Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Category: killing

Martin McGuinness RIP

A short version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 30 2017.

The world watched in horror as Khalid Masood drove a car into tourists and innocent bystanders at Westminster on March 24, 2017. At the funeral of Martin McGuinness on March 23 Gerry Adams described McGuinness, who died on March 21, as a “freedom fighter” rather than a terrorist. There has always been much talk by the Provisional IRA of “the armed struggle”. Unfortunately, freedom fighting and armed struggle is usually not in brutal reality about facing up to the army of the enemy but about killing defenceless women and children as Khalid Masood did. The Reverend Harold Good OBE also spoke at McGuinness’s funeral.  “Our paths crossed many times and often he trod the path that came to our home and that is where you make friendship as you share your own fireside.”

Good by Name, Good by Nature

I first met the Reverend Harold Good (former President of the Methodist Union) in 1982 when I worked for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). Harold was a distinguished and effective member of SSAC and impressed me as someone who was good by nature as well as by name. Thirty-five years later we still communicate and Harold is a regular reader of this column. The two most detailed accounts of the complex dealings that took the Northern Ireland peace process to the Good Friday Agreement are by former Irish Times correspondent Deaglán de Bréadún, (The Far Side of History) and Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell (Great Hatred, Little Room). Harold has always refused to discuss his role but both books mention him and it is a matter of recorded history that it was Harold who made the formal announcement that the Provisional IRA had decommissioned their arms, effectively saying the war was over.

2008 Peace Award & Annual Lecture – Harold Good & Alec Reid

Harold has strong credentials as a man of peace so I was somewhat surprised at his response when I asked him what he thought of Martin McGuinness standing for election as the president of the Republic of Ireland. “If elected he would be a circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike president.” He also said that he was proud to call McGuinness his friend. Edward Daly, the Bishop of Derry, once said of the teetotal, non-smoking McGuinness: “He is an exemplary man, honest and upright. My only quarrel is the legitimacy and morality of using violence for political purposes.”


Are these respected Christian churchmen talking about the same man who committed or organised many appalling atrocities? Some still regard him primarily as a key figure in the terrorist group that killed almost 1,800 people. McGuinness was the IRA’s chief of staff from 1979 to 1982 and ran the paramilitary movement when Lord Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers were killed on the same day. He was accused of approving proxy bombings, such as the murder of army cook Patsy Gillespie. Hostages were forced to drive car bombs, ­detonated before they could escape. This seems even worse than the suicide bombing tactics of the Tigers. Benedict Kiely depicts this vividly in his novel Proxopera.

“Terrorists” or “freedom fighters” often use their capacity to intimidate to engage in similar activities to organised crime. In this respect, the provisional IRA were similar to the Tamil Tigers. While they were purportedly striving to reunite the six counties of Northern Ireland with the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, the Provisional IRA were also building up a criminal empire. While this might have begun as a means of financing the republican struggle, crime seemed to become an end in itself. The profits of crime might have been a reason for prolonging the conflict. The IRA established links with organized crime in the same areas of the Costa del Sol where many of Dublin’s top “ordinary” criminals, the “Murphia”, lived. The Murphia became the wholesale middlemen and women who supplied parts of the UK drugs markets after developing links with their British counterparts.

A Life

James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, the second of seven children, was born into a Catholic family in the Catholic Bogside area of Derry on May 23, 1950. he grew up in a city where the minority Protestants controlled the council, its housing and most of the jobs. After leaving a Christian Brothers’ technical college at 15, he was turned down for a job as a car mechanic because he was a Catholic, and became a butcher’s assistant. In 1968 he became a violent activist, after seeing images of Gerry Fitt, the Catholic MP for West Belfast, drenched in blood as the RUC baton-charged a civil rights march. The IRA was re-arming, and by the end of 1970 McGuinness had joined the newly formed Provisional IRA.

Within months he was deputy commander of the IRA’s Derry Brigade. More than 100 people died in political violence in Derry between 1971 and 1973, and McGuinness later justified his role in it by saying “a little boy from the Catholic Bogside was no more culpable than a little black boy from Soweto”.


