Current Affairs History Military Politics

American Journalism Fails The Irish Test Once Again

Kurt Eichenwald is a veteran American journalist of some thirty years standing who has specialised in everything from corporate malfeasance to defence issues for publications as diverse as the New York Times and Vanity Fair. For the last year he has been authoring a series of investigatory or analytical pieces for the current affairs magazine Newsweek, some of which have drawn much praise. In a recent article headlined “How Uninformed U.S. Politicians Help ISIS“, he laments the ignorance of the American political class in relation to militant political Islam and its habit of engaging in lazy stereotyping that misleads more than it illuminates, offering up this rhetorical equivalent from another conflict:

“…the greatest financial support for the radical Catholic terrorists in the Irish Republican Army came from American Christians. Despite the IRA’s murder of 1,800 people, American politicians proved they were soft on terrorism. Representative Peter King of New York even went to Ireland and hung out with the group’s sympathizers. Fortunately, the British were tough and used enhanced interrogation techniques—including waterboarding—on these radicals.”

Which is a fair enough analogy if Eichenwald was to go on and explain the falseness of such claims as they relate to the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and the misleading nature of, for instance, British government propaganda in times past (particularly in the United States, where the “two warring tribes” misinformation campaign by the UK’s embassy in Washington and the consulates in New York and L.A. was hugely successful until thrown into disarray by the interventionist policies of the Clinton administration in the 1990s). There is a strong critique to be made here, with the obvious comparisons to the shallowness of understanding concerning the various inter- and intra-communal power struggles in the Middle East and beyond. However that is not what happens. Instead we are given this.

“Offended by what you’ve just read? Good. You’re supposed to be. That diatribe, while all true, is horrific. Sadistic lunatics, whether as individuals or groups, have nothing to do with Christianity. They have just appropriated a peaceful religion to justify their murderous impulses.”

Except the diatribe is not true, and that surely is the point? (P)IRA was not a “radical Catholic” guerilla force, the vast majority of its funding did not come from the US, and it never used religious sentiment to justify its actions. The organisation was a secular, left-leaning armed resistance, its beliefs very much reflected in the early quasi-Marxist policies of its political wing, Sinn Féin. Its military budget from the 1970s to late ’90s was largely funded through a process of domestic “revolutionary appropriation” here in Ireland; that is the voluntary or more usually intimidatory “taxing” of criminals and businesses, as well as the profits derived from smuggling, counterfeiting, etc. Nor for that matter was (P)IRA responsible for the deaths of 1,800 people, a throwaway statistic much favoured by sections of the right-wing press in Britain (who like their American counter-parts blithely ignore the casualties inflicted by the British military and paramilitary forces, both official and unofficial).

The great irony of Kurt Eichenwald’s analogy from the Long War, the insurgency and counter-insurgency conflict in Ireland, is the seeming ignorance or imprecision that shapes it, the same lack of insight that he accuses others of professing in relation to the global Muslim community and the perverse ideology of the Islamic State. Perhaps the article is simply poorly phrased? Remove the words “while all true“, and the Irish section of the article has a different meaning. However in its presence form it is simply another example of an opinion piece in the US public domain that further obfuscates and confuses the record of a faraway war that most Americans have – and had – little to no comprehension of. Including much of the news media.

It seems in this at least very little has changed indeed.

20 comments on “American Journalism Fails The Irish Test Once Again

  1. Spot on. Eichenwald’s piece is not misinformed, it’s propaganda, and the false comparison between the conflict in Ireland and that in the Middle East is the only “news” you’ll get at all on Ireland in the States, further confusing nearly every American under forty years of age as to the nature of Ireland’s plight, if they even know of it’s existence, which most of them do not.


