Sunday, March 12, 2006

Economical with the truth

As we've said before, we like reading the obituaries. If nothing else, it's a crash course in history. Hence it was with great interest that we started an obit in the Times of London that was headed as follows:

John Wilson
February 24, 1927 - February 5, 2006

Commander of Special Branch who acted defiantly in the face of Irish terrorism

Read the whole thing, and you won't be any the wiser as to what specifically he did, despite the presence of many tantalising hints. It seems that his positions were with Scotland Yard Special Branch as opposed to RUC Special Branch:

By the time Wilson retired in 1983 he was credited with reviving Special Branch’s almost defunct Irish squad to meet the new challenge and had briefed every prime minister and home secretary from the Government of Harold Wilson to that of Margaret Thatcher.

He improved relations across the Irish border cementing essential relationships with the Garda Siochana and persuading Irish police officers that terrorists were a mutual enemy whatever their background ...

In 1976 he became chief superintendent in Special Branch liaising with other departments of the Met, UK police forces, the RUC, Garda Siochana and the Cabinet Office ... In 1974 he received a Commissioner’s Commendation for his “ability and devotion to duty” leading to the conviction of the Belfast Ten who had attacked the Old Bailey and Scotland Yard. He was also commended by the judge at their trial.

The reference to the Belfast Ten is as close as it comes to specifics on what he did. This leads into an interesting strand of Irish Republican politics, because the Belfast Ten spawned a precursor to the 1981 H-block hunger strikes; two IRA men who joined their hunger strike (to press their demands for political prisoner status and the right to serve their sentences in Northern Ireland) died -- Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan.

Furthermore, the British strategy at this time was to force feed hunger strikers, but the resulting public relations disaster led them to drop it, setting the stage for the later disaster with the H-block hunger strikes. Most depressingly, the Pentagon's pre-Magna Carta detention centre at Guantanamo Bay is still at the force-feeding stage, suggesting that the Pentagon has done not even minimal research on possible historical parallels with their current activities.

A note about the links in this post: there are they for your convenience; weigh the information and any political leanings as you see fit. 1970s Irish history is surprisingly poorly documented on the web, so we take the view that more information is better than less even if the politics differs from our own.

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