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June 15, 2010

“Both unjustified and unjustifiable”
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:03 PM * 141 comments

I am not naturally a fan of the current British prime minister. But I admire him today.

You see, Lord Saville’s report1 on Bloody Sunday was issued today. I’ve only read the news stories and skimmed the principal conclusions section of the document itself.

(That, by the way, is detailed and extensive, delving into the geography and history of the area, the events leading up to and following the shootings, and a close scrutiny of the day itself. The individual soldiers—whose names have not been released; they are referred to by code—are each dealt with, and their actions and probabilities of guilt described with due consideration.)

And the conclusions are damning.

The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.

This is in marked contrast to the first report on the day, the Widgery Report. That was issued 11 weeks after the deaths, and has long been held to be a whitewash. It blamed the organizers of the march2, insinuated things about the victims in direct contradiction of the evidence3, and asserted that “There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first.”

Lord Saville’s investigation was first mooted in 1998, in response to the provision of additional evidence by the government of the Republic of Ireland. It’s widely held that the British government’s willingness to reexamine the events of January 30, 1972 was a key ingredient in bringing about the subsequent Good Friday Agreement (pdf). But it didn’t turn out to be a cheap thing, or a quick one. It took a decade and cost the thick end of £200 million. Cameron himself was not a fan of it due to the expense.

And yet he stood up in the Commons and gave a statement the like of which I never expect to hear from a US President about, say, Abu Ghraib.

What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.


…these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But Mr Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.

We do not honour all those who have served with such distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.


Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.


The inevitable arguments have already started. What about prosecutions? asks one side. What about the things the British Army did well in Northern Ireland, and the casualties they suffered? asks the other. It’s still the messy, bitter, grievous situation it’s always been, though with much less lead flying than used to be the case.

Nonetheless, the world has more truthful words in it, and more courageous ones, than it did yesterday. And that’s a good thing.

  1. That link there goes to a page that allows you to download or search the full 5,000 page report, or read the principal conclusions online.
  2. Point one of the Widgery Report: “There would have been no deaths in Londonderry on 30 January if those who organised the illegal march had not thereby created a highly dangerous situation in which a clash between demonstrators and the security forces was almost inevitable.”
    Contrast that with this from Saville: “4.33 In our view the organisers of the civil rights march bear no responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday. Although those who organised the march must have realised that there was probably going to be trouble from rioters, they had no reason to believe and did not believe that this was likely to result in death or injury from unjustified firing by soldiers.”
  3. Widgery point 10: “None of the deceased or wounded is proved to have been shot whilst handling a firearm or bomb. Some are wholly acquitted of complicity in such action; but there is a strong suspicion that some others had been firing weapons or handling bombs in the course of the afternoon and that yet others had been closely supporting them.”
Comments on "Both unjustified and unjustifiable":
#1 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 02:42 PM:

"To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice."

This is justice markedly delayed, but is at least an honest beginning to justice granted, not denied. Cameron does better service to the Great Charter than might be expected.

What a pity that we can no longer reasonably expect honourable behaviour from those who present themselves as the State. Actual justice, not perverted by political and personal favours, ought not come as a surprise.

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 02:44 PM:

May we see more such reports.

#3 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 03:14 PM:

Word. To the admiration of Cameron as well, even.

(Had Gordon Brown said exactly the same things though, howls of contempt would have risen. Oh well.)

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 03:23 PM:

Wow, this is great news. Too bad it took so long, but still, a good thing.

Anna, do you know the expression 'only Nixon could go to China'?

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 03:30 PM:

Xopher @4:

That's an old Vulcan saying, isn't it?

#6 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 03:39 PM:

The inadequate shrub publicly admitted to torturing people. He just doesn't understand why it's such a big deal.

#7 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 04:12 PM:

It takes ~38 years to be brave like that.

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 04:19 PM:

Joy @7:

Would that only the passage of time were enough. Then we could wait another 34 years and be sure of a reckoning on Abu Ghraib. And President Bush would have apologized for My Lai in 2006.

#9 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 04:23 PM:

I think the US House of Representatives apologized for slavery and Jim Crow 2 years ago. So, yeah.

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 05:15 PM:

I heard this on the Beeb today. I was gobsmacked. Like Abi, I am not naturally an admirer of David Cameron. But he said the right things, and it took true testicular fortitude for him to say them. Had I a hat on, I would take it off to him.

#11 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 05:23 PM:

I sent this to Terry this morning:

4.04pm: Julian Lewis, the Tory MP for New Forest East, says an IRA sniper killed more than a dozen people but was released after serving just a short time in prison as a result of the Good Friday agreement. Should not someone like that go back to jail before soldiers get prosecuted for their role in Bloody Sunday?

Cameron says he does not want to draw "equivalence" between soldiers and terrorists. Soldiers operate under the rule of law.

Part of me wants to say, "seriously, how hard is that to say?", but the sad truth is, it really does need at least a bit of guts for Cameron to say that for general publication in 2010.

#12 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 06:05 PM:

As I'm sure will be pointed out in other places: the answer to Bono's question: 9,958 days.

Well, done, Prime Minister. Better late than never.

#13 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 07:25 PM:

Xopher @4

I don't think Nixon going to China is a fair comparison here. Whatever the merits of the Saville inquiry, speed was not among them. Had he completed his report a year earlier, there is no reason to assume that Brown would not have responded in similar terms (and no certainty, of course, that he would have done). There is nothing in the media coverage which suggests that anybody cares, or particularly remembers, that Bloody Sunday took place under a Conservative government, and I am not persuaded that Brown would have been politically constrained from responding as Cameron has done.

#14 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 08:50 PM:

Any chance we can get the same crew to look at Kent State?

#15 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 09:30 PM:

Virginia apologized for slavery about three and a bit years ago. Well, it's actually one of those semi-apologies where they never say "sorry."

#16 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 09:33 PM:

marek@13: This may be a U.S.-centric view, but I believe, (very) roughly aligning the more-left and more-right parties across the pond: if the more-left party in the U.S. came out critical of a violent government action, it would be portrayed as weak and pandering, and agreeing with their biases; whereas if the more-right party did so it would be portrayed as against their biases, and therefore (perhaps reluctantly) accepted as valid across more of the political spectrum. Does the same not apply to a Brown vs. Cameron apology?

#17 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 10:18 PM:

Five thousand pages, huh. Any bets on how many people will actually read the whole thing?

#18 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 10:27 PM:

David Wald, 13: In earlier times, I would have unequivocally agreed with your assessment of how things would shake out here in the US, but nowadays, the right wing is so pigheaded that if a leader of the rightward party were to criticize a government action that way, he'd be denounced as having been a leftist all along.

IOW, Nixon went to China to kiss up to his Commie best friends!

#19 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 10:28 PM:

Sorry, that was David Wald at 16.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 11:17 PM:

Jim 14: If we can't get anyone to look at Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, you think Kent State has a shot chance?

#21 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 02:48 AM:

I spent time this morning working on a post about this (after Marna sent me that qoutation).

Because Teresa has chided me in the past for being less than properly pro-active in such things, it's up.

I, for reasons hard to explain, am not going to talk about Kent State.

Some of which has to do with my post, and some of which has to do with not having a good way to talk about it right now.

#23 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 05:26 AM:

Official apologies have been de rigueur in British politics for a while now (e.g. Thalidomide, kids sent to Australia, Turing etc)

This one is welcome, but not surprising or brave, nor anything that Brown wouldn't have done.

#24 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 05:50 AM:

David Wald @16: in a word, "no".

Both Labour and Conservative governments held power during the 1970s -- the height of the Troubles -- and pursued the same overall strategy.

During the 1980s, the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher hardened against issues of negotiation; it took on something of the character of a vendetta after the assassination of Airey Neave, and even more so after the pIRA came within fifteen minutes of killing Thatcher with the Brighton bombing (and crippled Norman Tebbit's wife). However, by the early 1990s there was a growing recognition among all mainland parties that any solution would have to be negotiated; but after the 1992 election this was delayed until 1997 because John Major's majority was so thin that he had to rely on the Ulster Unionist vote to hold his own back-bench MPs in line, and the UU answer to any proposal to talk to Sinn Fein was "over our dead bodies".

