocents rest in peace.

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