The Daily Beast Reviews The Bobby Sands’ Documentary Through British Eyes

For well over a century it has been the common practice of the American press to employ correspondents from the United Kingdom, either resident there or in the United States, to report or comment on the current or historical affairs of Ireland. This was particularly true during the three decades of Irish insurgency and British counter-insurgency in the UK-administrated north-east of the island. As one might expect, the news reports filed under this editorial preference in the 1970s, ’80s and 1990s was rarely free of bias or partisan sentiment since they largely reflected the personal opinions of one side in a centuries-old struggle against colonial occupation. Namely, that of the occupier.

Compounding the lack of impartiality by Britain’s correspondents was the fact that many men and women working in the newsrooms of the US found it easier to understand and empathise with the UK’s deliberately simplistic presentation of the “Long War than with the historically complex explanation offered by Ireland. When diplomats and writers from the United Kingdom informed their peers – and admirers – in the United States that the “Troubles” were a “religious conflict between two warring tribes” kept apart by “British peacekeepers it was swallowed hook, line and sinker by otherwise sceptical journalists and editors in New York and Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles, and regurgitated ad nauseum for American readers and audiences. Though a handful of US reporters criticised the resultant lack of neutrality displayed by their newspapers or networks, arguing that it was akin to the US media looking to Iran for press coverage on Israel, the practice never changed and has carried on into the age of the internet.

Thus when it came to reviewing a documentary film on the life and death of Bobby Sands, the Irish republican hunger-striker whose death in 1981 – along with that of his comrades – arguably energised another decade of armed resistance to Britain’s colonial occupation of the partitioned Six Counties, the Daily Beast instinctively turned to a former UK correspondent, Tim Teeman. As you might expect his review of the movie, “66 Days”, is quite critical, judging it as “rose-hued“, “one-sided” and “lacking in nuance“. Praise, where it does occur, is accompanied by scolding caveats. However even the most blind of writers can accidentally stumble upon a truth or two:

“In 66 Days’s eyes, IRA soldiers like Sands appear to exist as liberation freedom fighters, seeking to jettison the oppressing British Army and their Government overseers from Northern Ireland.

That, for sure, is how Sands and other Irish Republicans saw it, and many others, especially in America, who helped fund the IRA.

But the IRA’s more memorable and resonant methods were to maim and kill–and not just British soldiers and politicians, but civilians too. This was not a peaceful liberation movement; how could it be given that their experience of the British occupation of Northern Ireland was oppressive and violent itself?”

And that last sentence is surely the most pertinent – and revealing. The “Troubles”, so-called, did not begin with the re-emergence of an Irish insurgency in the early 1970s or the splits in the Republican movement which saw the establishment of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army in December of 1969. The opening shots of the war were fired in the first months of 1966 by former soldiers and policemen of a pro-UK terrorist faction known as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The first gun attacks, the first bombings and the first deaths were inflicted between 1966 and 1969 by Britain’s loyalists – official and unofficial – in Ireland. It was the actions of British separatists and the violent suppression and persecution of a largely pacifist Irish civil rights movement which led many young men and women to turn to the gun, initially as a weapon of defence not offence.

Given the circumstances, armed resistance in Occupied Ireland during 1966-2005 was no more illegitimate than armed resistance in Occupied Europe during 1939-1945. Or in apartheid South Africa from the 1960s to 1990s. Something Teeman acknowledges, despite himself, in the sentence quoted above. Finally, one doubts that any liberal-leaning journalist in the States or the United Kingdom would review a documentary on the life of Nelson Mandela by characterising his armed struggle against Boer-dictated oppression and violence as a “…bloody terror campaign“. Of course you could ask: which side were the IRA on during the war against racism and dictatorship in Whites-only South Africa and which side were the British on? In that answer lies the true history of Ireland’s British troubles.

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26 comments

  1. Don’t expect sympathy from the politically correct Daily Beast. Irish republicans are not politically correct.

    1. Well in fairness Bernie and Jane Fonda did write letters of support for the hunger strikers but Irish Republicanism is dismissed because the Irish are ‘White’ and therefore shouldn’t have any sympathy on skin colour alone which could be a form of reverse racism.

