Paddy Ashdown is a former British marine commando and intelligence officer with MI5, the ex-leader of the Liberal-Democrat party (which is now the minority partner in Britain’s coalition government), and a senior European and UN diplomat. So his view on the conflict in the British Occupied North of Ireland and how it relates to his studies of the resistance movements of German Occupied Europe during WWII is interesting, to say the least. From the Daily Telegraph:
“His latest book, The Cruel Victory, which is published today, chronicles the largely neglected story of the French Resistance fighters on the Vercors plateau near Grenoble. They attempted to help in their country’s liberation as Allied troops fought on the beaches of Normandy in the days following D-Day, but were badly let down by General de Gaulle.
He believes Francois Huet, who commanded the Maquis (as the Resistance was known, after a scrub that cover the hillsides) was a heroic figure. “The thing that drove him was decency,” he reflects.
Huet survived, but too many of his comrades did not. The Sten guns and patriotism of the 4,500 Maquis fighters could not match the might of 12,000 well-trained Germans, who set about a campaign of rape and execution.
Some 840 French men and women were killed, 500 houses burnt to the ground and 650 more severely damaged.
Farmhouses were looted and burnt and animals were tied up in their barns before they, too, were set alight.
Ashdown relates all of this with real empathy for the Maquis, informed by his own service in the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service before he entered Parliament. So, I wonder, does he identify with their spirit of resistance? His reply is not what I expect.
“If I had been a Catholic, discriminated against in the way they were in Northern Ireland, would I have been a member of Sinn Fein or the IRA? Given my hot nature and my slightly romantic view of life, it’s quite difficult to say that you can completely discount the fact.”
He does not, of course, condone the IRA or its “murderers of the first order”, but he believes “you are the child of your circumstances”.
“If you were brought up in a community that has been discriminated against and has had their human rights denied, what are you going to do?
“I imagine at the very least I would have been a political activist on behalf of Sinn Fein. Whether you tip that over into something else, I can’t tell you – but I ask myself the question.””