Tony Blair's victory in 1997 effectively broke the mid-1990s UU veto over negotiations, and permitted the government to move forward. But it was very much with a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other: by no stretch of the imagination did the Labour administration surrender to the nationalists. In terms of pre-1979 and post-1997 policy, the gap between the Conservative and Labour policies on NI was very thin, and I suspect that if the Lab/SDP split and the Falklands War hadn't occurred and Labour had won the 1982 election, the Troubles would have continued through the 1980s under Labour just as they did under Thatcher.

Caveat: I'm not Nicholas Whyte: I'm just giving a non-specialist mainlander's view of the situation.

#25 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 05:57 AM:

Official apologies have taken place in Australia too, but it still gives me chills to remember standing in Martin Place with thousands of people on a wet morning in February 2008 to hear Kevin Rudd say this:
Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

There were many people crying, black and white. Rudd has done nothing so good since, but it was a great moment. Apologies are symbols and symbols are important.

#26 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 09:17 AM:

Comparisons with slavery and colonialism are unfair: the participants here are still alive (the survivors, of course), and feelings are not at all quiet. If you'd listened to the Today programme yesterday you'd have heard a lot of "oh can't we let this lie already", and "what about the other lot", and "this is affront to the majority of our soldiers who behaved admirably", "right, so now our lads go to jail and Martin McGuinness goes scot free, innit", "the IRA killed 52 people that year before Bloody Sunday", and so on. (The last bit is true, btw.)

Cameron could well have added something to the effect of "what about the IRA killings then?". He didn't, and this goes to his merit, despite the fact that the question is legitimate. But not then and not in that way.

Cameron could have done a lot worse: generations of politicians have. It did indeed take some bravery and personal honesty to do it. Which he has: the problem with Cameron is not that he's personally dishonest, it's that he's a spoilt ideologically driven Eton brat.

But this does indeed show one of the qualities of even British upper-class Tories: when they are good people and loyal to their values, they do take responsibility.

My quip about Brown is just a sad musing on the fact that Brown could have single-handedly cleaned up the Gulf of Mexico, saved world economy and achieved peace in the Middle East, and he'd still be booted out of office because he wasn't "popular". (As a matter of fact, he did apologise convincingly to the memory of Turing. Easier, I know.)

#27 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 09:38 AM:

A few commenters have expressed the concept that soldiers are different from terrorists in that they operate under the rule of law.

I think this is a useful observation. However, people seem to be deriving from it the concept that terrorists shouldn't therefore be prosecuted for their illegal activities. I don't accept that, and don't see the alleged connection.

In my view, police in a legitimate society exist to impose the rule of law by force on people unwilling to accept it voluntarily. (Police can of course instead be agents of authoritarian repression; in fact they're frequently both.)

#28 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 10:01 AM:

ddb: The thing is soldiers are given a huge chunk of power, and license. It's even more pronounced in Britain where they have been used to keep civil order.

The "terrorist" doesn't have the power to the state behind him. He may be operating completely outside the law; which is one problem.

In that case, she deserves to be punished. But absent a legitimate cause (legitimated in the only way such things can be, large scale public support, as with Quantrill's raiders, or the members of the Boston Tea Party, or yes, even the IRA, which doesn't preclude the cause being wrong [and see Iraq for how this also applies to armies]) they will not be able to sustain the efforts.

The soldiers in N. Ireland were a police force. Soldiers in general need to be held to a higher standard, because the apparatus of the state lies behind them.

The same is not true of even the most legitimate terrorist/insurgent/rebel.

#29 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 10:04 AM:

The U.K. appears to produce more Political Leaders who are capable of at least _speaking_ to the point of Honour, Justice, and Law than the U.S. does. We (here in the U.S.) tend to lack that level of Idealism, and to accept what I consider a dispicable amount of moral corner-cutting. I regret being too old & decrepit to do much more than *sigh* about our current trend.

#30 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 10:58 AM:

@27ddb Terrorists have been in fact prosecuted in NI. And people who might have been terrorists. And people who might have not been terrorists but sure looked suspicious. And of course, the IRA and the UVF both did their own prosecution of their own and of each other. As well as of innocent bystanders.

However, peace in NI is possible partly because an agreement was reached not to jail people for what happened in the Troubles. It's not a question of what is just or unjust - the decision displeases all sides equally, which is the point.

Even if prosecuted, the soldiers responsible for Bloody Sunday would face no prison time.

More troubling than punishment to the people in NI is unrepentance. As one of the families of the dead of Bloody Sunday said (but the same goes I suspect for all sides), "forgiveness has not been sought. If it is sought, it might be forthcoming."

Being denied justice by various shadowy and often warring factions, anyway, is one thing: being denied justice by the law of the land is a completely different kettle of fish. Especially so since the march that degenerated in Bloody Sunday was a civil rights march, that presumed to act in a civil, lawful environment and demanded in that specific instance a reinstatement of the rule of law.

#31 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 11:13 AM:

Even if prosecuted, the soldiers responsible for Bloody Sunday would face no prison time.

You sure? I've read several articles in British publications on the question of prosecution, and none of them mention that point.

#32 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 11:42 AM:

It's a shame that it still takes "testicular fortitude", whatever that means, to say something which everyone has known for thirty years.

#33 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 12:01 PM:

"The inadequate shrub publicly admitted to torturing people. He just doesn't understand why it's such a big deal."

Indeed, he's said he would happily do it again, "to save lives." End justifies the means, and all that.

The Saville report comes the same week that the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in the case of Maher Arar.

#34 ::: Annalee Rockwood ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 12:40 PM:

McDuff @32: On the one hand, yeah, right there with you. It doesn't take an expert to work out that someone can't be shot armpit to armpit unless their hands are above their head in surrender. That a bullet can't enter your butt and come out through your shoulder unless you're crawling away from the shooter. That shooting someone dead isn't "self defense" when they're already lying on the ground with their spinal cord severed. That there is no reason on this green earth to run a tank over an unarmed eighteen-year-old girl.

On the other hand, better late than never. Reconciliation is a marathon, not a sprint. Northern Ireland will still be hard at work on it when we're all dead.

I think it's amazing that they're willing to work so hard on it, though--even when it's hard, or expensive, or politically inconvenient. Even when it means saying "I'll try to forgive the man who shot my child in the back, if he'll meet me half way and apologize."

Maybe it's the starry-eyed TNG fan in me. But I really wish I'd been there to see them cheering in Guild Square.

#35 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 12:56 PM:

Annalee @ 34... Maybe it's the starry-eyed TNG fan in me

Make it so.

#36 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 01:39 PM:

Don @29: the UK's politicians are also comparatively averse to wrapping themselves in the flag and/or god-bothering in public.

I can't help thinking that these two factors are inter-related.

#37 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 01:46 PM:

Terry K @21 -- very interesting piece at your link, and thank you for writing it.

#38 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 01:53 PM:

I wonder if there is enough in the report to form the basis for a World Court prosecution?

#39 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 02:35 PM:

Charles Stross@24:

> However, by the early 1990s there was a growing
> recognition among all mainland parties that any
> solution would have to be negotiated; but after
> the 1992 election this was delayed until 1997
> because John Major's majority was so thin that he
> had to rely on the Ulster Unionist vote to hold
> his own back-bench MPs in line, and the UU answer
> to any proposal to talk to Sinn Fein was "over
> our dead bodies".

Major deserves more credit than he tends to get, for keeping the unofficial channels of communication open, and then making them official. It didn't all start under Blair; I *thought* that Gerry Adams visited Downing Street when Major was there (I think round Christmas 1995, though I'm damned if I can get my Google-magic to confirm this; I remember a silly fuss over whether there'd be a public handshake outside the door, and in the event there wasn't; or was that Blair?). The Downing Street Declaration was rather well-judged too.

(And some years earlier, That Woman signed The Anglo-Irish Agreement; not exactly a wholesale capitulation to republicanism, but enough to get the Unionists to throw their toys out of the pram.)