      1. Irish republicans are often viewed as illegitimate and not real freedom fighters for the simple fact they are white. To modern progressives and leftists all whites are privileged and have no problems and are responsible for slavery and every other historical crime no matter how poor they are or how their ancestors had nothing to do with those things.
        Also,Irish republicans believe in promoting Irish language and culture which to progressives is inferior since it is European.
        Republicans believe in Irish sovereignty which put them in conflict with the globalist elites like Hillary Clinton who want all nation states abolished and all borders torn down.

        1. “Irish republicans are often viewed as illegitimate and not real freedom fighters for the simple fact they are white”

          To be honest I don’t buy into that argument at all. In the United States ignorance and insularism – or an understandable lack of interest – is as relevant to the poor perception of Irish republicanism in the US as anglophile sentiment. I’ve written on that in other posts. The latter force just seems to have more import among the American intelligentsia.

  2. I can only speak for my little bit of America, but there is definitely a double standard when it comes to the armed struggle of Nelson Mandela vs. the Irish resistance in the North. Even the Black Panthers are viewed – at least in my progressive little bubble – with more respect than the IRA!

    A little extract from a conversation I once had with my dad might provide some insight. And just so we have some perspective, he is of entirely Irish descent and was given as Irish Catholic a rearing as any other. He and I were debating the merits of the armed struggle in the North of Ireland, and he tried to shut me down with the usual “The IRA were terrorists. They were not freedom fighters. They were bad dudes.” (Actual quote!) I countered by saying, “Well, doesn’t that make Nelson Mandela and all the South African anti-apartheid fighters terrorists, too?” He sighed and said that Mandela was fighting against actual oppression.

    I love my old man, I really do, but what he said there was typical of a mindset very widespread in America which makes me want to bash somebody’s head against a wall.

    1. If they were Irish freedom fighters then why did the republic not officially support them, but locked them up instead?

        1. Also why is Bobby Sands big deal if the IRA men weren’t treated much better at Portlaoise prison which was in the Republic? They weren’t treated as freedom fighters and the guards were allowed to shoot to kill.
          Makes you wonder what the IRA was really fighting for, because both Ireland and the UK didn’t like them.

          1. Jānis :

            Yet again you post your total ignorance – if you really had any clue as to the sympathies of the vast majority of the Irish Army soldiers during the conflict in the North, you would not write your rubbish.

            If you Latvians were not such cowards you would have put up a fight against the Soviet Union – instead you allowed the Russians to simply walk in and walk all over you.
            Mind you, did not stop Latvians from murdering their fellow-Latvians civilians – innocent civilians – in their thousands during WW2.

            Utterly, eternally shameful.

      1. Well, they were fighting against imperialism and racism. Their goal was to enact the change of sovereignty for which the Irish people democratically voted in 1918, 1920, and 1921. They were fighting against the racist British Empire and its foot soldiers, the UVF, UDA, and all the other alphabet arrangements I cannot remember – people who had ties to white supremacists in the U.S., like Bob Jones, and to the apartheid government in South Africa. The civil rights movement in the North of Ireland in the 1960s was inspired by the American version, and Irish nationalists enjoyed connections with figures such as Nelson Mandela. Some wings of Irish republicanism believed in socialism. Sinn Féin, the major political wing of Irish republicanism, is left-wing. I’m sure I can think of more stuff.

  3. Because the republic (a) has to maintain relations with our larger neighbour (b) is governed by seoiníns

      1. Yep that should be the case.
        Stuff like the Arms Trial in the 70s, where 3 government ministers were forced to resign due to involvement in buying arms for northern Republicans, shows that the country was/is very divided over this question.

      2. Jānis :

        You cowardly Latvians would know all about allowing yourselves to be slaves – after all, you simply allowed the Russians to walk in and take your country – without even a shot fired in anger.

  4. Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strikers died so that Gerry and Martin could sit in Stormont, discuss??

  5. Hopefully with the internet the real truth will surface. The establishments media don’t have the same swing now as they did in the past. The youth and the not so youthful can educate themselves very quickly indeed. When the real truth comes out Britannia might not be as cockey. And it will come out.

  6. I do think we have a problem here in the States with understanding the reality of “tribal” or ethnic discrimination outside of a “racial”/racist context.
    A very telling moment for me was the first time I watched IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER with one of my best friends, who was black. He couldn’t believe the ferocity and intensity of the conflict, albeit the way it was portrayed in the film.
    Unfortunately, it seems, as goes America, so goes the world…at least fairly often. I have haven’t seen too many Irish-Americans on fire with a love ar theanga fein…although my father is one of them.

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