    • True, Óglach. Even the most liberal US publications have very little understanding of the conflict here and tend to follow the British line. The “Sons of Anarchy” with its egregious, sub-racist characterization of Irish people is a reminder of that. It is the equivalent of Blaxploitation in “Oirish” dress. Or this “Paul Theroux And The Boston Bombing“.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s clear from this and previous pieces that you believe the UK government played a significant rôle, if not in starting the troubles in NI, then in prolonging and deepening them. I honestly don’t know what to believe. My impression at the time and now is that things simply got out of hand and Westminster didn’t have a clue how to react. If you want me, and no doubt many others outside of Ireland, to accept your line, then you’ll have to explain what possible motivation the UK government had in propagating a long, expensive and often politically embarrassing campaign in favour of a faction, Ulster Unionists, that few in the UK had any sympathy for. Admittedly once the IRA began to attack British peacekeeping (??) troops and especially mainland civilian targets* then your cause had shot itself in the foot, but still the British might simply have walked away as they did in Palestine, Cyprus, Aden …

    * By ‘civilian’ I don’t include politicians who unlike the average citizen were actually responsible for British strategy. The mortar attack on Downing St. that apparently had John Major and his cronies hiding under the cabinet table was the source of much amusement, and may well have been the trigger for the Peace Process, once they realised that their own skins might be at stake. And not forgetting that you almost rid us of the Evil Maggie, and put Tebbutt off his bike for a while. Both nasty pieces of work who deserved all that came to them.


    • Why are you saying “you” Marconatrix?

      No sane person would identify with that piece of shit Brighton bomber. He’s a total psychopath who doesn’t care about other lives of other people. (just like the rest of the IRA)

      The Brits were too merciful when they released him and others from prison.


      • Jānis, nonsense.


        • What nonsense?
          Do you support actions of that piece of shit?
          Do you think that it’s OK to bomb hotels and endanger lives of hundreds of civilians?


          • Ceannaire

            If Nato attacked Russia now to get Putin you wouldn’t give one fuck for Russian civilians.
            You are either a pacifist or a hypocrite. Which is it, Janis?


          • I’m not a hypocrite – I don’t support war crimes and war criminals. The IRA and loyalist paramilitaries are no better than Al Qaeda or Breivik…


      • Stop pretending your foreigner cod act you loyalist hardman trolling irish republican blogs for reactions or if you’re truly latvian I’ll say one thing: your countrymen deserve to be ruled by the russians. Why do you love the brits so much no culture worth defending or too ashamed in admitting the wrongs perpetrated by england since 1169?


    • Marconatrix, why did Britain refuse to accept the vote for independence by a majority of the electorate on the island of Ireland in the general election of 1918, the local elections of 1920, and the general election of 1921? Why fight a war to maintain British colonial rule over the island of Ireland and the 80% Irish majority who rejected it? Why, when that rule was impossible to sustain, then force the partition of the country and the retention of the north-east as part of the UK in a besieged micro-colony with a significant and insurrectionist minority?

      Centuries-old nationalism, irredentism, legacy imperialism, notions of racial superiority, worries over defence and security, national and territorial integrity, worries about the Scots and Welsh, the appearance of being weak on the international stage, personal and familial links, reliance on unionist votes or political ties at Westminster? It was all those and many more in the first decades of the 20th century and I suspect not all that much had changed by the last decades of the 20th century.

      The Army Council of the (Provisional) IRA did not order direct attacks on the British “peacekeeping troops” until early 1971, which is when the first British military fatalities occurred (the regular British military were engaged in operations since 1969, so that was over a year later). The British army had already inflicted dozens of civilian casualties – including a number of fatalities – by that period.

      Palestine, Cyprus, Aden were far away. “Northern Ireland” was the “near abroad”, and the establishment UK would/could not give up 800 years of association without a fight.


  3. Yes, presumably by the same token, Norman Tebbitt’s wife deserved to be put in a wheelchair.
    Re the statistics of the Troubles,” I usually turn to the “Lost lives” volume, well known to all with any interest in that period, compiled by journalists and historians, none associated with the right wing British press and presumably not full of throwaway statistics. They attribute 1,768 deaths to the I.R.A., 47.5% of the total, with other Republicans killing 384, a total of 2,152, or 57.8% of the total. They attribute 1112 deaths to Loyalists, 29.9% of the total, with 367 deaths being attributed to the Security Forces, 9.9% of the total.
    So, simplistic though his analysis may be, his P.I.R.A. deaths total was not very far out.


    • Ginger, no one is denying that (P)IRA inflicted numerous deaths and injuries during its military campaign, nor that if often acted with reckless abandon in relation to civilian life and property. Indeed, that the organisation upon occasion deliberately targeted civilians who could not qualify in any way as legitimate military targets. Those were acts of terrorism or war crimes and should be regarded as such.