A lot of very unpleasant people were released early from prison as a result of the peace process (see for example here if you've got a strong stomach), and this fact would be brought sharply back into public focus if criminal charges for Bloody Sunday were mooted. I suspect that prosecutors will be asked to look into whether charges should be brought, and that they'll report back that the chances of a conviction are too low to make it worth doing.

#40 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 03:28 PM:

That Martin McGuinness was wandering around with a sub-machine gun, and possibly fired it, is striking too.
(For US readers, he's Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland; carrying any gun is weird in the U).

#41 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 04:04 PM:

This should provide a lesson to us all about why soldiers are not well placed in a police role and how much risk there is when doing so.

Soldiers, after all, are trained to fight an enemy, which generally involves attempting to kill them. Employing soldiers in police actions involves an attempt to suppress these well-trained instincts, but history shows time and again that in situations of stress or excitement, soldiers cannot be relied upon to suppress that training when deployed against a civilian population.

Thus, the mistakes made repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan when soldiers are carrying out fundamentally policing duties.

#42 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 04:22 PM:

@ddb Well, it is not as cut and dried as that, but several people HAVE made the point that under the Good Friday Agreement they would not be incarcerated. That IS in fact what allows Martin McGuinness to walk around free.

#43 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 04:42 PM:

Anna@3, I don't know. Brown gave a belated apology to Alan Turing, and there were no howls of contempt. There was applause from the Opposition benches, IIRC.

#44 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 04:59 PM:

MB@41: On the flip side, during the antiwar protests in Madison (WI), when the head of campus protection & security needed reinforcements he elected to call in the National Guard instead of law enforcement from outside Madison proper. He figured that the Guards were more likely to be sympathetic to the protesters than rural sheriff's deputies would be, an opinion apparently based on conversations with the deputies. Professional law enforcement or not, you don't trust the people looking forward to legally-sanctioned beating of hippies to be judicious in the application of force.

(Disclaimer: I can't find a reference for this, but I remember reading it in an article about the campus P&S head several years ago.)

#45 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 05:05 PM:

JBWoodford #44: Professional law enforcement or not, you don't trust the people looking forward to legally-sanctioned beating of hippies to be judicious in the application of force.

This is not an argument for the deployment of military/national guard formations in a policing role so much as a savage indictment of the law enforcement agency in question: "not fit for purpose" springs to mind.

#46 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 06:00 PM:

Abi@5: It sounds better in the original Klingon

#47 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 11:54 PM:

Re Martin McGuinness: it's also worth noting the Saville report discusses McGuinness, and that he did nothing to provoke the incident.

re the National Guard and things like protests: These days I'd prefer them to most cops. We get training in it. More than most cops do, and we are, by and large, more sympathetic to protests against power. Cops are far more vested in the status quo, and feel a strong desire to maintain face, which often means the least sign of non-acquiescence = contempt of cop = beating/arrest (cf Peter Watts).

#48 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 04:23 AM:

Had Gordon Brown said exactly the same things though, howls of contempt would have risen. Oh well.

Two points on this. One is that it's sadly true. I don't think this is just the Nixon/China factor, because the mainstream British parties have been indistinguishable on N.Irish issues since Thatcher if not before; I think it's because the London equivalent of the Washington village are still in the midset where Brown has to be demonised to offer a contrast with shiny new Cleggeron. They are as cynical as that; they are as indifferent to the facts as that.

The second point is that he hasn't said anything of the kind. He was a senior member of the government which set up the Saville Committee and latterly the leader of it. You'd think he might pay attention.

#49 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 06:25 AM:

Terry Karney@47: many of the British troops who went into Catholic areas in '69 were initially made very welcome there; the inhabitants much preferred them to the local B-Specials.

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 09:20 AM:

Matthew Brown #41: Soldiers are, indeed, trained to fight. They are also expected to back up the forces used to maintain civil order. In that regard, we may also find them offering art criticism.

#51 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 09:31 AM:

Terry@47: The report seems to think it likely that McGuinness was running around with a Thompson that day. You don't find that provocative? In that place and time?

("Provocative" very much != justifies anything that happened; Sometimes one should ignore provocation, and generally one should respond in a proportionate way at most.)

#52 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 09:58 AM:

ddb @51:

Provocative != provoked the incident

Having a gun may or may not be provocative. It depends where it is and what's done with it, who sees it, what the context is. You of all people know this.

And even if it is provocative in the abstract, it could provoke many reactions, not all of them ending up in the deaths of 13 innocent civilians and not a scratch on McGuiness.

I defer to the report, written by someone with a much better grasp of the context than me or thee:

Before the soldiers of Support Company went into the Bogside he [McGuiness] was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, and though it is possible that he fired this weapon, there is insufficient evidence to make any finding on this, save that we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire.
#53 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 10:16 AM:

Abi@52: "running around with" was the point. And a Thompson is quite large, not something one can conceal. Time and place matter, too -- and this is a place where firearms were pretty thoroughly illegal; Northern Ireland is not an open carry state, nor was at the time.

Most of the rest of your message seems to be just reiterating my second paragraph....

#54 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 10:30 AM:

ddb: From the abstracts, McGuinness (and the weapon) weren't near the Bogside when the shooting started, so yeah, I'd say, no matter how, "provocative" the carry was (and I am not sure; in the abstract, how willing I am to grant, "a thompson is hard to conceal is, given that I can, on my small frame, conceal; to casual observation, weapons at least as large, but I digress), his having it can be ruled as irrelevant to the events.

I am curious as to why you seem to be trying to provoke controversy/equivalence.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 10:32 AM:

ddb @53:

I think the distinction between "provocative" (your word) and "provoke[d] the incident" (Terry's phrase) is pretty significant and worth not so easily eliding as you did.

I don't know whether or where McGuinness was "running around with" (your phrase) that gun. Neither does Lord Saville; the report summary states "in the end we were left in some doubt as to his movements on the day." There are certainly ways in which McGuinness could have a gun that were illegal but not provocative, such as sitting in a concealed firing position.

No one's calling the man a saint; the best that can be said of him is that he seems to have learned that politics are more effective than violence. (In which realization I wish he had more company.) I just see a few assumptions in your description that I want to question.

#56 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 10:42 AM:

ddb, passim: Terry said the Saville report determined McGuinness did not provoke the Bloody Sunday killings.

You then asked, in an apparently incredulous tone, if Terry didn't think McG's carrying the gun was provocative.

Although you then hedged on whether provocation matters, your tone - and the need to ask the question - imply very strongly that it does matter not only that Terry should believe there was provocation, but that we should believe it notwithstanding the Saville conclusions.

Can you please clarify why the imputed provocative nature of McGuinness' carrying matters, in light of the Saville conclusions?

#57 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 10:45 AM:

Terry@54, Abi@55: Sigh; never mind. I tried, very hard, from the beginning, to AVOID any appearance of suggesting equivalence or justification. It seems to me that people are carefully avoiding those parts of my message, which constitute about 50% of the total wordage.

I was assuming that incident was settled; the report agrees with what most people seemed to think, and the whole things was 30+ years ago. But apparently it's still such a live issue for a lot of people that I can't try to discuss one small bit without people rushing to defend the status quo.

Clearly not productive. Never mind!

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 10:59 AM:

ddb @57:

I tried, very hard, from the beginning, to AVOID any appearance of suggesting equivalence or justification. It seems to me that people are carefully avoiding those parts of my message, which constitute about 50% of the total wordage.

If I take the avoidance of suggestions of equivalence or justification at face value, I'm left wondering, along with Mark @56, what you are actually trying to say.

So what are you actually saying about McGuinness, if you're not saying, contra Saville, that he provoked the incident in some way or other? What additional information do you have to bring to the discussion, or if none, where are we going with this speculation about "running around with" a gun?

I was assuming that incident was settled; the report agrees with what most people seemed to think, and the whole things was 30+ years ago. But apparently it's still such a live issue for a lot of people that I can't try to discuss one small bit without people rushing to defend the status quo.

