Monday, March 14, 2016

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The Human Tragedy Of The 1981 Hunger Strike

Martin McCleery writes compassionately on the 1981 Hunger strike. Dr Martin McCleery is author of Operation Demetrius and Its Aftermath: A New History of the Use of Internment Without Trial in Northern Ireland 1971-75 (Manchester University Press, 2015).

In perhaps one of the greatest ironies in relation to the 1981 hunger strike Charles Moore (2014) in his biography of Margaret Thatcher, the nemesis of republicans, quotes her as saying: "You have to hand it to some of these IRA boys,”. Describing them as “poor devils”, she said of their deaths, “What a waste. What a terrible waste of human life”.

Now no matter what you think of the political stance taken by the hunger strikers surely, in a similar vein as the ex-prime minister, no one can but admire their dedication to their cause. What does it take to suffer like this every morning for up to ten weeks? How easy would have it have been for them just to relieve their suffering and take some breakfast? How difficult was it for their families not to intervene as their loved ones drifted into incoherence and semi-consciousness?

I have been thinking, reading and writing a lot lately about violence. At the heart of my latest research is the contention that most humans are not prone to, and in fact dislike, violence. Underpinning this argument is the assumption that for the most part we are all caring, compassionate people. Much has been written of late of the hunger strikes of the early 1980s and sadly it seems to me that what is lacking is any compassion for the suffering of the men who died or their families from historians and others. Too many have used the 1981 strike especially to either justify or attack a particular political position.

Among the many contributions in book form Stuart Ross (2011) has examined these events from both inside the prison and the campaign outside. More recently Thomas Hennessey (2013) explores the hunger strike from the British Perspective. Richard O’Rawe (2010) contends that the hunger strike could have been ended earlier but that Sinn Fein prolonged it for electoral gain.

In addition to the work of historians many commentators have put forward their perspectives. Malachi O’ Doherty, both an academic and political commentator, in the Belfast Telegraph has written that the hunger strikers committed suicide and compares them with suicide bombers, arguing that lessons can be learned from this comparison. However, his analysis has a glaring weakness, the fact that none of the hunger strikers wanted to die. They did not believe they were going to some better place where seventy-two virgins awaited them.

Suzanne Breen in the same newspaper has maintained that the only purpose that Bobby Sands now serves for Sinn Fein is as a money spinner. Breen is entering the debate over the recently published comic book commemorating Sands commissioned by the Bobby Sands Trust, whose members include prominent republicans Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and Tom Hartley. The partial funding of the publication by the Arts Council has infuriated unionists who proclaim that it glorifies terrorism and is particularly dangerous in comic book form. Sand’s family for their part have stated that the trust does not represent them and have called for it to be disbanded. These are only a few of the debates that have involved the hunger strikes but what of the physical suffering these men endured, it is worth revisiting the ordeal they underwent.

Sharman Russell (2006) Hunger An Unnatural History provides us with a graphic account of what it is like to die on hunger strike.

In these first few days of the hunger strike symptoms include hunger pangs, bad breath, headaches, and a feeling of exhaustion. In the days that follow, the body begins to break down stores of energy in fat and muscle, essentially cannibalizing itself to survive. As the body harvests any available energy stores to power the brain, it rapidly sheds both muscle and fat, and levels of important nutrients are depleted.

Still, the first two weeks of a hunger strike are, while profoundly unpleasant, generally not life-threatening. Then the body switches from the use of glucose as fuel to a new energy converted from our fatty acids called ketones. It starts consuming itself. After two weeks, the symptoms associated with extreme hunger — dizziness, exhaustion, the inability to stand up — often begin to take their toll in earnest. Muscle atrophy can begin to grow serious at this point, and control over those muscles can be hampered by ataxia, a condition resulting in a jerky walking gait and loss of motor control. A slowed heartbeat is also typical during this period. The sensation of thirst can be dulled, and many strikers report feeling cold constantly. This is also when thiamine deficiency sets in, further damaging muscles and often causing vomiting and difficulties with vision. This deficiency is also the cause of problems after four or five weeks without food, which can include vertigo, uncontrollable eye movements, and double vision.