      The usually referenced figures for deaths attributable to (P)IRA range from 1700-1830, however these include (P)IRA members killed by the accidental discharge of weapons, premature explosions, etc. and other deaths whose classification is highly debatable (non-attributable “republican” killings are listed under “(P)IRA” even when its role is unclear, disputed or denied). The authors of such lists hedge them with qualifications, and the arcane criteria for attribution vary from compiler to compiler (for instance killings by serving police officers and soldiers are listed under “Loyalist killings” where such individuals are thought to have some association with them or are claimed by such groupings. Likewise with “unclaimed” killings by secret military units which are listed as “Loyalist” or “unknown” – or in several well-known cases as “republican” – despite the killers being serving British soldiers).

      So that is not the same thing as baldly saying that (P)IRA “murdered” 1800 people.

      The analogy by Kurt Eichenwald of “radical Catholic terrorists” works if he was illustrating the falseness of such labelling, with reference to Islamic models. However, to my reading at least, he does the opposite, committing the sin of ignorance he sees in others. Perhaps others read it differently? Perhaps he phrased it badly? It’s up to other readers to make up their own minds.


    • Well, my opening salvo, Ginger would be just to repeat what has been said before.
      Namely you say 1112 deaths to Loyalists..but that figure is rubbish because we now know..everybody should know that the British
      armed, trained, funded and directed Loyalist terror gangs.
      It wasn’t a few bad apples..It was known about and accepted by the Brits at the highest levels.
      In the last 5/6 years of the “troubles” loyalists killed over 230 people with South African Weapons supplied by MI5 agents.
      Over 229 of whom had no republican” links whatsoever.
      so unless this is sorted out and acknowledged by Unionists and the Brits.
      There’s very little point in using these figures.


      • OK, the claim is that some part(s) of the British establishment/military were supporting the ‘Loyalists’ so as to prolong the ‘Troubles’. There’s certainly some clear evidence for this, but the problem is motivation. Who would gain and how? From a British perspective, NI is simply huge mess we could do without. If the whole place simply sank beneath the sea there would be a huge sigh of relief. So why make the problem worse?


        • I wouldn’t say they prolonged it as a strategy. Although this would have been a consquence perhaps.
          I would say they put very little effort in stoppng it..other than a military defeat of the IRA…which their own military officers thought was unachieveable.
          So I would honestly say they showed a lack of will.
          I think to explain further..we have to go back and discuss why the British opted for partition in the first place.
          For was to encourage their other colonies to stay they took the 6 Counties out.
          Which had 90% of Irish Industry.
          They left a bankrupt free State in poverty.
          I think they hoped that either the Free State would ” beg to be taken back” or it would at very least be unsuccessful in economic terms.
          Ofc after WW2 this imperial aim was overtaken by events..It would be fair to say.
          so then, we are left with some different motives.
          I think one of the most obvious was a reward for the wee 6 in the face of Irish Neutrality.
          And a continuing effort to anatagnoise the Irish ( A two way street it must be said )
          And i shall have to think some more and get back to you.
          Obviously you are asking about the troubles themselves 1966 and why they are there today.
          A reasonable question as to why the British have stayed.


  4. eileen healy

    You just touched on something that I can’t pass by!! PEACEKEEPING!???
    When I was 9yrs old in 1969 there was only one television channel so the news and current affairs were like a religion I remember initially some people were glad to see British Soldiers but as time went by I remember thinking in my innocence that the next step was to deploy an international peacekeeping force like we were sending to other countries How simplistic! Many aspects of that issue I’m finding difficult to research but the gist of the story was that Britain managed to portray “the troubles’ /’conflict’ as a little domestic issue they could handle on their own
    An article from MWC from about 5years ago deals with the whole occupation by British Army in a broad sense but does cover the peacekeeping aspect

