Posting has been almost non-existent of late due to other priorities. During our recent trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsular we entered into negotiations to purchase a retirement property. The resultant paperwork – to-ing and fro-ing of emails – has occupied much of my time, coupled with a need to smarten up our present house before returning to the school bus in late August, so the property can be offered for sale in the spring of 2011.
There are two matters recently in the news that did stimulate my brain cells sufficient for me to make a mental note to post at the first opportunity.
It took thirty-eight years for the truth of a brutal massacre on Irish soil to finally be made public, and the conclusions of the report into the events of Bloody Sunday went virtually unnoticed in America.
On the 30th January 1972 British soldiers callously shot dead thirteen civil rights marchers, and wounded fourteen others, in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland. The Saville report concludes that none of the marchers were armed, none were ‘posing a threat of causing death or serious injury’ and ‘no-one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at soldiers on Bloody Sunday’.
It took Lord Saville of Newdigate and two other judges twelve years to compile what is now known as the “Saville Report”.
Back in 1972, it took Lord Widgery, then the Lord Chief Justice, just eleven days to complete his report into the massacre. It concluded that the British army had behaved absolutely correctly on that day:
When the vehicles and soldiers of Support Company appeared in Rossville Street they came under fire. Arrests were made; but in a very short time the arrest operation took second place and the soldiers turned to engage their assailants. There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first.”
“There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first.”
That comment by Widgery typifies the thinking of the time; a viewpoint still very much in evidence today whenever politicians, high-ranking military officers, or the national media comment on our armed forces.
In a response to the Saville Report, made to the British Parliament by its Prime Minister last week, David Cameron said of the British army:
I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world.”
In the United States, to describe this nation’s military as ‘the finest in the world’ is obligatory for any politician or Pentagon official questioned on its behavior. Of course, the same rule applies in virtually every nation on Earth?
The truth is somewhat different.
The Saville Report has taken thirty-eight years to reveal that truth. Yet, it’s not a new truth. It’s just one we refuse to recognize. Even now, Saville will be brushed under the carpet, in a few months forgotten by all but a handful of relatives still grieving for the loved ones brutally gunned down by trigger-happy soldiers itching to shoot at anything that moved.
Check back through history and the pattern emerges relentlessly. From the Battle of Zhuolu (about 2500BC) to the US/UK invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2001/2003, every single war and battle has been the excuse for a degeneration into barbarism and the blood letting of innocents.
After WW2, much was made of the atrocities committed by the Japanese and Germans. The media, and Hollywood, had a host of field days. No-one reported on the war crimes of the Russian, American, and British militaries, who between them wreaked a terrible revenge on the innocent civilian populations of the Axis nations.
It took just one book – “After The Reich” by Giles MacDonogh – a brutal history of the Allied occupation, to catalogue the crimes of we civilized nations with our ‘finest militaries in the world’.
Remember the names ‘Mai Lai’, ‘Fallujah’, ‘Abu Ghraib’? Most, at least on this side of the Atlantic, would rather conveniently forget.
Even more easily forgotten, in this age of technological marvels, is the innate fallibility of the human race. The ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico once more highlights our inability to cope when nature decides to take over and teach us a lesson.
One reaction common among commentators has been to suggest that somewhere on this planet there is someone with the ability to stop the flow of oil gushing from the now infamous Deepwater Horizon oil well a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico. It just isn’t so. BP would pay a fortune to anyone able to do so. The plain fact is that we don’t have the technology to stop it.
This is hard for so many people to accept. In an age where we’re threatened with all manner of international hazards – not least nuclear war and global climate change – human security means accepting our scientists and technological experts can invent an answer to all problems as they arise.
The truth is, they can’t.
We’ve invented all sorts of crazy notions why BP hasn’t fixed its problem. In the last week I’ve read that it was actually blown up by North Korea as an act of war, and conversely, it’s deliberately being left to leak so the oil will contaminate Mexico and allow the CIA to infiltrate that country to assassinate drug barons.
When all else fails, we turn to our gods for help, as our ancestors have done for 20,000 years. It never worked for them, but it is a last resort. It won’t work for the State of Louisiana either, but it didn’t stop them from declaring last Sunday a “Statewide Day of Prayer”:
Thus far the efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail. It is clearly time for a miracle for us.” ~ Senator Robert Adley, Republican, Louisiana.
It’s too late for any ‘miracle’. The damage is done. Deepwater Horizon has been spewing its toxic mess into the Gulf for weeks simply because no-one and nothing can stop it. Until a relief well is completed, and the pressure relieved, it will not be capped.
The similarity between the Saville Report on Bloody Sunday and the BP Gulf oil rig disaster may not be immediately obvious, but they are connected by the simple link of human fallibility.
Soldiers, no matter what their race or creed, will become barbarians if the opportunity arises and they are too long in a war zone. It’s what happens. History proves it over and over again. Unfortunately, that very repetitiveness also proves our eternal denial of it happening.
It’s not just soldiers. Faced with the loss of livelihoods on a massive scale, the people of the Gulf coast are now baying for blood. In particular, that of BP CEO Tony Haywood, who had the nerve to go sailing back in Britain before the oil leak was fixed. To stressed American minds, aggravated by the head-hunting US media, Haywood should have been in the water fixing the problem himself before daring to take a day or two off.
When faced with dire tribulation we first seek someone else to blame, then allow our imaginations to run riot, rather than admit we are capable of being defeated.
Our greatest fallibility is our refusal to accept we are not gods.
 “Bloody Sunday: the Saville report as it happened” Guardian, June 15th 2010
 The Widgery Report April 18th 1972
 “After The Reich” “World Association of International Studies” February 16th 2007
Filed under: Only human