All wars brutalize people. We saw it here in Northern Ireland. How many of us can honestly say that we never condoned a murder? We listened to the news after a shooting to hear if it was a Catholic or Protestant victim and our amount of disgust was often dictated by who the victim was.
At the end of probably one of the best Westerns ever made, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’, Clint Eastwood, who played the title role, confronts his nemesis, Fletcher, played by John Vernon.
Fletcher has hunted Wales for years after the end of the American Civil War. In a remarkably touching scene for a violent film, Wales says about the war, in an act of forgiveness to Fletcher, “I guess we all died a little in that war.”
That’s the problem with us humans; in order to justify and do something that is so totally wrong we have to brutalize ourselves, we must make ourselves like brute animals.
The ‘War on Terror’ has been an abject failure. Western forces are killing civilians in Muslim countries by the thousand and a whole generation of Muslim youth are being radicalised. If you are old enough, cast your mind back to Monday January 31st 1972 and think of how we felt. Multiply that by a thousand and think of what way you would then feel.
For those of you who are not old enough, Sunday January 30th 1972 was the day of Bloody Sunday.
Two Americans, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, have written a book in which they show how the terrorist threat has evolved since 9/11 and how America has undermined its own goals, not only in the ill-considered invasion and occupation of Iraq but also through America’s failure to understand the jihadists' ideology.
“America’s actions have confirmed Osama bin Laden's message in the eyes of disaffected Muslims in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere, and in doing so, we are clearing the way for the next attack,” Benjamin and Simon write in their book.
Poor old George ‘Dubya’ Bush started the whole thing off when he said on September 11th, the day of the attacks on New York, that "this crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."
The mention of the word ‘crusade’ was his first big mistake. It is like an Englishman saying that he is going to ‘starve’ the Irish off their land. For 200 years the Western countries fought a series of crusades in the Middle East. That was from about AD1000 to AD1200.
We didn’t win then and we ain’t going to win now.
An interesting fact about the war in Afghanistan is that in 2012 more British soldiers who returned from that unfortunate country died by their own hand than were killed in the conflict.
“Stephen Eagle Funk, 20, a marine reserve who was due to be sent for combat duty, is currently on ‘unauthorised absence’ from his unit. He faces a possible court martial and time in military prison for his action.
‘I know I have to be punished for going unauthorised leave,’ Mr Funk told the Guardian in an interview before surrendering to authorities, ‘but I would rather take my punishment now than live with what I would have to do [in Iraq] for the rest of my life. I would be going in knowing that it was wrong and that would be hypocritical.’
‘War is about destruction and violence and death. It is young men fighting old men's wars. It is not the answer; it just ravages the land of the battleground. I know it's wrong but other people in the military have been programmed to think it is OK.’” (Guardian 1st April, 2003)
Funk was eventually given six months in prison and kicked out of the army. I suppose if he was not prepared to kill he was no good as a soldier. If we train lads to kill then we should not be surprised if they become killers.
The first time we do something we know to be morally wrong, we feel terrible. The one thousandth time, we don’t give it a second thought!
Staying with the subject of films and war, do you remember the film “Dambusters,” about the bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis? Well, in England recently, Harold Jellicoe Percival, who was one of the RAF ground crew on that mission, died at the ripe old age of 99.
Never married and childless, Mr Percival was all alone in the world except for a nephew who lives in Australia. A cry went out from the RAF for people to come to the old man’s funeral. On Monday hundreds of people turned up for his funeral.
That was nice. I don’t care about whether he was a British soldier or not, he deserved a decent funeral. And it was nice of the people to turn out.
Sunday was “Remembrance Sunday,” the day that the British and the members of the Commonwealth remember those who have fallen in battle.
I hope their motives were genuine. What’s the odds on that?
75 to 1, that is the odds of getting a job as a police person in the New North. It turns out that almost 7500 applied for 100 new posts as police officers in our wee land. The surprising bit for me was that 35% of the new applicants were Catholics.
It is good to see young Catholic people applying to join the police. In any civilised society being a member of the police service is an honourable job. No matter how you look at it, in a divided society a mixed police force is a good thing.
Perhaps if there had been more Catholics in the RUC then a lot of what happened might not have happened. We’ll never know.
And we’ll never know the truth of what happened to Roseann Mallon, 76, who was killed when loyalist gunmen opened fire on a house at Cullenrammer Road, Dungannon, County Tyrone, in May, 1994.