    An article in The Guardian from2007 gives a timline list of killing s numbers of British army personnel deployed at certain times and lists the major act of terrorism in a way that makes it seem as the definitive guide tothe events , though to be fair it doesn’t claim that
    Many major horrific events and experiences weren’t mentioned As a brief overview of OPERATION BANNER itt was Ok I distinctly remember an event on 22Sept 1989 though it was not in Northern Ireland it stands outin my mind because I was travelling to Heathrow the following day from Dusseldorf and from Heathrow to Cork The sight of the German passengers carry ing newspapers with horrific photographs remains with me ? What was actually distressing (compounded by not having much time to spare) was the “treatment” from security when going through the terminal for home .I was travelling on my own and was 33weeks pregnant with a doctor s letter saying that I was ok to travel but I looked like I was carrying twins so naturally security had assume I had semtexon every part of my anatomy This security check was not discreet and I came close to missing the flight Small imposition when you consider the damage done to so many lives

    Suspicious package open ed on 09 11 89 a few hrs before the Berlin Wall came down

    Many publications cover figures andLost Lives would be what I would quote too but even though the figures are similar toEichenwald they are simplistic to say the least by the omission of accompanying relevant data.

    Of the 3747 people killed as a result of the conflict between 1966 and 2006, the book Lost Lives breaks them down into the following categories: 

    Security Forces : 1039 (27.7%)
    Republican Activists : 395 (10.5%)
    Loyalist Activists: 167 (4.4%)
    Catholic Civilians: 1259 (33.6%)
    Protestant Civilians: 727 (19.4%)
    Others-Unknown : 160 (4.2%)
    (David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton, Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company, Revised and updated edition, 2007, p.1555)

    It should be noted that approximately twenty per cent of Protestant Civilians killed were murdered by Loyalists because they were mistaken for Catholics. These casualties figures demonstrate that the two largest categories of fatalities were ‘Catholic Civilians’ killed by the security forces and loyalists, and members of the security forces killed by republicans. The largest category of deaths was innocent Catholic civilians. Statistically they were those most at risk of death in the conflict. To put these deaths in context, Catholics represent one third of the population of the north but suffered nearly three fifths of the civilian casualties. “Catholic civilians have evidently suffered both absolutely and relatively more than Protestant civilians.” ((Brendan O’Leary and John McGarry, The Politics of Antagonism: Understanding Northern Ireland, London: The Athlone Press, Second Edition, 1996, p.34) The number of Catholics killed per 1000 of population was 2.48 and Protestants 1.46.Catholics were at approximately 50 per cent greater risk of being killed, both relatively and absolutely. 

    While it should be noted that “neither community in Northern Ireland has a monopoly of suffering in the present conflict, amongst both Catholics and Protestants, hundreds have been killed and thousands injured, lives have been ruined and homes wrecked.” It should be emphasized that:

    In relative terms it is undoubtedly the Catholics who have suffered the most, for it is against them that the main weight of repression has been directed. Most of the vast number of people imprisoned over the years for so-called ‘terrorist’ (i.e. political) offences have been Catholics and most of the victims of sectarian assassinations have also been Catholics.” (Bob Rowthorn and Naomi Wayne, Northern Ireland: the Political Economy of Conflict, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988 pp.6-7)

    Feeling Fussy


  5. Yep, British forces weren’t there to stop crazy Irish from killing each other. It was an occupying force meant to enforce the apartheid that was the status quo. The despicable tortures endorsed and later defended by the UK government is proof enough that they weren’t ‘policing’ a situation. Abstract notions of freedom aside, the IRA was willing to fight and kill British troops because they were the ones shooting at them (first), threatening them on the street (because of their ‘colour’), ghettoising them.
    As to why the British government felt the need to do this, God knows. Without a shadow of a doubt there are deeper waters in the way British politics works. Maybe some upper-class child-sodomizer hated Irish people or Catholics.


  6. eileen healy

    Apologies there.In my blather I omitted that the atrocity was the bombing of the Deal Barracks in Kent wher army musicians/band members were killed 11dead and twice as many injured


  7. If the British army hadn’t deliberately confined themselves to barracks in the late 80’s and early 90’s it would be safe to assume the security force casualty list would have been higher. Commendably the IRA still managed to go after them in terrain that risked the possibility of civilian casualties ie the Brits built their barracks’ beside school and hospitals shield themselves. Yet despite all that the IRA still managed to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Ingenuity. And to think they managed all that despite having to devote hours making their equipment. If only they had the backing of a major state like…..the U.S? Imagine if the CIA were as generous to republicans as they were to the mudjihadeen ie stingers? Game changer.


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