Too right it's a live issue. Most of the players and their families are still alive and hurting. The Troubles are in all too recent memory, and it's not at all guaranteed that they won't come back. They distorted the lives of a generation growing up in the Northern Ireland, including my sister in law; indeed, they distorted the lives of people throughout the UK, including mine.

If you have a serious question or matter of discussion, go ahead, but be clear and considerate. If you're playing groundless speculation games with this particular deadly matter, you're right, it's not productive.

#59 ::: a chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 11:01 AM:

Apologies for jumping in among the regulars here. I'm a regular lurker and often find Making Light and the comments here an oasis of intelligent thinking.

I'm just feeling compelled to comment; I felt a stronger-than-usual dislike for Cameron when I saw him uttering those words with that signature assumed earnestness. I don't know why others are reacting particularly positively. Anna at 3 has a good point about Brown.

An apology is in order. It's part of Cameron's job, once the report (commissioned on Tony Blair's watch) has stated the British Army was responsible.

I'm with Joy at 7 and Chris at 23 (among others): it was trivial for Cameron to apologize at this juncture. All I saw was a cynical ploy to sound sincere while he's shouldering the illusory "responsibility," in the hope of winning points with the public.

The climate in the US may be different, and, of course, the actual report (commissioned in 1998) and the apology by the current head of state are two separate things. I'd say the conclusion of the report is the more historically-significant of the two in this case.

#60 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 11:03 AM:

ddb: I must say (and I am not trying to pick a fight) that I don't think you did what you think you were doing.

You asked why we were stressing the way in which the state seems to be treating the soldiers differently from the rebels. I told you, incompletely, why I thought this ought to be the case (I didn't go into the questions of cover up, justice denied: and justice handled differently at the time. The dead were tarred as violent offenders against peace and order; called terrorists, when they weren't. The soldiers were said to be acting justly, when it seems 1: they weren't and 2: the State didn't care).

None of what I said (nor yet those underlying issues alluded to) was addressed. Instead you moved on to how, "provocative" McGuinness having a Tommy Gun was. I am not sure just what implication you were trying to make, but it certainly feels as if you are trying to say that his having it makes some difference to the judgment that soldiers who went on a rampage, one of whom was described thus: We have no doubt that Lance Corporal F shot Patrick Doherty and Bernard McGuigan, and it is highly probable that he also shot Patrick Campbell and Daniel McGowan. In 1972 Lance Corporal F initially said nothing about firing along the pedestrianised area on the southern side of Block 2 of the Rossville Flats, but later admitted that he had done so. No other soldier claimed or admitted to firing into this area. Lance Corporal F's claim that he had fired at a man who had (or, in one account, was firing) a pistol was to his knowledge false. Lance Corporal F did not fire in a state of fear or panic. We are sure that he fired either in the belief that no one in the area into which he fired was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or not caring whether or not anyone there was posing such a threat..

If that is accurate it's murder, plain and simple. I, for one, don't see that he ought to get a pass, just because some other people might be. There were 14 dead in this shooting, and it seems one person was responsible for at least two, and perhaps four, of them. That's not a reasonable reaction to being scared... it's not negligent homicide, or manslaughter, it looks to be willful murder.

And it's willful murder the state ignored. McGuinness was being sought, for decades. Lance Corporal F was being held up as someone who did nothing wrong.

Justice denied.

That's a huge part of the difference.

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 11:17 AM:

abi: I think you have hit a big chunk of it. This is a live issue. It's live for me because it has affected people I care about: I might even say warped.

Chris: No need to apologise for jumping in (though I understand it... It took me years after I became something of a regular to not feel I was a back bencher; and a lot of people trying to disabuse me of the idea to have some idea it was true).

#62 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 11:21 AM:

re myself at 60: I failed to expand on the "that's not being scared", he did that in the course of several minutes, perhaps as much as a quarter of an hour, and seems to have shot at least two people quite deliberately.

That's not panic fire into a crowd; which scared troops can do, and which, may be pardonable.

#63 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 11:33 AM:

I talked to my sister in law on the day of the Omagh bombing. She didn't know anyone who was killed. And she wasn't even angry; she was simply in flat despair. But may I never hear that tone again in anyone's voice.

Note how many controversies in the Wikipedia article I link to above are sparked by the merest shade of bias or blame. There is deep-simmering anger there, even now, and those of us who have lived near to it know to watch our words and the implications of our words when we discuss these matters. Because these are real lives, real scars, that we're dealing with, and talk is not always either cheap or harmless.

#64 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 11:46 AM:

The general rule is "hard cases make bad law", and it's clearly not viable to attempt to discuss anything except the big issues here. I have no big issues to discuss here; I have no inclination to quarrel with the current official position as represented in the report we're all discussing.

#65 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 11:50 AM:

Oh, one can discuss details. But one has to do it carefully, factually, and avoiding speculation or inflammatory language.

#66 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 12:18 PM:

50: we may also find them offering art criticism.

Well, I'm sure the Jamaican Defence Force have a good understanding of contemporary trends in Caribbean visual art, but if you want a regiment that's really doing something innovative in interior design, then you've got to go for the Durham Light Infantry.

#67 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 12:34 PM:

One of those quotes from the 15th that I think will stay with me: "38 years ago I buried my brother. Today I laid him to rest."

I'm slightly puzzled by all this talk of prosecuting soldiers involved. As I understood it, this wouldn't be possible as a matter of law since it happened before the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which constituted a moratorium on prosecuting anyone on any side for acts committed as part of the Troubles prior to that date. Am I mistaken?

#68 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 12:45 PM:

Rob: I think it's possible the perjuries,and cover up may vitiate that, as they were shielded from prosecution, and so the chance for them to be tried prior to the agreement was never possible.

But I am not lawyer, much less a British one.

#69 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 12:53 PM:

Rob@67: McGuinness, or at least Sinn Fein, does not appear to think he is immune from prosecution for things before the Good Friday agreement; at least, The Telegraph says "A spokesman for Sinn Fein said last night that Mr McGuinness could not discuss his role in paramilitary activity, outside of Bloody Sunday, without being offered immunity from prosecution. "

People consistently describe the Good Friday Agreement as instituting a "moratorium" on prosecutions for earlier actions. A moratorium is not the same thing as granting people formal immunity from prosecution; in particular, a "moratorium" is often temporary, not permanent.

#70 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 01:17 PM:

I suspect it would be very difficult to successfully prosecute the soldiers in question for murder, 38 years later -- vital evidence probably wasn't preserved, eye-witness reports and identification may be questioned, witnesses may have died, murder (as distinct from manslaughter) hinges on the perpetrator's state of mind (which is arguable), and so on.

But prosecuting people who perjured themselves at an enquiry held in the past decade, and at an enquiry held 37 years ago? That's a much easier question to settle.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 01:28 PM:

I've had a quick read of the Good Friday Agreement (it's only 35 pages long, linked from the main post). I've also done searches for "prosecut" (2 results, both in the subject of the future of policing in the province), "immun" (0 results) and "amnesty" (0 results).

There's nothing about immunity from prosecution in the document.

#72 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 01:35 PM:

abi@71: there's curiously little about this whole issue on the web: I've been looking on and off for definitive answers since yesterday. The PSNI Historical Enquiries Team says that it will, if appropriate, submit evidence to prosecutors, but this website gives the impression that this won't be a common outcome. I suspect that the question of whether a prosecution is in the public interest (however defined) will loom large.

#73 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 07:19 PM:

#27 However, people seem to be deriving from it the concept that terrorists shouldn't therefore be prosecuted for their illegal activities.

Is there any person, anywhere, who actually holds the position that terrorists shouldn't be prosecuted for their illegal activities?

#74 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 09:15 PM:

Macdonald @ 73: Stated that baldly, certainly not. The arguments come in over the definitions of "terrorist" and "illegal" as applied specifically. (I do not purport to engage in those arguments hereby.)

#75 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 12:11 PM:

Jim, I'll bite.

[NB: I had huge problems actually posting this! For some reason, spqr.cgi took exception to a paragraph I just ended up having to delete.]

Terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology. It is deployed in pursuit of political goals. The normal response to it is to treat it as a law enforcement problem ... but there are circumstances in which the only way to deal with an insurrection is to address the greivances of the faction who're carrying out the terrorist acts. In which case, it may not be in the public interest to subsequently prosecute individuals for those acts.

We've seen this with the IRA/Sinn Fein (and the UDA/UVF/other unionist terrorist groups) in Northern Ireland -- a value judgment on the part of the British government that it is more important to achieve a peaceful settlement than to prosecute individual offenses, lest such prosecution results in a continuation of the insurgency and a far greater number of deaths in future.

We've seen it elsewhere. The number of respectable heads of state -- Nobel Peace Prize winners, even -- who are "terrorists" in the eyes of the former government is non-zero. (Nelson Mandella? Menachem Begin? Any number of African leaders among the first post-colonial generation?)

We've also applauded it where it served our purposes: the French Resistance, 1940-44, were clearly terrorists from the point of view of the Vichy government and the Third Reich, and their tactics back that diagnosis up ... but we give them a free pass because of the flag they carried.

So I'm very uneasy about blanket condemnations of terrorism. There are circumstances where I believe it may be justified, if only as the lesser evil. The main point about it is, it's very much a tactic of assymetric warfare that acts as a force multiplier for underdogs. And it follows that blanket condemnation of terrorism as a tactic falls most easily from the lips of the powerful.

#76 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 01:11 PM:

Charlie, the French Resistance didn't target civilians. (The status of collaborators is...more than I feel competent to discuss.) But I've had enough France-in-WWII classes to be fairly certain that if the résistants had been in the habit of killing children, I'd have heard about it. And that, to me, is the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters.

#77 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 01:38 PM:

TexAnne: I think you'll find that the other examples I cited -- Irish groups on both sides of the sectarian divide, Menachem Begin's Irgun, and the Umkhonto we Sizwe -- all attacked civilian targets. As for your point re. children, I see no reason why the loss of an 8 year old is any less tragic than the loss of an 18 year old, or an 80 year old.

Terrorism is part of an irregular verb: it's conjugations are, "I am a freedom fighter", "You are a guerilla", "they are a terrorist".

#78 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 02:36 PM:

Charlie, I was taking exception to (what I read as) your equating the French Resistance to the other groups in your post. If the Resistance had committed an atrocity like Omagh, I'm sure I would have heard about it. Instead we study Oradour-sur-Glane.

It is entirely possible that I am oversensitive to exaggerations of French cowardice/wickedness, after ten years of teaching children whose parents listen to Fox. But I really don't think that the résistants were terrorists during the Occupation. (What happened to collaborators and suspected collaborators after that is something I'm not competent to discuss, but that doesn't sound like what you're talking about.)

#79 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 02:56 PM:

It is indeed not; I think we're to some extent talking at cross-purposes.

#80 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 02:59 PM:

TexAnne: I have a post up on that very subject.

Paratrooper Apology

#81 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 03:37 PM:

On the definition of "terrorism" -

Whenever I see it taken for granted that terrorism is something that non-governmental groups do, I feel bound to point out that before the 1970s the word "terrorism" was mainly applied to fear-based attacks on civilians executed by governments. Terrorism was Pinochet's tool, it was the Shah's, it was Suharto's. Insurgents were pretty late to the terror game, and I think it's hard to argue that they've caught up in the time since: seems to me that there are still plenty of governments that use terror to keep their people in line: Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, the US, etc.

#82 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 04:21 PM:

There's no doubt that it costs people plenty to put past harms behind them and move forward.

It does seem likely that it's the only way out of long-nurtured grudges. The "peace and reconciliation commission" in South Africa was a widely-reported example.

#83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 04:39 PM:

ddb @82:

There's some debate whether putting aside past harms and moving on is a way to move past long-nurtured grudges (or other symptoms of profound damage), or a symptom that one is already moving past them.

I think that having the powerful, or the formerly powerful, take the time and care to tell the truth can create the circumstances where people can move on. So can apologies, often more than compensation or punishment of the guilty.

People want their suffering acknowledged. It's a way of marking their value, when most of these situations arise because they have been deemed valueless by someone with power over their lives.

#84 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 04:52 PM:

Abi@82: it could be symptom rather than cause; in which case a lot of people are grabbing the wrong end of the stick.

I can easily imagine that trying to apply it too early could really rile people up.

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 04:57 PM:

ddb @84:

I can easily imagine that trying to apply it too early could really rile people up.

Oh, yes indeed. And I have seen a similar dynamic in rape recovery, where it's just as destructive.

But whether or not Northern Ireland is ready for reconciliation, I firmly believe they were ready for truth. Indeed, they were owed it from the start, and its absence was another instrument of damage.

I am interested to see how this develops. I have some personal interest in the matter, as I've mentioned, but no standing whatsoever to try to steer or characterize it as a whole.

#86 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 06:07 PM:

abi@85: As time passes, the actual facts become less and less accessible.

Just now, we have the Saville report saying (after truly exhaustive interviewing and a lot of very careful work) "Despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday."

And we have Ken Lukowiak saying in The Guardian "To this day, the soldiers who were there have told me that they definitely came under fire. I have no reason to doubt them, and in private they had no reason to lie."

Maybe what happens, in the end, is that the sane elements on both sides (postulating that there always are such) start seeing more and more clearly that they just don't know what happened. Which makes it harder and harder for either side to maintain a large head of steam over the issue.

(I can't help noticing that Saville carefully avoids addressing gunfire, and talks about bombs as the only issue; and that Lukowiak reports the soldiers being sure they came under fire, but doesn't use the word first. Thus if read very precisely, these two tidbits aren't contradictory, despite Lukowiak setting them up as such in his article. I'd have to read much more of the report to know if it's an artifact of the excerpting process there, and I don't have access in full to what soldiers said to Lukowiak. But in general, when analyzing multiple news reports, I find this sort of precise reading makes it easier to spot when people are reacting to things that are in their heads rather than in the alleged stimulus.)

#87 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 06:09 PM:

Cat Faber's song "Let It Go" is relevant.

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 06:20 PM:

To this day, there are people who will swear that returning soldiers were spat on (usually implying, if not actually saying, by hippies), even though no one has ever produced witnesses in support.

Myth is a powerful thing, even when it's not ancient.

#89 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 09:22 PM:

>b>P J Evans, #88, and while there were many of us against the Vietnam war, I don't know anybody who was against the soldiers.

#90 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2010, 02:58 AM:

88 & 89: I think it's a myth, too. I was just a kid at the end of the Vietnam war, but I don't recall any stories at that time about people reviling soldiers. My older siblings marched against the war, but my brother who couldn't get a deferment served in the Navy. He never said anything about being treated badly.

#91 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 04:28 AM:

ddb: I wrote a response to that piece (linked above). I didn't address that claim, because bringing it up distracted from the rest of what I wanted to say, but they most certainly had reason to lie, even to themselves.

It's the same reason the people who torture say it works. If they came under fire, then they didn't commit a horrible act, both unjustified, and unjustifiable.

I don't doubt they believe they were under fire. I just think it's likely that belief is wrong.

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 10:35 AM:

TCM's Star of the Month recently was Donna Reed. During the 2nd World War, quite a few people who were out there fighting for Freedom wrote to her, and she kept their letters for as long as she lived. Maybe that's why she opposed the Vietnam War.

#93 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 12:10 PM:

Charlie @75

I think your broad point is good, but I want to hone in on the French Resistance example because I think it's an important border case for defining what terrorism is and isn't.

First, I disagree that terrorism is a tactic. Bombings and shootings are tactics, terrorism is a strategy, which links together a string of tactics in pursuit of a goal. And it is a coercive, rather than forceful strategy. That is, the terrorists generally lack the ability to forcibly prevent their enemies from doing the things which sparked the conflict. Instead they adopt a punitive logic which says "I can't stop you from doing the stuff I don't like, but I can punish you for doing it until you decide it isn't worth it."

So in this context The French Resistance really aren't terrorists, not because what they did was inherently better or worse than what Al Qaeda or the IRA or the Tamil Tigers did, but because their strategic logic was different. The goal of the French Resistance wasn't to coerce the Germans to give up occupying France, it was to assist the Allies in forcing German troops out of France. (Though in that direction the FR did engage in some campaigns with a terroristic aim, notably killing or threatening collaborators pour encourager les autres.)

