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The myth of Nuremburg and the legacy of the troubles

The Eames-Bradley consultative group continues the drive to the right

John McAnulty

15 February 2009

The execution of Nazi leaders following the Nuremburg trials established as fact a very powerful myth. If you commit war crimes then the twin weapons of international law and the international community will bring you to justice.

The myth is totally false. Even at the time many Nazis were saved to help the US hold communism at bay. International law is whatever the great powers say it is. There is no international community, just imperialist rule. In the absence of a socialist society, capitalist barbarism means that the victors write the rules.

More recently the myth of Nuremburg has gained new life. The trials of combatants from the wars in the former Yugoslavia led to the establishment of a war crimes tribunal in the Hague. This has helped to ramp up US power in Eastern Europe. However, there is little possibility that Israel will find itself there! 

A new twist appeared with the imperialist sponsorship of the South African settlement. There was no desire to punish the racists, given that the settlement preserved white control of capital. 'Truth Commissions' absolved the racists, turning the debate away from political reality and towards the psychological needs of victims.

Conflict resolution?

It was this model that Sinn Fein adopted for the Northern settlement. It did however require that the British and Unionists be willing to accept some responsibility for the violence.

The British resolved the issue by setting up a series of tribunals. These produced very little, hardly surprising when we learn that those who led the dirty war were also prominent in the enquiries.

The problem for Sinn Fein is that the political basis of the settlement, presented by them as conflict resolution, is understood by all the other participants as republican defeat. The survival of the deal rests on conciliating unionism and that involves a constant shift to the right.

In the period since the St. Andrews agreement Sinn Fein have been unable to extract any political concessions from the deal. Even concessions already agreed, such as an Irish language act, have been repudiated and the Shinners compensated with grants of money.

The Eames-Bradley consultative group continues this drive to the right.  Its central proposal is that any examination of the past come to an end, with a five-year period for the Irish to talk the past out of their system. The relatives of those killed are being told to take themselves off and offered some cash for their trouble. A legacy commission will deal with any diehards. The cash payment is aimed primarily at the republican base - the families of police and army casualties received lump sums and pensions at the time, so any payment will be additional funding.  Many seen as offering political support to republicanism were declared outlaw and refused rights to compensation – in practice denied the same position in law as others because of their politics.

Yet the uprising over the proposed payment obscures the utterly reactionary nature of the proposals and the utter inability of the new political structures to deal with the past – yet another indication of how dysfunctional the Irish settlement is and how unlikely it is to evolve into a stable settlement.

The world of victimhood

The consultative group proposes a new legacy commission with four strands:

- helping society towards a shared and reconciled future, through a process
of engagement with community issues arising from the conflict;
- reviewing and investigating historical cases;
- conducting a process of information recovery;
- examining linked or thematic cases emerging from the conflict.

It may be quite difficult to understand this new language of victimspeak, the language of a world of grants, handouts, community groups, quangos, consultative groups, government commissions and international advisors. It may be of some help if we consider the central aim of the commission, in the words of the consultative group:

the overarching objective of promoting peace and stability in Northern Ireland

But that whole process is built upon deleting one interpretation of the troubles – that it was an uprising against injustice that found itself facing vicious suppression by an imperialist army and the death squads sponsored by it, and promoting the view that it was a tribal battle between two sectarian groups.

That involves a deep contradiction.  If the battle was between two tribes, both legitimate, How is there to be reconciliation?  The four strands are ways of doing that

The four strands of the proposed commission actually involve two simple strategies.  One aims to remove any political content from the issue by converting it to an issue of individual psychology and community culture. 

A new social group, the group of victims, is to be created (has already been created) who are to undergo remembering exercises to bring individual closure and help community bonding.  Healthcare needs, which should be available to all, are to be preferentially distributed with much of the apparatus in the control of former republicans and current loyalists. 
In the third strand the process of providing information to relatives becomes a psychological process. Officials will try and provide more details about the death of loved ones to again bring closure.  Such a process will be divorced utterly from the question of bringing anyone to justice.

The second, most important major strategy is to bury the past and bring to an end any further search for truth.  The second theme would be a review and investigation unit essentially given a limited time frame and budget to wind up the numerous enquiries and investigations.

The fourth strand would be thematic examination.  What this means is that the whole issue of state collusion would move behind closed doors. There would be no further public enquiries. The consultative group even openly offers to relieve the British government of its promise to hold an enquiry into the state murder of lawyer Pat Finucane, one of the most notorious killings of the troubles!

Sinn Fein’s fingerprints

There was an uprising for civil rights in the North of Ireland.  The defeat of the civil rights movement became a battle against imperialist rule and that struggle was ruthlessly suppressed by state terror, although it could not finally be crushed until Irish capital gave its whole-hearted and open support to the partition of the country and the continuation of a sectarian society in the North. The settlement does not contain any elements of justice and can only deal with the past by denying it.

This sellout has Sinn Fein’s fingerprints all over it.  These proposals were the subject of intense negotiation before seeing the light of day.  Having agreed to the details, the unionists reneged when they were made public.  Sinn Fein didn’t have the guts to defend the deal, but stood alone amongst the condemnation, intoning gravely that it was a long report and they would have to read all of it! The proposals fit in perfectly with the pattern since the St. Andrews agreement. Sinn Fein get nothing in the way of political concessions but are given backhanders to compensate them.  They have no choice but to go along.  Any admission that they have been defeated and humiliated would lead to the collapse of their organization.  In any case, as part of the government, they can no longer afford to have constant reminders of the savagery of the British occupation, especially as the conditions which led to that savagery have really not changed – the peace rests on the absence of resistance.

An example of the depth of the republican hypocrisy and of the demoralization and demobilization of its base lies in the recent candlelight protest commemorating the 20 years since the murder of Pat Finucane. Pride of place on the demo went to Martin McGuinness. No- one pointed out that he was the deputy prime minister, that he had entered government without being able to resolve the issues behind this murder, that he appeared to have no proposals for action as deputy prime minister and that he party had stood silently to one side when the consultative group proposed to bury the issue forever!

Corruption and decay

The British state unleashed decades of terror in the North of Ireland. The republicans at the time had an answer.  The British would be forced out.  When they failed they had another answer – the truth commission would allow imperialism to apologize. When this failed they signed up to agreement that would simply bury the issue with a few pounds for everyone’s trouble.

What is really significant is that this proposal has died stillborn.  It has been torpedoed from the right by unionism and the noises form the British government indicate that they will regretfully have to yet again abandon promises they made to the republicans. We have gone from the promise of reform to minor concession to kickbacks to – nothing at all!

Yet again we see the reality of the Northern peace process. Despite almost universal support and the absence of any significant opposition the administration is unable to take any step, no matter how tiny, to secure its rule. The mechanism that holds it in place is one of constant republican retreat.  The result a growing unreality, corruption and decay that can only end in eventual collapse. 


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