The Blanket

Avoiding Park Benches

Anthony McIntyreOther View Spring 2002

In November 1941, while the Nazi extermination machine was still only taxiing down its runway of mass murder Count Helmuth James von Moltke, the legal advisor to the High Command of Germany's military, wrote to his wife.

Every day brings new insights into the depths to which human beings can sink. But in many respects the bottom has been reached: the lunatic asylums are slowly filling with men who broke down during or after the executions they were told to carry out.

If those, such as the Nazi exterminators who carry out such atrocities can be expected to slide into the vortex of mental collapse what then of the others tasked with ensuring that such things do not happen and are forced to stand 'with both arms the one length' while they do?

Towards the end of 2000 an article featured in a Canadian newspaper. If there were prizes - and what could they be we may wonder - to be awarded for the most insensitive piece of reporting in the first year of the millennium this article would have been a serious contender. The story centred on Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, the former commander of UN forces in Rwanda. In it he was described as someone who had descended 'from model soldier to park bench drunk'.

Dallaire's ‘road to ruin’ it seems was to have been in Rwanda at a time when the Hutus were busy massacring their Tutsi neighbours. It was hardly his fault that he was in the country with manpower grossly insufficient for the purposes of even minimising never mind thwarting the genocidal onslaught. When presented with the Dr. Samuel Henry Prince Humanitarian Award in May 2000 the citation stated that ‘he was placed in the position of having to witness horrendous barbarity without the capacity or authority to intervene’. World leaders ignored his warnings of what Dante like horrors awaited the Tutsis. They led those very nations the leaders of which today tell us they bomb Serbia and Afghanistan because of their concern for human rights. President Bill Clinton of the United States for his part in the Rwandan affair was described by the writer Fergal Keane as 'the most culpable’ of them all.

Dallaire now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and has contemplated suicide on a number of occasions. He concedes that alcohol is his one avenue of escape from the nightmare that was Rwanda.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects millions of ex-combatants throughout the globe. The attitude of many towards this would seem to be 'slap it up them'. That, with no small measure of hypocritical cant, is invariably determined, of course, by which side they supported in whatever conflict affected them or captured their interest. An 'our grizzly-doers are in some way superior to yours' outlook. In the North of Ireland many who rally to the aid of the torturers of the RUC and prison service would be the first to howl if they sniff any assistance being directed towards ex-prisoner groups.

Yet, it seems clear that a case can be made for such assistance not to be merely retained but expanded to cover ex-combatants of all persuasions. 'From model soldier to park bench drunk', if one were callous enough, is a term that could be applied to a number of former republican combatants. The same is most likely true for RUC, loyalist, prison staff and British Army personnel. In West Belfast we need only look to the parks and graveyards to find the most unfortunate cases plagued by the virus of excessive alcohol consumption. Elsewhere, the virus ravishes its victims behind closed doors. Sometimes we never learn of the extent of the problem until we are walking up the Falls Road behind the hearse of yet another of the largely anonymous fallen.

None of these people have ever reached the prominence and stature of the unfortunate Romeo Dallaire. It shall remain beyond their worst nightmares what he has gone through. In some cases they themselves may have caused great pain and inflicted much violence needlessly. Yet, their anonymity, their lack of public name and face recognition, their shuffle from the dole queue to the wine store may confirm rather than invalidate their status as ex-combatants. And whatever function they performed during that combat, it was a role none of them saw for themselves prior to British militarisation of the dispute in Ireland. Britain in large part created them as combatants. And while none of them may expect sympathy from the British for that they deserve a future which holds more than the contents of a blue bag.


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In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Index: Current Articles

16 June 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Zionism, Palestine & The Spirit of the Warsaw Ghetto

Brian Kelly

Avoiding Park Benches
Anthony McIntyre


A Case For Change
Ciarán Irvine


The Terrifying Power of Life and Death
Brendan Hughes


13 June 2002


Interface Violence

Billy Mitchell

What Chance Socialism?
Anthony McIntyre


Was Monday 29th April the day democracy died in the ATGWU?
Sean Smyth




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