At only 22, McGuinness was part of a seven-man delegation sent in July 1972 to a secret London meeting with Home Secretary William Whitelaw. He was Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator with John Major’s government in 1995 and with Tony Blair’s from 1997. As Jonathan Powell puts it: “He played a crucial role, risking his life in doing so, to bring about peace in Northern Ireland. And in those negotiations, he was always warm and friendly.” Powell believes that McGuinness’s role after the peace agreement was even more important: “Even more remarkably than making peace, McGuinness made peace work in Northern Ireland as deputy first minister, sharing power with his sworn enemy, the Unionist firebrand, Ian Paisley.” Kyle Paisley, son of the Reverend Iain Paisley, tweeted: “Look back with pleasure on the remarkable year he and my father… spent in office together and the great good they did together …Will never forget his ongoing care for my father in his ill health.”


I was a Catholic teenager in the 1960s surrounded by Protestants. Luckily for me I was in Gloucester rather than Derry. I did not feel discriminated against in any way. In fact, I felt a little bit exotic. At Sir Thomas Rich’s Grammar School I was excused attendance at prayers but never singled out as inferior. My teachers took great interest in cultivating my talents. If I had been in Derry how would I have reacted to the frustrations of being a second-class citizen with avenues of opportunity blocked off by prejudice and gerrymandering? Would I have taken to violence? I do not think that I would, but who am I to judge Martin McGuinness for doing so?

McGuinness’s only conviction for terrorist activity was for possession of weapons and explosives in the Republic of Ireland’s Special Criminal Court in 1973.

One former senior security source said: “As chief of staff of the organisation for a long period of time he was responsible for its strategic direction and the tempo of its operational activities, so he clearly bore a lot of responsibility for what happened on his watch.” Several well-placed security sources agree that Martin McGuinness would have had advanced knowledge of virtually every Provisional IRA attack in  Derry after he was appointed chief of staff. “The bottom line is that nothing happened in Derry without Martin knowing about it …if he didn’t object, the attack went ahead. If he objected, it didn’t. It was that simple, he had a veto.”

Norman Tebbitt, whose wife was severely disabled by the Brighton bombing said: “”The world is now a sweeter and cleaner place. He was a coward. The reason he suddenly became a man of peace, was that he was desperately afraid that he was going to be arrested and charged with a number of murders.”

Brighton bomb victim Norman Tebbit lifted from the ruins of the Grand Hotel (Britain’s Trade and Industry Minister)1984. The bomb caused extensive damage and two deaths. 

A former senior security source said that over the years McGuinness had transformed from one its most militant leaders to a restraining influence. There have been claims that he was in fact a spy working for the British.


My Facebook friend Ann Travers is in no mood to join in the praise for McGuinness. “It’s a shame that even when he knew he was gravely ill, Mr McGuinness couldn’t have taken the opportunity to reach out to those people — even by dictating letters — to help them get the information that they need. Now he’s brought it to the grave with him.”

Colin Parry whose 12-year-old son, Tim, was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993 said he first met McGuinness in 2002 when he came to Warrington as Northern Ireland Minister for Education. “I don’t forgive Martin, I don’t forgive the IRA, neither does my wife and neither do my children,” he told the BBC. “Setting aside forgiveness, I found Martin McGuinness an easy man to talk to and a man I found sincere in his desire for peace and maintaining the Peace Process at any cost. “He deserves great credit for his most recent life.”

Mairia Cahill, who was raped by an IRA man, writes: “Forgive me for pointing out, when people say he moved away from his past, that he was still in the very recent past deploying some nimble footwork to make it look like he was somewhat sympathetic to the victim, while still covering for the IRA. Old habits die hard.” She recalls the terrifying look of cold anger in McGuinness’s eyes when she called him Art Garfunkel.

Marty Maggs and Sri Lanka

McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness criticized the EU for banning the Tamil Tigers as a Terrorist Organization. He said, “it was a huge mistake for EU leaders to demonize the LTTE and the political leaders of the Tamil people.” He may have meant well, but he was over-optimistic in seeing parallels with the Irish situation. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”. In Sri Lanka, there was a military victory over brutal terrorists who steadfastly refused to compromise or accommodate. If Sri Lanka had followed McGuinness’s advice, we would still be suffering from the atrocities of the LTTE. Iain Paisley Jr has often visited Sri Lanka and said in the  House of Commons: “In many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.”

