Saturday, 3 December 2011
Loughgall and moral justification
History, they say, is written by the winners. If that is true, then republicans appear to have lost. If Liam Clarke is right and if the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report next month that the 8-man IRA unit in Loughgall in 1987 fired first on the 24-man SAS team lying in wait for them.
Which is a fair few ifs, but Clarke seems very confident that his source has spilled the beans accurately. The concern over who fired first puzzled me a little at first, but now I gather it means that the SAS were justified in firing back and killing the eight men. The ninth dead man was, of course, an unfortunate accident.
This particular incident from the Troubles brings a number of matters swirling to the surface and not all of them are nice to look at. One is the view that the IRA men got what was coming to them - that they had been sent, as one judge put it on one occasion, to the ultimate court of judgment. This is usually said in a fairly measured way but it's hard not to think there's a bit of hand-rubbing and fist-pumping behind the scenes. You want war? We'll give you war.
Another point that strikes me is the reasoning behind the moral view that since the IRA fired first, the SAS were justified in returning fire. Mmm. Sounds reasonable. Only then I think of a term that's used frequently of Israel in relation to the Palestinians - "disproportionate response". The SAS fired over 600 rounds at Loughgall, the IRA men 70. Do the math, as the Yanks say. Would it be possible that the SAS were intent on putting a metaphorical horse's head into the bed of those who thought they could take on British forces?
The final point worth mentioning might be that, for better or worse, if the HET reports that the IRA men opened fire first, it won't make a blind bit of difference to the response of most people to the event. The hand-rubbers will feel even more satisfied that time and expense wasn't wasted arresting the men and putting them through the courts. Republicans and nationalists will continue to believe that the SAS lay in wait and when they had the IRA men in their sites, opened fire and didn't stop until all of them were dead. Many of them will see the HET as discredited.
Ultimately, maybe, it doesn't matter who opened fire: the eight men are still dead. The one question that itches at the back of my brain for an answer is this: if the IRA men hadn't fired first, what would the SAS have done?