30 July 2010
Bono: Sunday Bloody Sunday revisited
BONO, lead singer with U2, the biggest band in the world today, has been vocal about the conflict in the Six Counties, most notably in the hit number Sunday Bloody Sunday and against those who took up arms when the Civil Rights movement was batoned or shot down on the streets. In the wake of the release of the Saville Inquiry Report into Bloody Sunday, Bono wrote an opinion piece as a guest columnist in The New York Times about changed times... and changed views.
Like many people, Bono noted that the day the Saville Report was published was “one of the most extraordinary days in the mottled history of the island of Ireland”.
For the readers of The New York Times, Bono recalled that British paratroopers shot dead 14 civil rights marchers protesting on the streets of Derry on January 30th 1972.
He described the impact the massacre had on people. It was, he said, “mostly young men but also women who had had enough of empire and would now consider every means necessary, however violent or ugly, to drive it from their corner” who swelled the ranks of the IRA.
It was also a day when his father stopped taking his family across the border because of what had happened and consequent events. “And we were a Catholic/Protestant household.”
Bono contrasted the dark days around Bloody Sunday and what followed with the day the Saville Report came out.
“Clouds that had hung overhead for 38 years were oddly missing. The sharp daylight of justice seemed to chase away the shadows and the stereotypes of the past. No one behaved as expected. The world broke rhyme.”
No more so than the new British prime minister, David Cameron, and his unreserved apology, Bono observed.
“Joy was the mood in the crowd. A group of women sang We Shall Overcome. There was a surprising absence of spleen. This was a community that had been through more than most anyone could understand, showing a restraint no one could imagine.
“This was a dignified joy, with some well-rehearsed theatrics to underscore the moment.
“As well as punching the sky and tearing up the first Bloody Sunday inquiry – a whitewash by a judge named Lord Widgery who said the British troops had been provoked – these people were redrawing their own faces from the expected images: from stoic, tight-lipped and vengeful to broad, unpolished, unqualified smiles, unburdened by the bile the world often expects from this geography.”
And while the world looked anew at scenes from Derry and the Six Counties, so did Bono.
“Figures I had learned to loathe as a self-righteous student of non-violence in the ‘70s and ‘80s behaved with a grace that left me embarrassed over my vitriol.
“For a moment, the other life that Martin McGuinness could have had seemed to appear in his face: a commander of the Irish Republican Army that day in 1972, he looked last week like the fly fisherman he is, not the gunman he became; a school teacher, not a terrorist... a first-class deputy First Minister.”
The U2 spokesperson highlighted the fact that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams “seemed deliberately to avoid contentious language and to try to include the dead of other communities in the reverence of the occasion”.
Protestant clergymen spoke of “healing” and held meetings with families of the victims, he said, adding:
“Healing is kind of a corny word but it’s peculiarly appropriate here. Wounds don’t easily heal if they are not out in the open. The Saville Report brought openness – clarity – because, at its core, it accorded all the people involved in the calamity their proper role.
“The lost lives rose up from being statistics in documents in the Foreign Office to live once again. On the television news, we saw them: the exact time, the place, the commonplace things they were doing...
“William Nash, age 19, shot in the chest at close range, his father wounded trying to reach him...
“William McKinney, age 26, shot in the back while tending the wounded...
“Jim Wray, age 22, shot twice, the second round fired into his back while he was lying on the ground outside his grandparents’ house.
“We saw their faces in old photographs, smiles from 38 years ago, the ordinary details of their ordinary and, as Lord Saville repeatedly pointed out, entirely innocent lives.”
Bono reminded everyone that it is easily forgotten that the British Army arrived in the North ostensibly to protect the Catholic minority but how quickly things can change, as they did here.
“In just a couple of years, the scenes of soldiers playing soccer with local youths or sharing ice creams and flirting with the colleens had been replaced by slammed doors on house-to-house raids. The protectors had become the enemy... it was that quick in Derry. In fact, it can be that quick everywhere.”
So the experience of Ireland should be borne in mind by those with responsibility and power in other areas of conflict, Bono suggested.
“If there are any lessons for the world from this piece of Irish history – for Baghdad, for Kandahar – it’s this: things are quick to change for the worse and slow to change for the better, but they can. They really can.
“It takes years of false starts, heartbreaks and backslides and, most tragically, more killings. But visionaries and risk-takers and, let’s just say it, heroes on all sides can bring us back to the point where change becomes not only possible again but inevitable.”