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Review: Who Won The War?

TV documentary, BBC One, 2014

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

2 October 2014

Peter Taylor’s recently aired documentary Who Won The War?  promised much.  After all it is not every day that mainstream journalists even ask the question.  Most go along with the peacenik line that nobody won it and that everything is ok.

Taylor started off by recognising that “all sorted it is not”, but after that it went downhill.  The format of allowing interviewee’s words to tell a story with little commentary from the documentary maker does not work with such a complex question, especially when society has been given a readymade answer that it accepts.  To go against the grain requires some commentary or at least harder questioning of those interviewed.  It is a damning indictment that the person who came out best was Peter Robinson, an arch sectarian, who got to gloat over the Provos defeat.

Taylor wasted a lot of time introducing McGuinness and asking him about what his mother did when she found his black beret.  This was time that would have been better spent challenging convicted UVF thug, Billy Hutchinson.  Hutchinson was allowed to express regret but then go on to give an ever so slightly more sophisticated version of “we prods get nothing, they get everything” speech, which had already been stated by one loyalist in a street interview.  Taylor did challenge this to some degree.  Hutchinson further got away with stating that the UVF had prevented a united Ireland and presented his thuggery in a semi-noble light.

The reporter fawned over establishment figures like Major, Blair, Prior and Tebbit who claimed that nobody won the war.  These statements should have been challenged but to do that would have challenged what the British establishment intended through the peace process, it would have showed that the result was what was intended.  The Provos didn’t lose because Tony Blair lost the run of it, but because Blair’s intentions were always that they lose.  In fact their defeat was already a done deal before John Major ever approached them and was the only reason for talking to them.

There were some interviews that were worth it and more could have been done with them.  Gerard Hodgins, former hunger striker, was one of them.  Not enough was done with the fact that he thought they lost.  Another such interview, which was rather sad, was with former IRA man, Sean McKinley, who was definitely not a winner, there was no Armani suit for him, even though he thinks a united Ireland will come.

But the main failing of the documentary is that Taylor clearly thinks that the peace process was a very good thing, regardless of who won or lost and he further thinks, like Peter Robinson, that republicans are good at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.  He closes the documentary with that comment that the Brits won, but there may yet be a united Ireland.  

His footage however of loyalists shows that this is not the case.  Paisley’s “breed like rabbits” comment was repeated and the loyalist in question was adamant that he would not accept a united Ireland regardless of how people voted.  The rise in sectarianism, the legitimacy of the UVF as the force that prevented a united Ireland, all of this should have been explored and challenged.  The peace process did not just bring an end to the war with the defeat of the Provos, the peace process entrenched sectarianism, wedded former republicans (Sinn Féin) to the British state and defeated any attempt at building an opposition to sectarianism, Orangeism, etc and of building a socialist and anti-imperialist movement.  The Brits won, but the list of losers is longer than the Provos.

Taylor’s failure to deal with the politics of the peace process beyond the question of a united Ireland or not, meant that in the end he didn’t really answer the question he posed.  He wants to think that the north is now a normal society and so he concludes the Provos lost but they may yet get there, without even trying.

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