After six weeks, the gruelling symptoms of a hunger strike become life-threatening for most. Higher brain function is severely impaired, rendering victims incoherent and confused much of the time. Hearing loss and blindness have been reported, and hunger strikers who go without food for more than six weeks are at risk of death from heart failure or, more rarely, a build-up of toxins in the system that can result in sepsis, and infection of the blood (
www.themarysuue.com).

Without doubt a slow agonising death that no one would choose for themselves. The length of time that these ten men spent on hunger strike ranged from 44 to 72 days. Their average age was 25 and most had relatively short sentences to serve. Rightly or wrongly they felt they had no other choice but to continue with their fast. One can only imagine the courage that it took to see the hunger strike through and the unbearable turmoil that the families must have experienced in respecting the wishes of their loved ones and not intervening as they suffered a painful death. Surely in any account of this human tragedy the personal agonies of the hunger strikers and their families, who no doubt still suffer great sorrow, have a place too.

38 comments :

Dixie said...

I was never aware that Malachi O’ Doherty had made that outrageous comment about the Hunger Strikers. Truly a sickening attempt at ingratiating himself with the establishment, the Castle Catholic who says what they want to hear thus ensuring himself of a steady wage.

nicola kerr said...

Who believes thatcher said that trying to make these people look some what human compassionate maybe Gerry and Danny believes the quote did she say that about the belgrano is Malachi named after that murdering bastard of the civil war who will remember Adams and Morrison in a hundred year no one but they will remember the 10 martyrs of 1981 just as Denis Barry and Terence macawiney are remember and honoured to day show me an English man who starve until he died Irish men have done it with honour and with pride

AM said...

Dixie,

I know that comparison has been made on a few occasions but I was not aware Malachi had made it.

I always find it a very shallow analysis. The only comparison is a determination to see a cause through to the end but that can be said of many in armies all over the world.

The suicide bomb is the use of one's body to cause terrible human pain on others. It is a very violent act. The act of hunger strike has long been known as a peaceful protest where the intent is not to rip to shreds the bodies of others but to risk one's own life in pursuit of a belief. The basis for a strong comparison between suicide bombing and hunger striking is exceptionally tenuous given the strength of the differences between them.

Niall said...

I once read about the physical effects a hunger strike can have on the human body....Morrison and the rest ought to be totally ashamed that they deliberately sent 6 more men to die in such a horrific way.
As for Malachi O’ Doherty comparing them to suicide bombers....is he related to Morrison?

frankie said...

What Malachi O’ Doherty said in a piece for the Belfast Telegraph called "Secret to understanding Jihadi suicide bombers could lie in the IRA hunger strikes at the Maze" (22/04/15) was

"And, as evidence that would surely interest the students of jihadism, the succession of suicides in the Maze failed when the families of the men intervened, insisting, as next of kin, on having the men fed when they slid into coma."


What he said here maybe of interest to some..Starts at 40mins with Pat Sheenan and Malachi gives his views around 52mins 30secs (about the hunger strikes, Bobby Sands Trust...)

Malachi O'Doherty said...

Sands knew he was going to die. Suicide might sound like an unfeeling word for that, but he had the intention of dying, without an expectation of a compromise being found in time to save him.
The three who followed him might have felt some hope that they would be saved by a political deal.
After Joe McDonnell, none had any real prospect of being saved. They knew death was the only alternative to giving up.
Bik knew this also and referred to the hunger strikers as front line troops who expect to die.
Further, other men volunteered to join the strike long after it was clear that it was not going to be called off.
They believed that Thatcher was refusing all their demands and would continue to do so.
This is not to say that they were mad, or sick of living but that they put the cause and their commitment to it above the desire to live.
I suggested that a proper reflection on the hunger strike might teach us something about the men who join jihadi groups and commit themselves to dying for their cause.
I don't think that was an outrageous idea. I don't know what this establishment is that Dixie thinks I was ingratiating myself to - I get no particular reward for speaking my mind and exploring ideas, though I do get a lot of shit from those who disagree.
One of the big questions over the hunger strike is whether it was - as Bik said - the front line of the whole IRA campaign or simply a protest about prison conditions. Some of the strikers saw it one way, some the other, but there were no Gandhians in Long Kesh.

DaithiD said...

Malachi, you have missed the "bomber" part out of your explenation. Suicide bomber is a highly pejorative label. If it was just calling his death suicide, I doubt it would of caused such a stir. You cloud the issue with mention of jihadists too.

