Ken Wharton's new NI book: Another Bloody Chapter in an Endless Civil War: 1984-87

Fighting Two Wars: Guerrilla and Propaganda

‘Another Bloody Chapter in an Endless Civil War’ is Ken Wharton’s ninth book on the dreadful period of British history known as The Troubles. In his latest mammoth work on what has become a relentless personal odyssey, Ken chronicles the 1984-87 years: an historic era which encompassed the Shoot-to-kill enquiry, the Brighton bomb which almost killed Thatcher, and the Enniskillen Remembrance Day massacre that murdered scores of innocent civilians and wiped out Irish-American support for the IRA. It was a time when the IRA’s ‘cultural genocide’ and 'war against the state' policy first began to falter, and the British government launched a new ‘get tough, turn and corrupt’ strategy, that saw much of the top IRA/Sinn Fein leadership become informants to the British state, as they warred for position in their own party and the financial fruits that a looming peace process would bring. In desperate response and in a state of panic at what was to come, the Loyalist side simply descended into a state of pure gangsterism and psychopathic murder, collapsing into drug feuds and reducing themselves to spiriting random innocents away for despatch and torture, on spurious grounds of religion and offence. And as always, their tit-for-tat brutality was matched by the IRA.

Ken has a ferocious determination that history will not be rewritten and that the truth will be told, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the ruling classes of terrorist apologists feel. Focussing on the two groups of people caught in the middle of the Republican/Loyalist War – the professional soldiers and the innocent civilians – he chronicles in heart wrenching detail every single death at the terrorists’ hands. The constant murder and mayhem of a never-ending stream of ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘defenders’ is hard to stomach. I had difficulty absorbing it as it’s gut-wrenching in the extreme and I struggle to comprehend that the men responsible for such crimes now hold high office and masquerade as peacemakers; a peace built on rivers of blood and diabolical strategy. The IRA adopted a no-limits policy of spreading total-terror against its own people and anyone remotely connected to ‘the state’ or ‘crown forces of oppression’; and in response the UVF set up an identical strategy against all ‘Papal, Catholic and Republican’ peoples.

Certain scenes stay with me: the many ex-UDR men or retired policemen who were slaughtered in front of their own families, dying on their own doorsteps in the arms of weeping wives; or when it all goes wrong and the bumbling assassin shoots the daughter instead and she dies in her father’s arms; and when the UVF heavy-mob abduct an innocent Catholic from his workplace and lead him away to a torturous end; or when UFF hitmen gun down a Catholic chef in front of his family as he packs the car for summer hols in Spain, his final words on this planet, ‘Oh God, oh no.’, as his watching children weep. But the one that really cuts deep was the tale of a young Royal Green Jacket who’d just got the news that his wife was pregnant and was swinging from the stairwells in joy; an hour later he was on patrol and a sniper shot him. An Army Air Corps pilot attempted a heroic rescue and in a scene worthy of a Hollywood movie that had soldiers gasping, swooped down in the middle of a narrow busy street, dropped his Lynx on the road and airlifted the stricken Rifleman to hospital. But there was no happy ending and he died mid-flight. So many tales of evil and slaughter, so many tales of heroism and decency in return; the contrast is stark.

Ken delves very deeply into the politics of the time and one is left with an uncomfortable sense of collusion and that certain leading figures were given a free-pass to direct events without fear of arrest, as they were deemed the least worst option. You get the feeling that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness were at times protected by UK security forces and left in place, deemed untouchable, useful for gathering intelligence and being groomed for future leadership. As for Messrs Adams and McGuiness one is left with a deeply disturbing sense of admiration for their ruthlessness and cunning. Both men display extreme Machiavellian traits that serve what they see as an admirable goal: the unification of Ireland and the expulsion of all Crown forces. But where my admiration stops is in the way they went about it, in adopting a no-limits strategy that did far more harm to their own people than UK PLC ever could. It is almost as if both men have decided to sell their souls to the devil, in the pursuit of a united Ireland. No doubt they would see it as some sort of noble self-sacrifice that was worth it, but the end doesn’t justify the means and their attitude to friendly ‘collateral damage’ makes even the most extreme right-winger look like a saint.

‘Another Bloody Chapter’ is a book about two wars – Guerrilla and Propaganda – fought against professional soldiers and innocent civilians by a ruthless and psychopathic enemy. The IRA observed no rules of engagement whatsoever and glorified in the kidnap and bombing of civilians as much as it did in the murder of troops. And yet they bleated like spoiled children about ‘human rights’ when bested in honest combat or caught with blood on their own hands. In the immortal words of Ken Wharton himself: ‘Shoot to kill? Hell, so what? It was shoot to survive!’

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