Actually, under this rubric, the real terrorists in WWII were in the RAF (and to a lesser extent USAAF) bomber command, where they adopted a specific punitive logic of targeting whole cities not because they thought it would hurt the German military directly, but because they thought it could break the will of the German people to go on fighting.

#94 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 04:40 PM:


#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 05:49 PM:

Earl Cooley III... I don't got to show you no steenkin' badgers!

#96 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 06:27 PM:

I thought the link was pertinent to the terrorist vs. freedom fighter discussion; it will be interesting to see what kind of post-Cold War, post-9/11 spin they put on the Red Dawn remake.

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 07:04 PM:

I wwonder if the only non-white person on the Good Guys's side will once again be a teacher who promptly gets himself shot at by the Commies.

#98 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 09:29 AM:

So many years after the fact, it would be plenty easy for the men to have skewed memories and actually believe that they were fired on. Someone amongst them had to shoot first, and then everyone else is remembering hearing gunfire before they started firing. I don't imagine situations like that are particularly clean and easy to sort out, especially in 30-year-old-memories.

#99 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 10:34 AM:

It is now established science that memories of things that did not actually happen can be created out of whole cloth through remarkably simple manipulations:

All the Saville inquiry could ever be is an airing of grievances, and the putting-to-rest of the originally mendacious Widgery report. Of course the soldiers probably thought they were being shot at, of course the people that actually got shot were innocent. But that's all.

The real tragedy of Northern Ireland is that the IRA spent my lifetime fighting against the British Army, which by its very presence was defending the Catholic population against a local majority which would have hunted them down like dogs without the restraint imposed by those soldiers. The hatreds in Ireland were at least as potent as those that caused real genocide in Bosnia, and the only real difference is the presence of a larger power prepared to exercise, taken overall, exemplary restraint.

All that got lost in decades of bullshit about 'defeating' the terrorists, arse-covering like Widgery, and in ugly local collaborations between military intelligence and the 'Loyalists', but it's still the underlying material fact of the whole terrible episode.

[Yes, Brit imperialism, free Ireland, etc etc - but all that turns out not to matter now doesn't it, when the shooting's finally stopped?]

#100 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 11:06 AM:

P J Evans@88: A friend of mine does say that he personally was spat at when he came home from 'nam. That does not, of course, constitute "witnesses" directory (and my mentioning it here is second-hand, etc.). So it's probably no reason for you to change your mind.

I, on the other hand, have to either conclude my friend is lying, or that it actually happened.

In a country with around 200 million people, and a lot of soldiers in Vietnam, and an emotionally charged environment, it seems to me nearly certain that it did happen now and then.

#101 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 11:09 AM:

Terry@91: Yes, that's the obvious reason for their continuing to believe what they believed at the time, and it bothered me that the writer didn't pick it up. Because it's so obvious. Although, not sure he was talking to people who were shooting there themselves, so the argument is not quite so strong (unit rather than personal; still a bit of argument).

#102 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 11:12 AM:

Marilee@89: I knew at the time a lot of people who believed people who served in Vietnam had inherently participated in an immoral activity. Mostly this manifested as sympathy and support -- but not all the time, at least not in discussions among ourselves. And I tend, statistically, to be associated with the thoughtful and careful part of the spectrum.

#103 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 11:57 AM:

ddb, #102: "I tend, statistically, to be associated with the thoughtful and careful part of the spectrum."

Meaning no disrespect, surely you can see that statements like this can tend to inspire derision even in those not inclined to disagree on substance.

There's an old line about how top hats attract snowballs. This is the rhetorical equivalent of a top hat.

#104 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 12:15 PM:

I remember that there was some controversy over Germany prosecuting a female Palestinian plane hijacker in the early 90ies, when senior Palestinian leaders were sometimes feted by European leaders as elder statesmen. The debate was, of course, over whether it was fair to incarcerate a Palestinian foot soldier and not the people who probably okayed the action in which she participated.

As others have commented upon, the "when to prosecute, when not to prosecure" debate is a hard one. I read in a paper that newly independent Lithuania wanted to prosecute a Soviet NKVD general that had been in charge of especially harsh reprisals and torture against Lithuanian freedom fighters post-WW II. Israel, to which the general in question had retired, declined any question of extradition point blank. On the other hand, we still feel that ancient Nazis, no matter how geriatric, should be located and prosecuted. I must admit that I, too, feel that this unevenness between the crimes of the National Socialist and Soviet empires should be obsvered, but I sometimes feel that this might be a less defendable position on philosophical, although not political, grounds.

#105 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 12:36 PM:

pnh@103: Well, maybe I should have limited myself to suggesting simply that the people I hang around with aren't a representative sample, rather than claiming to know something about the direction of bias.

#106 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:02 PM:


Even before you donned that fetching top hat, I wasn't comfortable with the your comment 100 toward PJ Evans: That does not, of course, constitute "witnesses" directory (and my mentioning it here is second-hand, etc.). So it's probably no reason for you to change your mind.

Please do not assume the bad faith of your fellow members of the community in that fashion.

#107 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:24 PM:

abi@106: I'm missing some reasonable misreading of what I wrote, or else you're making an unreasonable misreading; I can't find anything in my comment suggesting bad faith on P J Evans' part.

I certainly intended no such implication, and if I wrote badly enough that it sounds like I did, I retract and apologize for the bad writing.

I accept and approve of the standard that there should be witnesses for the reported behavior for it to become generally accepted historical fact -- to me that implies that "this happened to me" isn't sufficient. I've seen published first-person claims, and have one in person from a friend, but what I haven't seen anywhere is multiple people testifying to the same incident. (I've also never seen anybody come forward and say they spat on anybody.)

I really honestly do not think that my coming forward to say that a friend says he had this experience is any reason for P J Evans to change their opinion on the historical facts.

I have a different opinion on the historical facts, it seems. Partly it's the fact that I have a close connection, somebody who says they experienced it. But part of it is also that I just think it's very statistically likely, given the numbers of people involved and the level of anger present in some people. There were riots about the war, there were anti-war protesters (and bystanders) shot by the National Guard, there were people getting their heads broken by police batons. I'm sure there were bar fights, and probably school-yard fights (between children who didn't understand either side very clearly). It seems likely to me that some soldier was also spat at by somebody somewhere in there.

This, of course, does not constitute any sort of evidence at all.

#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:30 PM:

ddb @107:

How it came across, to me at least, was "I think you're so wedded to your beliefs that nothing could persuade you to change them. I point out in my comment that my evidence won't persuade you in order to underline that."

#109 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:38 PM:

Abi@108: I don't think that's a reasonable reading, Abi. I said explicitly, though with a typo in the original, that what I had just described did NOT constitute witnessing an instance of spitting. I was saying that I did not expect THAT to change his beliefs -- it didn't meet the standards he had laid out. I was not taking issue with those standards!

I added the part you're objecting to in an attempt to avoid the misunderstanding that I expected him to change his mind based on my anecdotal bit of evidence.

#110 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:39 PM:

I took no offense at that comment.

Certainly there may have been incidents, but I doubt the existence of many or widespread incidents. (I suspect a certain amount of misremembering based on hearsay and news stories based on hearsay.)

#111 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:42 PM:

P J Evans@110: Well, that's good, anyway. Thanks for saying so.

I agree with you on "many or widespread". THAT would have left more contemporary evidence.

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:51 PM:

Oh, good.

I am sometimes too conflict-averse. I apologize for reading the seeds of a problem into a situation that did not contain them.

#113 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:56 PM:

Abi@112: No problem, apology accepted (and not really necessary).

#114 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 01:56 PM:

This talk about Vietnam reminds me of something in an early 1960s story that Abi posted in her own blog a few years ago. If I remember correctly, it was a story where it was as unlikely to object to a certain conclusion as to object to a decision by the Draft Board.

#115 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 02:26 PM:

ddb: I'm going to take a stab at outlining what I see happening here.