AM said...

Malachi,

people dying for the cause is a human trait given that alone amongst all the species humans die in pursuit of ideas. Huge amounts of military personnel die defending a value. A cursory read of the Soviet defence of Sevastopol, Leningrad, Stalingrad demonstrates a human willingness to defend territory, psychological or physical with their lives. Yet they never seem to get compared with suicide bombers.

Lazy journalism (which I am not accusing you of) drew comparisons between the theocrats who carried out the Paris slaughter and the IRA. None of them paused to consider that the people who most resembled the killers of Paris were British Army Paratroopers who like their Paris counterparts slaughtered an unarmed civilian population. It is easier, juicer, and much less risky to draw the comparison with the IRA, state murder being sort of alright.

If Bik was in the trenches of his own mind he can explain himself. I think at times Bik made bad judgement calls in a very difficult situation. He over relied on the leadership outside, never contemplating to tell it to fuck off. And I think he made the error of demonstrating to it that he was not effected by emotion but military type calculation.

There were no Ghandis in the H Blocks only if you ignore Ghandi saying "I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence." It might well be one reason why so many of our journalists support peace. There are very few Gideon Levy types in the Northern journalist class. There were no pacifists in the blocks but to deny the passive nature of hunger strike as a protest and instead compare it to the violence of theocrats is a gross typological distortion. How many H-Block protestors left prison and threw themselves at the enemy in suicidal fashion? Do you think for a moment that the people who conceived the human bomb would not have welcomed an IRA volunteer offering him/herself to drive a lorry full of explosives into a military installation? It was not part of the republican mindset.

The fact that you have often stood alone and shown genuine intellectual courage is not a free pass to evade criticism of your commentary. I don't share Dixie's view that you were ingratiating yourself with authority but I think a strong element of personal bias allowed you to make the type of comparison you did.

The hunger strikers engaged in one of the most peaceful forms of protest known to humankind. That alone made their actions wholly different from the suicide theocrats whose actions were designed to destroy the human lives of others. Allowing your hostility towards the IRA to skew your perception is hardly journalism at its best.

Christy Walsh said...

Malachi

Your comparison is not an accurate one. There is a clear distinction between sacrificing ones life by hunger strike and using ones body as a transport vehicle for a bomb attack on others. One is not comparable with the other for to do so would be to equate various acts of heroism and self-sacrifice to Islamist Genocide of everyone not Muslim. Even acts of heroism and certain death on the battlefield such as rushing a machine gunner in a fortified bunker is not the same as a jihadi suicide bomber.

There has been a number of attempts to denigrate Irish Insurgents by comparing them to Islamic Jihadis. I recently heard the Irish writer and performer Brendan O'Carroll describe 2 of his Uncles who fought in 1916 and the War of Independence as having been 'radicalised'. A desire to be free from oppression and tyranny has become akin to Islamic radicalisation rather than man's inalienable right to be free and equal.

Frank Kitson once wrote about the use of such language and the making of comparisons as you have done. He explained how terms such as 'freedom fighters' or 'rebels' put the British in bad light and so these terms should not be used when speaking of the Irish -oh, and the Brits should be described positively as 'peace keepers'.

Malachi O'Doherty said...

I still think that what some find offensive in what I said is the use of the word suicide, because it appears to have connotations of despair and moral failing.
You can argue that some of the hunger strikers hoped to be saved by a political compromise or concessions, and that some were manipulated and kept in the dark. The account of Pat McGeown's difficulties and the way he was manipulated by Bik in Ten Men Dead points to that.
But some knew they were going to die. Most had the option of ending the strike when close to the end and chose not to exercise that option.
Call it the surrender of a life for cause; I am not fixated on the word suicide, if you like.
You'll note that the jihadis have similar distaste for it and prefer the word martyrdom, a word that long had a place in republican tradition. And I doubt many republicans could argue that Sands was not a martyr.
At a time when academics and others are worrying about how to deradicalise young muslims who are attracted to jihad, I said that they could do worse than to reflect on the experience of the hunger strike and the previous example it gives us of men who would insist on dying rather than on compromising, who saw a cause as bigger than their own lives and who would give those lives away for it.
I have no insights at all into jihadis, never spoken to one in the way I have spoken to former blanketmen and hunger strikers. But there are questions to ask them and there are precedents in the hunger strike might help us understand their answers.
As for my presumed desire to denigrate the hunger strikers, everyone on this site knows that I opposed the Provisional IRA and rejected their philosophy and their methods, so that's not going to surprise anybody; but I did not enter this discussion to sneer at men who suffered as they did.