Constructive ambiguity

The nationalists in Northern Ireland could say that their struggle had entered a new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. David Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and John Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Gerry Adams’s Sinn Féin. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable naysayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.


After McGuinness

Many high-profile political figures attended the funeral. The Republic of Ireland’s Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire and former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, Alistair Campbell. John Hume, the former leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party whose health was broken by his efforts for peace and who is rarely seen in public these days was there. Folk singer Christy Moore sang the final song – the Time has Come – at the graveside.

Arlene Foster, leader of the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party was applauded in the Catholic church of St Columba and she shook hands with Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill.

Bill Clinton was there and in his address said McGuinness “expanded the definition of ‘us’ and shrank the definition of ‘them’”.

Khalid Masood lived in a hate-filled world of them and us. Theresa May rejected rejected Masood’s world view but Brexit means the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. A majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Sinn Féin has been presented with an opportunity to campaign for a united Ireland within the EU. They may do so peacefully. There are others who are still ready to resort to violence.



Deadly Accountancy Part 1

Thirty Years’ War

Once upon a time,  there was a war that lasted thirty years. The causes of the conflict were complex, its conduct brutal, its outcome murky. Divisions continued long after the war’s end. A mass grave was found recently which was thought to date back to the thirty year conflict. There is no definitive account of how many were killed in those thirty years. Vast areas were denuded by the foraging armies. Famine and disease significantly decreased the population. So great was the devastation brought about by the war that estimates put the reduction of population from between 25% to 40%.

A distinguished historian still living today, Norman Davies, in his book Europe,[i] gives a figure of eight million. R.J. Rummel, who has invented his own discipline and called it democide studies,  avers that there were 11.5 million total deaths in the war.[ii]

Notice the wide margin there between 25% or 40%. After all this time no-one is really sure how many died. In 1648, the Thirty Years War ended. In her brilliant book[iii] on the subject, CV Wedgwood wrote of those times: “The outlook even of the educated was harsh. Underneath a veneer of courtesy, manners were primitive; drunkenness and cruelty were common in all classes, judges were more often severe than just, civil authority more often brutal than effective, and charity came limping far behind the needs of the people. Discomfort was too natural to provoke comment; winter’s cold and summer’s heat found European man lamentably unprepared, his houses too damp and draughty for the one, too airless for the other. Prince and beggar alike were inured to the stink of decaying offal in the streets, of foul drainage about the houses, to the sight of carrion birds picking over public refuse dumps or rotting bodies swinging on the gibbets. On the road from Dresden to Prague a traveller counted ‘above seven score gallowses and wheels, where thieves were hanged, some fresh and some half rotten, and the carcasses of murderers broken limb after limb on the wheels’”.

Wedgewood was writing in 1938 before the World War Two  conflagration:

“The old legend that the population dropped from sixteen to four million people, rests on imagination: both figures are incorrect. The German Empire, including Alsace but excluding the Netherlands and Bohemia, probably numbered about twenty-one millions in 1618, and rather less than thirteen and a half million in 1648. [A loss of 7½ million.] Certain authorities believe that the loss was less, but these are for the most part writers of a militaristic epoch, anxious to destroy the ugly scarecrow which throws  so long a shadow over the glorious past.”

Genocide in Ireland?

While the Thirty Years’ War was still in full swing, Cromwell was killing rather a lot of Irish people. [iv] The fifty years from 1641 to 1691 saw two catastrophic periods of civil war in Ireland  which killed hundreds of thousands of people and left others in permanent exile. The wars, which pitted Irish Catholics against British forces and Protestant settlers, ended in the almost complete dispossession of the Catholic landed elite. The Plantations had a profound impact on Ireland in several ways. The native ruling classes were destroyed and replaced by the Protestant Ascendancy.