The original bit which seems to have started it all off is this line from #86:
And we have Ken Lukowiak saying in The Guardian "To this day, the soldiers who were there have told me that they definitely came under fire. I have no reason to doubt them, and in private they had no reason to lie."

To which P J Evans responded in #88:
To this day, there are people who will swear that returning soldiers were spat on (usually implying, if not actually saying, by hippies), even though no one has ever produced witnesses in support.

The specific parallel between the two stories is that both are widely believed despite having little or no objective support. This is backed up by anecdotal evidence from janetl @90, who says she doesn't recall any contemporary buzz about such a thing happening. You'd think there would have been some media coverage, some word-of-mouth about such a controversial and shocking thing, but there seems not to have been any to speak of.

At @100, you say:
A friend of mine does say that he personally was spat at when he came home from 'nam. That does not, of course, constitute "witnesses" directly (and my mentioning it here is second-hand, etc.). So it's probably no reason for you to change your mind.

THAT is snide as hell. What you have said there is, "I know your mind is made up and I shouldn't try to confuse you with facts." You've already apologized, but you didn't seem to understand what you'd said, so I'm pointing it out.

But in point of fact, what you have there is one piece of anecdotal evidence, not proof of a widespread trend -- and that's the myth, that returning soldiers were spat on all the time. You have a first-person claim from your friend, and you say you've read several others. What we're not seeing is anyone saying that they either participated in or witnessed such a thing happening. It's just something that "everybody knows" happened over and over again.

It is not at all unusual for an urban legend to get started out of one particular root event, such as a speech or newspaper column, and I would bet that's what's happened here. Somebody with a media outlet knew one soldier who got spat on, and was outraged, and suddenly that singular event became a nationwide epidemic. Who knows, it could even have been someone who knew your friend.

#116 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 02:30 PM:

Aaaand I see that the whole thing got sorted out while I was putting together my post (and dealing with a distraction that took about 10 minutes). Nonetheless, I think it's a valid datapoint that I read your comment the same way abi originally did.

#117 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Lee@115: I probably separate out discussion more than you do, it sounds like. I hadn't really thought about the connection between the two myths until you pointed it out. I think of one comment as having sparked the other, rather than really putting them into the same conversation. If I'd read the two closer together, the parallel use of "to this day" might well have connected them more for me.

No, what I said there is "Here's an anecdote saying that it happened once, but I know it's not evidence, being just a FOAF story." Remember, we hadn't reached the point where the discussion is about "widespread" or "trend"; that came later.

#118 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 03:17 PM:

The French Resistance did commit what appear to be war crimes and the French are still in denial about it.

The UK's plans for a German invasion included a stay-behind force of volunteers who were trained to run a terror campaign in occupied territory. This explicitly included training on assassinating collaborators. Terrorism is indeed an irregular verb.

#119 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 04:19 PM:

Sorry, but the Resistance was fighting the bleeping Nazis.

#120 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 04:49 PM:

Lee #116:

I think the critical question in the case of the spat-upon returning soldiers is the numbers. (That is, among the thousands upon thousands of soldiers returning from Vietnam, it's as unsurprising that a few were spat on as that a few came back with nasty rare parasitic diseases from the tropics. The question is, how widespread was that phenomenon?)

In the case of the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday, or the Kent State massacre, the question is more about what those small number of soldiers saw, experienced, and perceived. I think that makes a big difference in the nature of the two parallel cases. (Though I think alex's #99 is relevant here. I wonder how reliable anyone's memories are of some utter terrifyin, confusing, horrible clusterf-ck like the Kent State massacre, especially after 40 years of re-remembering and justifying and talking/hearing about it.)

The whole inflation of a small number of events to a massive scary trend having deep implications is a standard part of the toolkit of big media organizations and political propaganda operations. This is how the evening news discovers a "shocking new danger to YOUR children" just in time for ratings week.

#121 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 04:56 PM:

I agree with Charlie--terrorism is an irregular verb. More fundamentally, though, I think it's a term of propaganda/PR/spin. (The recent deadly raid of a blockade-running aid boat led the Israeli government to label the guys bringing the aid to Gaza as "terrorists.")

To the extent it means anything in the US, it's now used to mean subnational groups fighting against us or our allies. That's why the bombing of the USS Cole is always talked about as a terrorist attack, why we routinely hear about terrorists attacking US soldiers and spies and contractors involved in occupying/fighting in Afghanistan, the wacko doctor who shot up the Fort Hood Army base, etc.

#122 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 05:07 PM:

Serge #119: Sorry, but the Resistance was fighting the bleeping Nazis.

Do you think there is any target group in existence today which meets the gold standard criterion of being evil enough to justify war crimes to resist them?

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 05:34 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 122... That of course assumes that the Resistance did commit war crimes and acts of terrorism. Considering that everything nowadays seems capable of being defined as an act of terrorism... Is there any REAL terrorism left?

#124 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 05:42 PM:

One more thing, lest people might think I support terrorism... I grew up in Quebec at a time when stupid historical grievances gave birth to the FLQ.

#125 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 05:51 PM:

The most meaningful definition I've seen is that terrorism is some action that would be a war crime, if done by a government. That doesn't fit too well with the needs of government propaganda departments, though. By that definition, I think intentionally blowing up a building full of civilians would qualify, but blowing up soldiers or warships or military bases would not.

The place where this always gets fuzzy, to me, is when there's a huge imbalance of relative power. The US can be pretty careful to avoid killing civilians, while the Taliban targets them, and yet the US can still end up killing more civilians than the Taliban does, just because guided missiles and artillery shells are so much more effective at killing people than truck bombs. (This ignores the actual war crimes we have done in the war on terror, which are inexcusible and ought to lead to a number of people spending the rest of their lives behind bars. It's a pity that the folks responsible are too powerful to be held accountable for their crimes. I'm sure many citizens of Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and Mexico understand exactly how this feels.)

#126 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 08:22 PM:

albatross, #120, the Kent State shooters weren't soldiers, they were National Guard. That's a different kind of training and a different kind of command.

#127 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 08:25 PM:


I think the biggest problem is that not only can people not agree on what the definition of terrorism, they can't even agree on what distinguishes terrorism from not-terrorism.

The definition I advanced above is a functional/strategic definition, it defines terrorists in terms of the strategies they use to reach their aims, largely ignoring the moral question of whether those means are justified or not.

Your definition you're working with is a moral/legal definition. It defines terrorists as criminals who break certain international norms and laws.

The other definition that pops up a lot is some variant on what you might call a teleological definition: "A terrorist is a non-state actor who uses violence in support of a campaign whose ends I oppose." So the Mujahideen are terrorists when they're blowing up American tanks but they're freedom fighters when the tanks are Soviet. This is the definition that gives rise to the irregular conjugation mentioned above.

If a smart and insightful group like this one bogs down in definitional difficulties, it's no wonder that our public discourse on terrorism is so horribly muddled.

#128 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 09:14 PM:

Chris W @ 127: "I think the biggest problem is that not only can people not agree on what the definition of terrorism, they can't even agree on what distinguishes terrorism from not-terrorism."

I think that there are two slightly orthogonal definitions that get attached to the word "terrorism." One of them can also be described as "asymmetrical warfare:" tactics and strategies that a smaller force can employ effectively against a much larger force. The other definition is hard to find a term for other than "terrorism," and it's one that I think deserves the label: tactics and strategies targeting civilians in order to achieve control via fear.

I think a lot of people sort of slide back and forth between the two without really noticing: most "terrorist" tactics (suicide bombing, plane hijacking, sniping) work with both. It's a minority of cases where which definition you use becomes important. Terrorism can be deployed by militarily dominant forces (Pinochet) and asymmetrical warfare can be fought without terrifying civilians (The French Resistance). I think a more conscious distinction between the two can help clarify conversations like this.

#129 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 11:43 PM:


I think you and I are in broad agreement as to what terrorism is, but I think the definitional chasm in the broader conversation is wider than you give it credit for.