Malachi O'Doherty said...

PS. Bik himself said that he knew he would die if Adams allowed him to join the hunger strike. His desire to join was, of course, not a desire to die, but it was a desire to take a course of action that he believed would certainly lead to his death, and this not in the service of the 'five demands' but as a 'front line soldier'.
Was the charge of the Light Brigade suicide?
Was kamikaze suicide?
There was precious little space in which to say it wasn't.
And even in the ordinary world outside war and protest people take their lives with a heavy heart, wishing they could live.

Malachi O'Doherty said...

And just another point (you can bundle these together if you like, mackers)
The language used yo distinguish an insurgent from a freedom fighter, makes an ideological point. You pick your word to express whether or not you agree with the action describedM
I did not intend the word suicide to be judgmental in that way.
I don't need to since I have made my position clear.
But I accept that I would have had a better chance arguing with you guys if I had avoided it.

AM said...

Malachi,

I did not find you BT article sneering but still wrong all the same.

I think the term suicide less annoying (analytically useless, suggesting a psychological disorder, than an act of peaceful protest) than the comparison you infer should be made from its usage. With people like Thích Quảng Đức how often do we read of their deaths described as suicide? The term self immolation is used so as to distinguish it from the act as one of psychological disorder. The term suicide is generally (often unconsciously) used to depoliticise and pathologies an act of protest against a superior power.

There remains this fixation with drawing comparisons between the hunger strikers and the theocrat bombers: let us look at the hunger strikers to find how we might deradicalise theocrats. Why them and not front line troops who routinely face death? Why not look at someone like Kissinger or Netanyahu? You might find in people like them a very clear answer as to why many become radicalised in the first place. Why not ask the obvious question of how to make the Kissingers and Netanyahus less obscenely violent?

We know what Morrison and co did to six hunger strikers (in the most heinous crime perpegtrated against republicanism since Ballyseedy). We do not dispute manipulation at play. What is in contention is the usefulness of such a limited comparison and nothing whatsoever said about the chasm between the hunger strike being an utterly peaceful form of protest and theocrat bombing as being anything but.

It is not your opposition to the Provisional IRA and its methods you are being taken to task on but on how your opposition to it has so coloured your vision to the point where it has lost focus.

At a time when academics and others are worrying about how to deradicalise young muslims who are attracted to jihad, I said that they could do worse than to reflect on the experience of the hunger strike

Truth is we could do much better.

AM said...

But even here with your comment on Bik you refer to the front line soldier. Why then select hunger strikers whose actions were not taking the lives of others for your comparison rather than front line soldiers, whose actions do take the lives of others? What is about hungers strikers other than your dislike of republicanism (for which you are not being criticised) that makes them a useful example?

AM said...

You could also ask were the holders of VCs suicides given the circumstances in which many of them died. Why not suggest we study VC holders to find out what might motivate the theocrats? Both often died in actions which were aimed at obliterating the human lives of others. Seems a much more opt starting point for comparison than the actions of hunger strikers.

We know suicide in this context is a politically loaded term. The people who seem to employ it the most are those who seem not to term the slaughter perpetrated by their own side murder.

Peter said...

AM
You keep repeating that the hunger strikes were peaceful acts of protest but the men were members of a war machine, and they knew that their organisations would bomb and kill in revenge for their deaths. Hardly a peaceful protest.

AM said...

Peter,

there is that element to it and for those of us not on the strike we were hoping for large casualties on the opposing side. But you tell us nothing new given that I have stated above that there were no pacifists in the H Blocks, apart from a few screws perhaps who refused to resort to violence. And even then their motives might not have been pacifist.

In as far ss it is fair to isolate the action, the hunger strike was a very peaceful protest. It was not devised to risk the lives of anyone other than the hunger strikers. There was some debate at the time at leadership level about whether the war outside should be stepped up or down during the strike. If I recall rightly the leadership said it had pulled back during the 1980 strike but would not do likewise during the 1981 action. But the prisoners would have had no input into that policy.