Cromwell has his defenders among modern historians (Cromwell- An Honourable Enemy by Tom Reilly, Philip Graham McKeiver, A New History of Cromwell’s Irish Campaign;  Rewriting Cromwell: A Case of Deafening Silences, by historian and President of the Cromwell Association, Professor John Morrill).  God’s Executioner by Mícheál Ó Siochrú, is a forceful restatement of the case for the prosecution. The 1649-53 campaign remains notorious in Irish popular memory as it was responsible for a huge death toll among the Irish population (possibly 40%). The reason for this was the counter-guerrilla tactics used such as the wholesale burning of crops, forced population movement (ethnic cleansing) and killing of civilians. In addition, the whole post-war Cromwellian settlement of Ireland has been characterized as “genocidal”, in that it sought to remove Irish Catholics from the eastern part of the country.

The repercussions of the Tudor and Cromwellian settlements can be seen in Northern Ireland. In that thirty year war “only” 3,000 were killed, the same number that died on  one day,  September 11 2001, in New York. Each individual who died in the Northern Ireland Troubles had a mother who mourned. A book[v] was published in 1999 which told the story of those individuals. Over a seven-year period, the authors examined every death which was directly caused by the Troubles. They interviewed  witnesses, scoured published material, and drew  on a range of investigative sources. All the casualties are remembered—the RUC officer, the young soldier, the IRA volunteer, the loyalist paramilitary, the Catholic mother, the Protestant worker, and the new-born baby. Peter Taylor, himself an authority on the Troubles, describes the book as “ painful, illuminating, desperately moving and sad”.

Some have seen the 19th century famine as genocide. Broadcaster and historian Robert Kee suggested  that the Irish Famine of 1845 is “comparable” in its force on “popular national consciousness to that of the ‘final solution’ on the Jews,” and that it is not “infrequently” thought that the Famine was something very like, “a form of genocide engineered by the English against the Irish people.” AJP Taylor, the English historian, said that the Famine made Ireland a Belsen.[vi] Other historians ridiculed him.

Ireland’s population fell by as much as 25%.  One  million people died of starvation and typhus. A  million more emigrated. Millions emigrated over following decades. Some 2.6 million Irish entered overcrowded workhouses, where more than 200,000 people died.

The 1911 Census showed that the island of Ireland’s population had fallen to 4.4 million, about half of its peak population. The population of Ireland has never got back to pre-famine levels.

Liam Kennedy, emeritus professor of economic history at Queen’s University Belfast does not class the famine as genocide. [vii]

American Civil War

The American Civil War ended in 1865. The number of dead has never been definitively determined. J. David Hacker, [viii]a demographic historian, has recalculated the death toll of the conflict, and increased it by more than 20%.  He  estimates  the number of dead as up to 850,000 – which Hacker says  means the social impact is about 37,000 more widows, and 90,000 more orphans than previous  estimates.

20th Century World Wars

What about those more recent wars started in Europe? Estimates of casualty numbers for World War One  vary to a great extent; estimates of total deaths range from 9 million to over 15 million. Michael Clodfelter maintains that “The generally accepted figure of non-combatant deaths is 6.5 million”.[ix]

There is more certainty about the number who died in the firebombing of Dresden by the Allies. Most of the dead succumbed to suffocation; in only four places were recovered remains so badly burned that it proved impossible to ascertain the number of victims. Seeking to establish a definitive casualty figure—in part to address exploitation  of the bombing by far-right groups—an independent investigation conducted in 2010 on behalf of the Dresden city council stated that a maximum of 25,000 people were killed, of which 20,100 are known by name. According to an official German report Tagesbefehl (Order of the Day) no. 47 (“TB47”) issued on 22 March 1945, the number of dead recovered by that date was 20,204, including 6,865 who were cremated on the Altmarkt square, and the total number of deaths was expected to be about 25,000. Another report on 3 April put the number of corpses recovered at 22,096. Three municipal and 17 rural cemeteries outside Dresden recorded up to 30 April 1945 a total of at least 21,895 buried bodies of the Dresden raids, including those cremated on the Altmarkt.

World War Two  fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total dead ranging from 50 million to over 70 million. Some nations suffered disproportionally more casualties than others. This is especially true regarding civilian casualties. The debate among historians continues today, 68 years after the end of the war. Civilian casualties include deaths caused by bombing,  the Holocaust, war crimes, population transfers and deaths due to war-related famine and disease. Conflict epidemiology,  estimating the numbers of deaths during violent conflicts, is a controversial subject.