I haven't seen many people use the "terrorism = asymmetrical warfare" definition, but that still fits into strategic definitions of what terrorism is. You say that they are orthogonal, but (to stretch this metaphor to its breaking point) I see them as starting in the same place and traveling down parallel paths to different destinations.

I think albatross's definition from 125 cuts in an entirely different direction altogether. Its focus is on terrorism as a moral and legal phenomenon and not a strategic one, and takes its argument by analogy from international law. The concern is not strategic but legal, i.e. Who is a legitimate combatant and who is a terrorist?

And implicit in a lot of our discourse is the definition that I called teleological, which I think Serge exemplified in 119. The premise here is that the ends are of prime importance, and that the same violence should be judged differently depending on the cause in which it is employed.

I don't mean to argue for or against any of these viewpoints. As I've said, I tend towards the strategic viewpoint, and I think your definition of "tactics and strategies targeting civilians in order to achieve control via fear" is a pretty good summary of my position. (Though I might quibble over whether military targets might be the subject of terrorism as well, and I would tend to talk in terms of "coercion by punishment" rather than fear, but it amounts to the same thing.) I mean only to suggest that the divide between the various definitions in play is much deeper and wider than simply whether you need to specifically intend to cause terror or not in order to be a terrorist.

#130 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 11:45 PM:

Heresiarch #128: I can't regard state-sponsored use of excessive force and torture the same as insurgent terrorism, even if we don't have a word for the former. The strategies being employed are different, if related.

State terror is used to make the population of a country or occupied area fearful enough of authority that they are unwilling to risk being associated with even legal government-challenging behaviors.

Insurgent terrorism aims to increase the cost of some activity (usually occupation or a specific goverment) to an unacceptable level through civilian unrest.

So while both activities attempt to prevent an undesired behavior through generation of fear, state terror is designed to surpress political unrest by attacking the citzenry directly, and insurgent terror attempts to cause political unrest through collateral damage.

This is all academic, of course. To the person being killed, crippled or tortured, I don't expect it makes much difference.

Re: The IRA's victims: England had to apologize *first*. After all, regardless of what happened over the last 30 years, England invaded Ireland and used their general population as cheap labor and cannon fodder for centuries, often to the point of starvation. So the IRA apologizing first was impossible.

I'm hoping that, given the British government's apology, that we'll see an apology by the IRA for collateral damage. And, frankly, *no* prosecutions; any prosecutions at this point would perpetuate the event, and the Irish conflict through the rest of the century. Sometimes an unwavering concept of justice is not an aid to peace.

#131 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 01:17 AM:

Regarding definitions of terrorism:

I tend to the view that terrorism is when the people the terrorists are attacking are not the people the terrorists are fighting. The scale of the action, and the rightness or wrongness of the cause, don't really matter.

So, nuking a city in order to assassinate one military leader is a pretty ghastly act, but not terrorism (whereas doing so to threaten said leader is). But kidnapping one civilian's family in order to coerce him into becoming a suicide bomber is.

Can one be a terrorist if the cause is righteous? I have heard claims that some of the actions of abolitionst John Brown amounted to terrorism, and there can be no doubt as to the rightness of that cause. Conversely, even the most evil of causes doesn't make a tactic terrorism.

From this perspective, the French Resistance would largely not be terrorists; they really were fighting the occupiers and collaborators. Fighting dirty at times, but not terrorism.

The Allied bombing campaign would be iffy. To what extent does the civilian population under the Reich count as part of the Reich? I'm not sure to what extent the populace still supported the regime at that stage. Attacking a subject populace would count as terrorism; but not the enemy's civilian base (you may argue that attacking civilians is still wrong, but if they support the enemy it's not terrorism).

We do need to reject the attitude (not seen here, I must say) that terrorism is whatever those people do that might work against us.

J Homes

#132 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 06:40 AM:

I'm hoping that, given the British government's apology, that we'll see an apology by the IRA for collateral damage

Er, what "collateral damage" would that be, Josh? The IRA generally didn't blow up civilian targets because they were aiming for military targets and missed. They blew up civilian targets because they wanted to blow up civilian targets.

#133 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 08:02 AM:

J Homes @131

There's certainly some odd use of labels going on. That Times Square bomber is charged with "Attempted Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction" (BBC report here

For various reasons, I thought classifying chemical weapons as "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was a bit iffy. Borderline, anyway. Using that label puts a car or truck bomb in the same class as a nuke. How long before the hidden-bomb torture scenario is reworked as being about a weapon of mass destruction?

#134 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 10:09 AM:

Perhaps we'll see real progress if the tradition of "marching season" stops; it's an unambiguous sectarian provocation.

#135 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 10:25 AM:

Earl Cooley III @134:

The closer you get to Northern Irish politics, the more you realize that nothing is unambiguous.

Marching season is...complex. They are a lot more analogous to the Fourth of July rather than to, say, the Skokie Affair. There is a set of communities, formalized as societies like the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys, for whom these are important things to do.

I agree that it feels like provocation to the Catholic communities (though less so now than during, or before, the Troubles). And a proportion of the people participating are looking to offend. But ending Marching Season would be a huge and visible concession on the part of the Protestants, and visible concessions don't come easy or cheap. So substance changes, but form goes on.

I suspect that the parades will continue, but that years of peace will gradually erode the sting from the marches. Some years they'll be the flashpoints of whatever conflict has arisen again; other decades they'll pass without incident. But I doubt they'll end until apathy does what negotiation never will. (And I believe that time, too, will come, though I may be in my grave before it does.)

#136 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 12:07 PM:

abi: Yeah, apathy and time are the only real convalescence. There was a flap in my Lj about how someone (British) took my stance on apologies to soldiers (and their families) for the dead/wounded.

Buried in the back and forth were a lot of anger at the US, in general on this topic, biases about history (I was, to condense, accused of reading nothing but Sinn Fein press-releases), and a general supposition, that since I was an American, I must be a Republican Sympathiser.

It was, in it's painful way, educational for me. I can only hope the reverse was also true.

#137 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Terry@136: Yeah, that default assumption that Americans were likely to be Republican sympathisers dates back to the days of NORAID, which got a *lot* of coverage in the press over here at the time. There are some memes that once created, and cemented in place, are very hard to shift. Mind you, the FBI obviously felt the same since there was that shipload of arms they let leave US waters and be intercepted over here instead because, allegedly, they didn't believe US juries would convict those involved.

#138 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 01:19 PM:

Dave Bell @133: That Times Square bomber is charged with "Attempted Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction"

The prosecution are doing their usual job of maximizing their accusations. But in this case, they are playing into the hands of the defendant, who is seeking martyrdom. I expect he would have pled guilty to attempted genocide of the US if it had been on offer.

#139 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 01:20 PM:

I suspect that the parades will continue, but that years of peace will gradually erode the sting from the marches.

Agreed. Eventually, I hope, they'll end up like Bonfire Night - an apolitical fun day out. (Originally Bonfire Night was very sectarian. It's all about the failure of a Catholic plot...)

#140 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2010, 02:54 PM:

I was really offended by the accusation that the Times Square Bomber was using "Weapons of Mass Destruction" - WMD was a phrase the Bush/Cheney propagandists popularized and used as one of their many excuses for invading Iraq, because chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are so horrifying that any government building them needs to be wiped off the face of the earth (well, unless it's the US or Russia or our allies.) Now they're saying that improvised truck bombs are WMDs, which means that any government or paramilitary is enough of a threat to World Peace that we can and must start a war against them. Feh.

Unlike many enemies or wannabees the US government or media accuse of being terrorists, it's a legitimate accusation against this guy, but WMDs certainly aren't.

#141 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Marilee @ 89:
, I don't know anybody who was against the soldiers.

I hope no one sees this as expired-equine flogging, but I knew people who, at least in the context of political meetings, expressed disgust and occasionally hatred towards the soldiers who served in Vietnam. Of course I didn't agree with them (well, duh, I served in Vietnam myself, and marched in demonstrations against the war afterwards).

I personally was never spat upon, nor do I know anyone who was; the verbal nastiness (I did hear the epithet "baby-killer" used) expressed toward the soldiers that I observed was expressed in their absence (as far as the expressers knew).

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