The point we are truing to resolve in this discussion is not whether we prisoners were inclined toward the use of political violence - of course we were and we were engaged in a protest that was aimed at legitimising the use of that violence. What is at issue is whether the hunger strikers are a suitable point of comparison with the theocrats. My contention is that they were clearly not.

Malachi O'Doherty said...

OK, let's take it to another grounding.
First, the deradicalisation approach assumes that the radical activist who is prepared to die has made a bad choice for himself and for others. It seeks to understand how he might be dissuaded of that choice.
I see that as something in common between the hunger strikers and the jihadis. They both made bad choices where better choices would have spared their lives and those of others.
Many republicans will say, in contradiction that Bobby Sands made a good, heroic choice. They are entitled to that view.
I might argue, to your further annoyance I'm afraid, that the settling of the IRA campaign on terms much lower than those demanded stands as evidence that the choices made in the past, whether in Long Kesh or on the streets, were bad choices; that a better management of the IRA and clearer communication with those - most of us - who wanted them to stop, might have brought their fruitless campaign to an end earlier.
You might not like that argument but that perception is a legacy of the peace process.
From that perspective, it makes great sense to argue that the theocratic bomber may turn out in the end not to be so ardently dug in as he now appears, may prove to be amenable to finding a better life for himself and to sparing the rest of us.
As for the argument that the hunger strike was non-violent; the strike was conducted in a spirit of support for the IRA campaign and though many argue that its devious management led to the peace process, it could also be argued that the example of the hunger strikers inspired others to join the IRA and kill for the cause.
Then, to come back to the idea that suicide of itself is morally dubious or that the word stains the motivation of the men: suicide can be a neutral word to describe a huge range of occasions of self killing. Suicide can be generous; the person who dies for others. Theoretically, if you like, the one who jumps out of the balloon basket to save others - in an old thought experiment familiar to moral theorists. The infirm who go early to spare their families the burden of care. Can it not be said frankly of some of the hunger strikers at least that they knew they were going to die and went through to the end, with no hope of winning (ironically since they already had if they knew it) and being saved, but out of loyalty to those who had gone before?

Organized Rage said...

Malachi

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"--Denis Fall.

Enough said!

AM said...

You seem to limit bad choices to things that hunger strikers and theocrats do. You make no mention of the bad choices that a US marine makes in deciding to murder Iraqi civilians, or a member of the Golani Brigade makes when she decides to murder Gazan children.

Your views on Bobby Sands nor the IRA will cause me no further annoyance given that they did not annoy me previously. Bobby made a heroic choice. Was it the best one? Not in my view. A better choice would have been to call an end to the strike the day he was elected MP. What more evidence of political status did we need? But none of us were in that frame of mind at the time. And you are merely reinventing the wheel telling us how the campaign's end invalidated the losses sustained during its course. We have long been proponents of that view.

If your real task is to change the minds of theocrats there are so many examples of people you can draw upon who more appropriately resemble the armed theocrats than did the unarmed hunger strikers. Those armed heroic people at the Somme who charged on relentlessly determined to kill and willing to be killed would make a good starting point.

We know what the spirit of the strike was conducted in support of - it was about legitimising IRA political violence. I have already stated on a number of occasions that there were no pacifists in the H-Blocks. But this does nothing to invalidate the peaceful essence of the hunger strike as protest and which strips it of a comparable basis upon which to make the judgement you have.

The lesson not learned at the time was that the IRA had the moral high ground when it was enduring not inflicting. The peace process was not built on ethos but on the more crass one of political careers.

Christy Walsh said...

Malachi

As the talented wordsmith that you are, you are being disingenuous by twisting the meaning to 'denigrate' to mean to sneer. I did not say nor imply that you were sneering -you were denigrating (bad mouthing) political opponents.

More to the point you disclose why you chose to equate the hunger strikers with suicide bombers -you specify your rejection of Republican ideology. Unfortunately not supporting any ideology does not make your comparison anymore accurate. For instance I am not Yazidi but I can understand why many Yazidis would rather go to a torturous death (suicide) than convert to Islam; it is a final act of autonomy to preserve ones dignity and conscience; especially having witnessed the Genocide of their families through death and sexual slavery. And to apply your dogmatic reasoning through the choice of suicide rather than conversion to Islam then these Yazidi were no better than the suicide bombers/Islamists who would snuff the existence of the Yazidi out.

