The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Thank You, Bobby Sands


Fred A. Wilcox • 9 May 2006

Over the last couple of weeks, I've read a lot about hunger striker, Bobby Sands. Most of it was old news-that some people revere Bobby for his commitment to the Republican cause, while others dismiss him as a criminal who deserved to spend his life in prison.

In the early 'Seventies, I walked through burned out blocks in Belfast. Boys from Liverpool sped by, swiveling their machine guns as if to say, "Make my day, dumb yank." At one point, my wife and I stumbled into a bivouac of drunken British soldiers, one of whom stuck his rifle against our chins and demanded that we drop our back backs. We stood with our hands in the air while this man chanted, "I want to kill the little people. I want to kill the f…ing little people." Belfast was a war zone in which, it appeared to us, British soldiers might well shoot first, ask questions later.

My encounter with the British army was highly educational. After that, I never questioned the veracity of Irish men and women who spoke about internment, trumped up charges, corrupt courts, torture, and assassinations in N. Ireland. At the height of the Troubles, the American people were inundated with pro-British, anti-Republican, "the IRA are all thugs" propaganda. We were told that the British government was merely trying to maintain order in one of its own provinces. We were assured that our British allies stood for law and order, democracy and justice, peace and stability. Those who dared rise up against our English friends were little more than gangsters who blew up women and children for sport.

Then, in 1981, young Irishmen jailed in the North announced that, in order to secure their status as prisoners of war, they were willing to fast to death. The first POW to commence hunger strike was Bobby Sands, a young man who, with his long hair and beard, looked a lot like a Sixties hippy. Looking at photographs of Bobby, it was a stretch to conclude that he was a psychopathic killer. So, many people began to ask why Sands was in prison, why he had been confined, naked, in a maggot-infested prison cell. Slowly, the news leaked out that Bobby Sands was a writer, a poet, a man who loved birds, loved to sing, loved story telling, loved Ireland, loved his family, loved life.

Slowly, Americans and people in other parts of the world began to discover that Bobby was an intelligent, creative, compassionate human being, not some fanatical killer.

Now, twenty-five years later, the debate over the hunger strikers' legacy continues. In one of my classes, I assign a chapter from Bobby's book, One Day In My Life. I ask students to try to imagine a cause for which they would be willing to die. Students respond that while they admire the hunger strikers' courage, they cannot fathom why anyone would willingly starve to death. Moreover, they add, there must have been other, more reasonable, ways to secure the protestors' goals. Fortunately for these students, they have not seen their friends dragged off to torture chambers. They haven't watched family members bleed to death after being shot by a sniper who will never be tried for murder. They did not spend years in a filthy prison cell for resisting a brutal occupation of their own country.

I do not know whether Bobby Sands and the nine men who died on hunger strike in 1981 were hoping to counter the negative image, so carefully crafted through misinformation, of brave men and women who fought and died to free Ireland from British imperialism. I do know that the hunger strikers demonstrated to the world that a few determined people can change the course of history. Skeptics might say that Bobby's dream of a reunited Ireland, free from British influence, remains a utopian fantasy. They will say that the hunger strikers were naïve, and that their sacrifices were in vain. For my part, I place Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers not on a pedestal, but in a place of honor among men like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Philip Berrigan. I place them among great freedom fighters like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Park, Fanny Lou Hammer, and Angela Davis.

Let the armchair warriors, revisionist historians, and hate-filled commentators rail as much as they wish. Long after their rants have been forgotten, the hunger strikers will continue to inspire people in Ireland, Africa, South America, Palestine, China, Tibet, the United States, and many other places to fight, and if need be die, in order to create a better world.




















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
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Index: Current Articles

11 May 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Incorruptible
Anthony McIntyre

Ruarí Ó Brádaigh: Robert White's biography of a Republican idealist
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Can of Worms
John Kennedy

The Wrong Man
Martin Ingram

Gotta Be Cruel to be Kind
Dr John Coulter

Revising the Rising?
Forum Magazine Editorial

Solving the Irish Problem
Michael Gillespie

Geoffrey Cooling

Thank You, Bobby Sands
Fred A. Wilcox

Welcome Back, David. Now, Go Away Again!
Eamon Sweeney

Give Them That Auld Tyme Religion
Dr John Coulter

Meal Ticket
John Kennedy

Examples of Dialogue
Conn Corrigan

Two-State Solution
Mick Hall

Peter King - Still Irish America's Champion
Patrick Hurley

Statements on the Murder of Michael McIlveen
RSF; 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Profile: Chahla Chafiq
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

18 April 2006

Grave Secrets
Anthony McIntyre

Spoiled Rotten
David Adams

Let Bygones be Bygones
Mick Hall

Urgent Memo — Judas Was One of the Bad Guys!
Dr John Coulter

Cluedo in Donegal
Anthony McIntyre

Easter Message
John Kennedy

Óglaigh na hÉireann Easter Statement
The Sovereign Nation

IFC Easter Statement, 2006
Joe Dillon

Lincoln's Despair
John Kennedy

Fred A. Wilcox

Hamas Being Forced to Collapse
Sam Bahour

Profile: Philippe Val
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index



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