The house was under surveillance by the Brits but of course the tapes which held the recordings of the goings on were all wiped clean.
Is anyone surprised?
Human beings are remarkable creatures. We have short memories, can be easily swayed and can justify anything. We have destroyed everything we touch and yet somehow in the middle of all the mess we seem to be making progress, going forward into something better.
One of the mistakes that we make as people is that we tend to look back and think things were better. We also tend to cry about the world and all the terrors that are going on in it now. Those of us who are Catholics must look at issues such as abortion in Ireland, north and south, and our hearts must break.
But if we reflect on this for a while, then we must also realize that somewhere in the middle of all this mess, God is at work. If we don’t hold on to this Christian hope then the whole world becomes a place of despair.
It is wonderful the places where we find great examples of God’s grace at work. Do you remember the time that Gaddafi fell and the liberating soldiers found seventy bodies of Gaddafi’s own men in a shed?
Another man making inexorable progress is one Tony McCoy, or AP McCoy to give him his proper title, who last week rode his 4000th National Hunt winner. His pedigree is astounding: he travels 75,000 miles a year to race courses, has had almost 1000 falls and has broken almost every bone in his body.
He has also won £35,000,000 in prize money.
Not many of us in the New North shall be making big money this year.
“Northern Ireland workers face a drop in the real value of their wages for the sixth year in a row, according to a new report.
The UK-wide study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) predicts that it will be 2015 before there is ‘positive growth’ in salaries.”
This quote from the BBC shows us that there is not a lot of hope for us here. The New North, just like the old North, has no real economy. We are not big enough. That is one of those facts that we have to face.
With less than two million of us altogether we hardly make up a decent city. We are doomed to a life of sitting on the periphery of Europe, living on handouts from the wee woman across the water.
But even here we are making progress. Over 30% of the applications for the 100 police jobs are from Catholics. That figure alone is some measure of the progress, social, political and economic that we have made in Northern Ireland in these past 45 years.
Would you believe that it is forty five years now since the Troubles were just about to explode upon us?
When you think about it, those of us in our fifties and sixties have spent half of our life in a state of war. That is an amazing way to live. We think of children growing up in the Middle East and how the war must affect them but we seem to forget that we had a similar experience here.
Before the war Frankl was a psychiatrist and he was developing his ‘psychotherapeutic’ method of psychiatry. Frankl believed that a person must have meaning in life if they are to survive a crisis. This meaning can be an idea, an aim or the love of a wife or family.
He also believed that a person also has to find meaning in every moment of their life if they are to be really happy. What's more Frankl believes that life never ceases to have meaning, even in life and in death. It was the love of his wife that kept Frankl going.
This is what Frankl wrote in one scene where he describes how his love for her brought meaning to the middle of all his horror, as he was marched from one place to another, chained to an inmate:
“That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.”
Writers such as Frankl have seen something in life that many of us are still not aware off; the most meaningful relationships are those that are based on love.
If you are looking towards money to make you happy, then Northern Ireland is not the place for you; we are growing poorer every year. The big houses and the big cars always let us down in the end. Frankl didn’t need a picture of his comfortable home; he had the image of his wife in his head.
There is always hope in the world. But that hope is also always something way down the line in the future.
Politicians wish to win the next elections so they promise the voters anything. Companies want to sell their goods so they guarantee their customers a good deal. Some of us never see through the empty promises of politicians or advertising agents.
Some of us even begin to suffer from ‘Celebrity worship syndrome’.
The term was first used by James Chapman in an article in the Daily Mail in 2003. Psychologists in the United States and United Kingdom created a celebrity worship scale to rate the problem.
You would think this was all new stuff. Humans are so slow to learn. We have known about celebrity worship for thousands of years; we call it ‘idolatry;’ the worship of false idols.
Don’t you remember the girls screaming and crying at the sight of the Beatles or the way the Germans followed the insane Hitler?
Three thousand years ago a nomadic tribe of desert dwellers warned us about ‘celebrity worship syndrome.’ They knew all about it. When they couldn’t find a celebrity to worship they made their own; a golden calf.
Wisely these nomadic desert dwellers laid down a moral code to warn against such things. They started off with a warning against ‘celebrity worship syndrome.’ They said:
“First, I Am the Lord thy God; thou shall take no false gods before me.”
There you have it in one sentence: no celebrity worship.
When will we ever learn?
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