“As the army left this week, with hardly a muffled drum to lead them out, the magnitude of the wastage of it all was overwhelming.” So writes Tom McGurk in today’s Sunday Business Post , reflecting on the legacy of the last 38 years in the north of Ireland. I’ve already posted about the army’s exit a few times, and I’m going to continue to do so–mostly because there is so much misinformation out there about the roots of the conflict and the “role of the British” in it all.
This article focuses on how things didn’t have to end up the way they did–that due to the political mistakes made by Westminster, the presence of the army actually escalated the emerging conflict in the north in the late ’60s/early ’70s, that their behavior became a recruiting agent for the IRA and so forth. No surprises there.
Whatever about the ideology of Republicanism, after their mother’s door was smashed in or they were batoned down the street, local youths began to drift into the IRA.
By the summer of 1970, only months after their deployment, the army was regularly using CS gas and rubber bullets.
Their political honeymoon was over and the essential elements and components in the guerrilla war that was soon to erupt with huge ferocity were already evolving.
Next came the infamous Falls Road curfew, when the army forced thousands indoors and drove unionist ministers and the press around in lorries to view what seemed like their ‘occupied town’.
The original fatal flaw as to who had direct responsibility for the army -Westminster or Stormont – was soon to culminate in the disaster of internment in 1971.Astonishingly, a mere 24months from arriving to cups of tea and a huge welcome from the Catholic population, the British army was now dragging the same people from their beds in the middle of the night and locking them up in prison camps without trial or habeas corpus.
Perhaps what then followed after internment – Bloody Sunday and the rest – had all that sense of historical inevitability about it, but in the months just after the army was first deployed in the North in August 1969, there was a unique opportunity, tragically not to be seen again for almost 40 years.