You are not being challenged on your use of the word 'suicide' but rather your comparison between people you do not support politically who, in your view, committed suicide and those who use suicide as a means of causing maximum death and carnage. I agree with you on how Pat McGeown was pressured into going on hunger strike but the origins of the hunger strike arose from the prisoners sense of having no other option to assert their sense of dignity and their determination that they would not to be broken. Selection of Pat and other hunger strikers and rejection of others was based upon, for want of a better way of putting it, those on the blanket who might be considered by non-republicans to have the cleanest hands.

Christy Walsh said...

Malachi

That the peace process did not deliver is an attempt to retrospectively change how the men came to give up their lives on hunger strike. Hunger strike is the last argument of the powerless especially where grave injustice has been experienced -this I can vouch for because I went for 32 days without food, I lost 2.5stone I was hypothermic and the toxin levels in both my liver and kidneys were well above dangerous levels. I felt perfectly determined to continue but for 3 pledges that were made to me that fulfilled my belief that justice might be done. I have no problem with anyone who would describe what I did as foolhardy or suicidal and if I am put in the same position that I was in on this day last year then there is no doubt that I will resume where I left off last year. Ok I am not a member of the IRA but I can understand how the Hunger Strikers, or even the Yazidi, might self-sacrifice than to live life having betrayed their own conscience and sense of self worth.

Msspikemilligan said...

Christy Walsh, you said "agree with you on how Pat McGeown was pressured into going on hunger strike "
Were is your evidence to back up that statement?
Pat's questioning of tactics during the strike only demonstrate his strength and commitment , not the opposite!
If you don't have evidence to support what you said, I'd suggest you withdraw it.
As for suggestions that certain people were selected on the basis of "cleaner hands", Bik may have been ruled out because the Bayardo bar was perceived as a sectarian operation.
Pat was as good an operator as anyone!

mal higgins said...

Malachi.

I must say for a reporter of your calibre your statement “The infirm who go early to spare their families the burden of care” must be one of the most stupidious statements I have ever heard. People with terminal illness who end their prematurely do so because that is the choice they have made.

In my opinion if they make that choice based on “the burden of care” when we should really be questioning what kind of care is being provided that has prompted that choice.

And as for the charge of the Light Brigade being suicidal? I mean really. What we had there was a bunch of Victorian twits, completely ignoring military strategy or worse following incompetent orders to charge Russian cannons.

From another Malachy but with a different spelling.

Christy Walsh said...

Msspikemilligan

Malachi referred to the book Ten Men Dead and I got the same impression as he did about the pressure put on Pat McG, so yes, I do agree with him on that point. I was not referring to anyone in particular but from the same book, and other sources, there was a selection process in operation and some men were not given clearance to go on hunger strike. You confirm that and name Bik as a case example.

My comment, nor Malachi's, detract from Pat McG's commitment that he would follow through once he went on the hunger strike. I said nothing disrespectful of Pat McG in fact, had he died on hunger strike I was saying the opposite in so far as that would not have likened him to a jihadi suicide bomber.

Malachi O'Doherty said...

Pat McGeown's case is surely the strongest published example of the hunger strikers being manipulated. He expressed his doubts to Bik. 'How can the British know what we are striking for when I don't even know myself?' Bik told him not to express his doubts to others.
Challenging him on why he had not expressed his doubts to Adams on a visit, he said it was because he was afraid the meeting might be bugged. So Bik mediated Pat's doubts to Adams and then pulled him back into line.

Why not pick a different example? says Mackers? Well, why not? I don't limit bad choices to the hunger strikers. The British army made a complete bollocks of things if their objective was to stabilise things in Belfast and Derry. Some of them could now tell Netanyahu why he is such a disaster for Israel.

But why not also the hunger strikers. Young men in political movements in two distinctly different projects, chose to die to make their point. There aren't a lot of other examples of that to choose from. The NUM didn't give up their lives. The Dagenham Workers and the Legion of Mary didn't either. The question is what makes the difference between movements in which people are ready to die and those in which that is too high a price. I think we know in the case of the hunger strikers, deadlock, comradely bonding and, in some measure, a sense that life beyond the day wasn't worth living. One hunger striker said to me 'it wasn't much of a life that I was giving up anyway'.
And I ask, could any of that help explain the apparent death cult of the jihadis? Maybe not much. But I would want to know why a man would leave his family and his friends to blow himself up in a foreign war and I wouldn't be fobbed off with answers about heavenly virgins. I would want an explanation founded on psychology and culture.