The USA is the only nation to unleash atomic bombs. It dropped them on civilian populations. The real death toll  will never be known. The destruction and overwhelming chaos made orderly counting impossible. The number of total casualties has been estimated at various times since the bombings with wide discrepancies. The Manhattan Engineer District’s best available figures for Hiroshima and Nagasaki together are 199,000.[x]


How many Vietnamese civilians were killed during the American war? The Twentieth Century Atlas gives a lengthy list of different views on this. [xi]The government of Vietnam has officially estimated the dead at three million, including two million civilians.

Investigative reporter Nick Turse recently published Kill Anything That Moves, a history of U.S. atrocities during the Vietnam War[xii] . His title comes from the orders issued by Captain Ernest Medina before an attack in March 1968 on a Vietnamese village known as My Lai.

“Are we supposed to kill women and children?” one of his men asked.

“Kill everything that moves,” the captain replied.

The US  Army made no attempt to keep a running tally but after the war the Pentagon guessed the total might be 195,000. A Senate committee in 1975 suggested 415,000. A study in 2008 by health professionals at Harvard and the University of Washington thought the number of Vietnamese dead, soldiers and civilians alike, was around 3.8 million.

Success in battle was measured by  a high body count, which helped officers get promoted and soldiers get leave. Turse recounts the spread of a body-count culture that accepted any body for the count—if it’s Vietnamese and it’s dead, the saying went, it’s a Vietcong. One six-month-long operation called Speedy Express resulted in tens of thousands of confirmed kills in the Mekong Delta, many in “battles” where the kill ratio climbed steadily—twenty-four to one in December 1968, sixty-eight to one in March 1969, 134 to one in April—sure sign the dead were mainly unarmed, which meant they were mainly civilian


Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million.

Once again, different people give different figures. Craig Etcheson[xiii] of the Documentation Center of Cambodia who spent five years  researching 20,000 grave sites, suggests a “most likely” figure of 2.2 million. A UN investigation reported two to three million dead, while UNICEF estimated three  million had been killed. Demographic analysis by Patrick Heuveline[xiv] suggests that between 1.17 and 3.42 million Cambodians were killed, while Marek Sliwinski suggests that 1.8 million is a conservative figure. Even the Khmer Rouge acknowledged that 2 million had been killed—though they attributed those deaths to a subsequent Vietnamese invasion.

In his book Sideshow, William Shawcross maintains that Nixon and Kissinger’s secret  bombing of Cambodia not only spread the conflict, but led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent massacre of a third of Cambodia’s population.[xv]


Possible estimates of  the number of people killed in the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq vary widely,and are highly disputed. [xvi] As of December 2012, the Iraq Body Count has recorded 110,937-121,227 civilian deaths. The IBC has a media-centred approach to counting and documenting the deaths. Other sources have provided differing estimates of deaths, some much higher. The Lancet did a cluster survey in 2004[xvii] which was not popular in the USA as its results were published just before a presidential election. “Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths. We have shown that collection of public-health information is possible even during periods of extreme violence. Our results need further verification and should lead to changes to reduce non-combatant deaths from air strikes.” Writing in the Lancet, in March 2013, Frederick Burkle and Richard Garfield said: “lost opportunities, plus the burgeoning insurgency and the scarcity of security services, directly contributed to the chaotic conditions that helped plunge Iraq into an acute-on-chronic public health emergency, which it still remains in today”. [xviii]

“A historical view of the war in Iraq is essential to the understanding of the internecine controversies that arose about the validity of mortality studies, and the political pressures that influenced their interpretation to the world”.


“You know we don’t do body counts.” General Tommy Franks was quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle, 23 March 2002.[xix]

Simon Rogers in The Guardian tries to collate the information available.[xx] Rogers comments: “Obviously, collecting accurate statistics in one of the most dangerous countries in the world is difficult. But the paucity of reliable data on this means that one of the key measures of the war has been missing from almost all reporting”.

UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) investigates reports of civilian casualties by conducting on-site investigations wherever possible and consulting a broad range of sources and types of information that are evaluated for their credibility and reliability.[xxi]UNAMA estimates that Over the past six years, 14, 728 Afghan civilians have lost their lives in the armed conflict.


