You’ve probably seen the photograph of masked IRA men, complete with replica weapons, who were part of a historical tour of Derry. If so, you have at least one thing in common with Gregory Campbell, who is reported as saying “I see them as seeking to glorify and sanitise IRA violence. I believe they will convey to children that it is OK to join a paramilitary group when that is most certainly not the case.”
Fair enough. It’s possible that impressionable young people might see these figures and think “That looks like glorious stuff. I must see if I can join a paramilitary group.” Which would be regrettable.
But then again, there are so many regrettable things in life. When I was a child, walking from Omagh Christian Brothers to my home a mile out the Derry Road, I used to pass the British army camp. Outside it there were cheerful posters which urged me to “Join the Army and See the World”. This was the early 1950s, when the British army raped and sexually abused Kenyan women. When they imprisoned Kenyan men who were flogged, worked to death, starved and murdered. But it was a nice poster and the soldier smiling down at me looked like a nice young man.
And the 1950s and 1960s saw the British army engaged in ferocious violence in Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan, Malaysia, Uganda – the list is almost endless.
Except we say that the direct encouragement of young men to join the British army was so that they could help carry out ‘good’ violence, then this sort of encouragement was clearly more direct than the historical re-enactment.
The other complaint I’d have is that the historical re-enactment included the Siege of Derry in the seventeenth century, the origins of the Fountain area, the 1920 riots and a 1943 IRA jail escape. If they had presented these and ignored the history of Derry in the 1970s and 1980s, it would have been a selective and censored version of history.
A final thought. Isn’t there something called the Twelfth celebrations? That recalls the Battle of the Boyne in which thousands were killed. The Orange Order was founded on the Battle of the Diamond, in which some thirty Catholics died. Yet every year we have thousands of marches commemorating with pride those violent events.
So I think it’s important that we’re consistent in these things. If we think that the re-enactment or the depiction or celebration of military violence is a bad thing, then we should be critical of all historical re-enactments or ceremonies honouring those who were enaged in that violence.