AM said...

If you can cite any references you have made to the suicide soldiers of the Somme in your writings I will accept you have a genuine point.

Why not the hunger strikers?

As men who went to their deaths in an action designed to risk no life other than their own, it is not a good comparative example. The valiant soldiers of the Somme seem a better example.

There is not a lot of examples to choose from? You are hardly serious here. All over the world, since the species reached the point where it could reason and thus develop ideas, people have died in defence of or in pursuit of their ideas. Your fixation with the hunger strikers seems ideological not analytical.

I don't object to you trying to cite hunger strikers but rather the weakness of the case you make and the litany of black holes you don't delve into that might produce better results.

The legion of Mary might not have died but legions of Christians have, bravely facing lions on occasion, in the course of doing so. They even make saints out of those who die for the faith. People damned as heretics the world over have faced death with equanimity rather than yield to an idea they felt to be wrong.

We know the hunger strike was manipulated. Who are you arguing with there? It must be Danny Morrison!

I think your whole argument by including in the one typology hunger strikers and theocrats while trying to exclude (wrongfully claiming there are very few examples) other more fitting examples, is pointedly political. You know the theocrats are easily demonised so you hitch the hunger strikers to their wagon to suit your own partisan position.

It disappoints me but certainly does not annoy me or drive me into a paroxysm of rage. You will still be the same Malachi next time I meet you as you were the last time.

Msspikemilligan said...

Christy Walsh

It appears You and Mr O Doherty are going to persist in the " besmirching " of someone,who rightly in my eyes is, known as the 11th hungerstriker. And you are both taking that position because of the "impression " you are given from a book!
AM, Dixie and others are better qualified, being closer to events to make a judgement! Pat was no shrinking violet! Anyone would have their work cut out in trying to "manipulate Pat Mc Geown in any debate on strategy or whatever!
To You and Mr O'Doherty I say 'when you're in a hole stop digging!'

AM said...

Msspikemilligan,

Pat it does seem was very unhappy with the way the hunger strike was being managed. It is a matter of public record now that Bik sought to bring him into line.

I was particularly close to Pat in the jail, both in the cages and the blocks. He expressed his unhappiness to me in the canteen but it was not about Bik, just the boys playing tag during mass one Sunday. He made the point that he was going up to the hospital any day soon to die and here were people playing tag, as if the gravity of the situation had passed them by. That made me wonder about his psychological state of mind. The boys were playing tag but so what. They could not be focussed every minute of the day and needed relief. As a citizen of Leningrad said during the siege, it is nice being a hero but there comes an urge for ordinary living as well. I didn't say that to Pat, didn't feel I could given what he was facing.

By that point the hunger strike was treading on ground that was not firm. Pat was too much of an intellectual not to have weighed it up from every possible angleand to have seen the cons as well as the pros.

I don't think either Christy or Malachi are besmirching Pat. I think they are trying to make the point about the pressure on the strikers. Pat was not pressured into going on the strike but subject to much pressure about keeping quiet while on it about his reservations. I take your point about him being his own man and in my view a great man at that. One of the closest personal friendships I developed in the jail, his portrait still hangs in our home. You are right, he was no pushover. But I don't think Christy or Malachi are saying he was, but are merely discussing the pressure at the time.

For his part Bik was one of those few military leaders who in my view did not enjoy the pleasure of command. I have enormous sympathy for the position he found himself in because at the heart of it all I don't believe he was psychologically cut out for the harshness of the decisions he had to make.

I would say he is a man who has suffered greatly since it. A guy I have always had a lot of time for whatever the arguments about the hunger strike.

Christy Walsh said...

Misspikemilligan

Like Anthony I too knew Pat personally and his family and I have said nothing to besmirch his character as you allege. I also know Bik personally and I did not refer to him for the same reasons Anthony has said about the difficult position that he was in.

However it is not lost on me that the only time I ever encounter you over the years is when you pop up as you have and try to take a pot shot at me over some issue or other where you think you can undermine me or my case against the Diplock System. It was Malachi who threw Pat McG's name out not I. You then threw Bik's name out in a stupid way that did not advance any point you would liked to have made. .

