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7 January 1999 Edition

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Keeping an eye on the propaganda war

Ireland The Propaganda War: The British Media and the Battle for Hearts and Minds
By Liz Curtis
Published by Pluto Press
Price £11.99

Reading the second edition of Liz Curtis's fine book while watching Tony Blair's tortuous and completely implausible justifications for the bombing of Iraq was a grimly amusing experience, as was watching press interaction with the British military's public relations system (known as `propaganda' when it comes from the other side) which praised the ``courage'', duly reported as incontestable fact, of RAF pilots who were bombing Iraqi civilians from a very safe height and distance. The parallels with Ireland and the way in which the ``courage'' of soldiers like Lee Clegg and others who kill unarmed civilians has been reported over the years were painfully obvious.

The Propaganda War was first published in 1984 and 15 years later, little has changed; British journalists are, with the one or two honourable exceptions discussed in the book, still willing to offer the British government's self-serving disinformation - or even downright dishonesty - on Ireland as self-evident truth whilst blithely ignoring the atrocities carried out by their own side.

During the usual end-of-year media reviews over Christmas, for example, the killing of Billy Wright and the loyalist killing frenzy which followed it were lumped together as a non-specific ``spate of sectarian killings'', without it ever being pointed out that Billy Wright was an LVF mass murderer who was directing a sectarian murder campaign from his prison cell, whereas all the subsequent victims were randomly chosen Catholics.

Neither was it mentioned that loyalists were enjoying unfettered access to Catholics in order to murder them long before Mr Wright was shot.

Likewise, Tony Blair's assertion that Britain and Ireland have caused much ``hurt'' to each other over the centuries, made in that really horrible mock-sincere manner with just a hint of a suppressed sob in the voice, was hugely quoted in the press but remained unchallenged as a political statement, effectively lending credence to the careful lie that the pain inflicted has been of equal measure.

Curtis's admirably calm and meticulously researched account of the control of the media by successive governments, and of the media's own craven self-censorship in reporting the conflict, is enough to make one practically spontaneously combust with rage and frustration.

There is an excellent chapter on loyalist violence which is, as Curtis points out, subject to ``selective amnesia''. For example, it has ``conveniently disappeared from the establishment mythology'' that ``the IRA did not go on the offensive until six months after the Conservative government's crackdown on the Lower Falls in July 1970. This amnesia set in rapidly. In November 1972, Guardian editorials were telling readers that ``the bloody struggle with the IRA'' was ``now increasingly bringing in Protestant extremists also...'' The books, in short, were being cooked in order to establish the IRA not as a product of the conflict, but as the cause.

This book is rightly acknowledged as a seminal text although, because it is so superbly written, one yearns for a couple of new chapters on the momentous events since 1984 rather than simply the updated chronology added on as an appendix; the broadcasting ban, Gibraltar and Diarmuid O'Neill are just three examples where government censorship and media distortion were at their most outrageous. Even so, it can't be praised too highly.

By Fern Lane

Our Viking past

Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age

Published by Four Courts Press

Edited by H.B. Clarke, M. Ní Mhaonaigh, R. O Floinn

Price £25 (hb)

Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age is a compilation of sixteen essays by various academics from Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Norway. It essentially came from a conference of academics, held in Dublin in 1995, whose theme was the same as the title of the book. As the title would suggest, it discusses the Viking period in the 8th and 9th centuries, and how it affected Ireland and Scandinavia at the time.

The book is divided into three parts, Archaeology, History and Literature, and Overview. The topics which are covered in the first part of the book are archaeological finds in Scandinavia and the Irish Sea area; Viking artefacts (many of which are actually Irish, not to mention those melted down), swords and weapons of the Vikings, their raiding, trading, and settling in Ireland, Scotland and Iceland; and their burials, of which the Viking cemetery in Kilmainham (the biggest in Europe) is particularly interesting.

The second part discusses the formation of towns and settlements by the Vikings in the Irish Sea area, Iceland and beyond; the actual history of Viking movements and events in North and North-Western Europe, and also how the Gaels and Norsemen reflected upon each other in Icelandic and Gaelic literature respectively.

The third part of the book offers two well-written overviews by Bjorn Ambrosiani and Donnchadh O Corráin,the latter particularly well worth reading. These two final essays, more or less, sum up the various items and topics discussed.

This book is well illustrated with pictures, maps, plates, and plans of various sites. The pictures include archaeological finds such as swords, brooches, coins, household objects, and all kinds of other material. It is also well endowed with maps, which cover the geographical extent of their wanderings, with particular emphasis on Norway and Ireland. There are aerial pictures of different sites and also site plans which describe the archaeological sites and the finds within, especially in the Dublin and Liffey Valley area. These site plans also cover Viking farmsteads, longship ports, and other kinds of settlements.

By and large, the book is heavily academic, and is as such written for academic consumption and for reference. As a reference, it is particularly useful and is certainly relevant for the study of Irish history of this period. It is nonetheless accessible to the amateur historian and provided one has an interest in the subject matter, it is enjoyable and quite readable. But be warned - if you don't have an interest in this subject, you will more than likely suffer a horrible death from boredom.

By Aengus O Snodaigh

Getting Madder all the time

Mad Money
By Susan Strange
Published by Manchester University Press

One of the more annoying aspects of any New Year is the banner proclamations of new movies that promise the best film of the year, the best comedy and that old favourite ``If you only see one picture this year....''.

Never, I thought, would An Phoblacht stoop to such levels but here goes. If you consider reading one economics book this year look no further than Susan Strange's Mad Money. It is doubtful that you will find an economics book that is as interesting or readable as this one.

The theme of Mad Money is the out-of-control global financial system. Strange outlines just why money markets have gone out of control culminating in the Asian Flu syndrome in Asia and Russia over the last 12 months.

``Why mad?'' asks Strange. The answer, she writes, is because it was ``wildly foolish - the dictionary synonym for mad - to let the financial markets run so far ahead, so far beyond the control of state and international authorities''. The purpose of Strange's book is to diagnose the problem and then to prescribe treatment.

What makes the book work is that Strange writes in an accessible manner and explains the dynamics and intricacies of international financial markets taking the reader in a step by step through what initially seem to be quite complex issues.

According to Strange there are two serious threats that jeopardise civilisation. The worse threat is the environmental one. The second threat is the possible collapse of global financial markets.

Strange explains how the computerisation of financial markets has made them more volatile. She also outlines the failures of the IMF and the World Bank to help the poorest states who are most in need. Perhaps the most readable chapter is on money laundering and tax embezzlement in industrialised economies.

The book ends with a prescriptive chapter offering feasible solutions to the negative outcomes of what she called in an earlier book ``casino capitalism''. Casino Capitalism was written in 1986 and Mad Money arrived 12 years later. With two quality books like these the conclusion has to be to say - don't leave it so long next time Susan.


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