Msspikemilligan said...

AM , I couldn't agree with you more. I was aware of your fondness for Pat from probably years ago on the blanket journal. There are few people in this world that I would feel the need to defend outside of my Family. Pat and I had many conversations about this present topic. Of course he was outspoken, open to debate any issue and was critical of many things ,with an intelligence and ability matched by few. Thats what made him who he was. I share your opinion of Bic 100%!
Absolutely the 'controlocrats' of Adams and Co tried to reign in Pat. But to categorically state that Pat was 'pressured' to go on the strike is just plain wrong, as you have already stated .It's easy for some of these people to throw in simple one word definitions 35 years after what were horrific times for all involved. I wish there were more like Pat in the world.

Msspikemilligan said...

Mr Walsh
Am I correct in saying you are 'diplock courts'? I remember you now.
First of all, let me say paranoia and self obsession are not endearing qualities!
And finally You should do an update, let people know how those 'promises' from Mr Mc Guiness and Mr Cartney worked out for Ya!
Good luck.

Christy Walsh said...

Misspikemilligan

By 'some of these people' you mean me because you named me. Having been in the H-blocks I know how unspoken pressures can be applied. So it was not lost on me how offers from prisoners to go on hunger strike were being rejected because those who were there and know how things went explain how Bik was holding out for one man to come forward and if you really knew Pat as you claim then you would know that he was astute enough to know that he was the man expected to step up next in line. Had he not stepped forward then he would have been thought of as the man who failed to stand by the previous hunger strikers -that's how silently manipulative the republican movement can be -which of course if you were anybody then you would know that just like Malachi also happened to pick up on. The book Ten Men Dead was published while I was actually in the H-Blocks and so the place was awash with copies of it. I was not alone in coming to the same conclusion about the circumstances on how Pat came to embark on the hunger strike as Malachi pointed out. Sorry its not as flattering as you would prefer but it in no way reflects badly nor misrepresents Pat's strength of character -quite the opposite in fact.

When I asked one of the most prominent players on the Republican side (above Bik) in the whole hunger strike mess why they vilified Fr Faul so much because, as I explained, in away he broke the cycle of death in a way that the republican movement saved face otherwise more men, not just Pat, would have died needlessly. The IRA leadership's response was, and I am quoting accurately: "Do you think that 'We' did not know that, but we were not going to let Faul know that." I also knew Fr Faul and when I told him what the IRA leaderships' view was about his intervention he matter of factly replied: "I always knew that."

Although Malachi raised it (accurately in my view) this is more than a "simple one word definitions 35 years after" as you describe. I don't even actually get your point because you haven't even been right about any of the objections you raised about the matter.

Msspikemilligan said...

Mr Walsh,
Good for You, between having the ear of the man "above Bik" and being surrounded with multiple copies of 'ten men dead' , you appear to have it all sorted!
Have you ever wondered that in their "silent manipulation" the republican movement would surround yourself and its members with copies of Mr Beresford's book. It is after all, their definitive version of events on the hunger strike ! With all due respect you should try expanding your source of knowledge.
Thanks to Dr Mc Clerry for this initial article and thanks to AM and all those responsible for the Quill. Great job!

Christy Walsh said...

Misspikemilligan

Again I am at a loss with your reasoning? As you acknowledge the book to be the republican movement's "definitive version of events on the hunger strike" which is precisely why Malachi and myself find it so convincing, especially on account that others have expanded on events, like O'Rawe's account, and that as many as 6 men could have been (as Malachi puts it) "saved by a political compromise or concessions, and that some were manipulated and kept in the dark."

It is also notable that you did not address Malachi with your objections as I was only responding to them. But instead you took the opportunity to deflect the whole attention from Malachi's equating the hunger strikers to jihadi suicide bombers -a greater insult to Pat McG and his comrades sacrifice.

the light said...

soz am i know your views on people cursing that is one sickening cunt to even suggest the hungerstrikers were commiting suicide

the light said...

i would rather live as afree animal than one that is kept in a cage , i just dont mean about prison bars.

the light said...

im not in the know like most who speak hear but theres one thing that if was said i would have agreed with and still do an dorcha said fuck the blanket why dont we all walk into the main prison , they would have shit themselves