Pakistan: Total US strikes: 368
Obama strikes: 316
Total reported killed: 2,545-3,533
Civilians reported killed: 411-884
Children reported killed: 168-197
Total reported injured: 1,176-1,472


Yemen: Confirmed US drone strikes: 43-53

Total reported killed: 228-328
Civilians reported killed: 12-45
Children reported killed: 2
Reported injured: 62-144

Possible extra US drone strikes: 77-95

Total reported killed: 277-443
Civilians reported killed: 23-49
Children reported killed: 9-10
Reported injured: 73-94

All other US covert operations: 12-76

Total reported killed: 148-366
Civilians reported killed: 60-87
Children reported killed: 25
Reported injured: 22-111

Somalia: US drone strikes: 3-9

Total reported killed: 7-27
Civilians reported killed: 0-15
Children reported killed: 0

All other US covert operations: 7-14

Total reported killed: 51-143
Civilians reported killed: 11-42
Children reported killed: 1-3
Reported injured: 15-20 [xxii]


Tamil Eelam War IV

I have been reading a discussion paper which deals with the matter of calculating how many civilians died at the end of Eelam War IV.

While reading the paper, a number of thoughts  came to my mind:

·         The war was undoubtedly brutal, but wars generally are;

·         The Sri Lankan government would be in a better PR position if it  could have its own figure with which to enter discussions. However, it is not so unreasonable to be lacking such a figure four years after the events when figures for older conflicts are still a matter of dispute;

·         The Sri Lankan government was rightly ridiculed for saying there were zero civilian casualties. This seems less ridiculous when the USA refuses point blank to give casualty figures;

·         The “international community”, led by USA and UK, are accusing Sri Lanka of war crimes, seemingly blasé about what they did themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Vietnam, Cambodia, Ireland, Cyprus, Kenya etc.)

Coincidentally, while I was preparing my review of the discussion paper I got involved in a conversation with Dr Dayan Jayatilleke, former Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN in Geneva and subsequently to France, about the concept of “ethical violence”.

[i] ·  Europe: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1996. ISBN 0-19-820171-0

[iii] The Thirty Years War (1938; new edition 1957) Now available in paperback from New York Review of Books Classics

[v] Lost Lives by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeley and Chris Thornton

[vi] Politics in Wartime and Other Essays by A.J.P. Taylor Athenaeum, 1965 207 pp., $5.00

[ix] ·  ^ Clodfelter, Michael (2002). Warfare and Armed Conflicts- A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1500–2000 2nd Ed.. ISBN 978-0-7864-1204-4. Page 479

[xii] Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse Metropolitan, 370 pp., $30.00

[xiv] Heuveline, Patrick (2001). “The Demographic Analysis of Mortality in Cambodia.” In Forced Migration and Mortality, eds. Holly E. Reed and Charles B. Keely. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

[xv] Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia, William Shawcross.





What rough beast slouches to the couch?

Events in Norway prompted me to look again at this piece which I wrote some time ago and have revised several times. I was living in rural Ireland, surrounded by farmers and their livestock, when I wrote some of the poem. The rest was written in rural Sri Lanka living next door to a family of Muslim butchers. I do not mention their religion as an easy shot at Muslims. In Sri Lanka, other religions are pious about slaughtering but still eat meat. Muslims have traditionally been the livestock rearers and slaughterers.

Why is it OK to kill some animals and not others? Why is it OK to eat some animals and not others? Why is it OK to kill some humans and not others? Jews and Muslims can’t eat pig. Hindus won’t eat beef (Buddhists don’t care to either). When I was in Peru I ate guinea pig. In Lewisham, Tesco’s shelves stocked Ostrich burgers and Kangaroo steaks. A Turkish supermarket sold sheep’s testicles. We sometimes note that our pet cat is fattening up to make a nice roast for Christmas but decide this is not a renewable resource – you can’t have your cat and eat it.

The Victorians were into taxonomy in a big way. Frank Buckland, one of the most celebrated popular naturalists of the Victorian era, was ecumenical in his zoophagous appetites. Buckland was a man who did not hesitate to dine on rodents, crocodile, rhinoceros and giraffe.

Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.

Virgil – Aeneid

These are the tears of things and our mortality cuts to the heart.

A Poem about Killing

Here is a poem about exploiting sentient beings for profit, pleasure or political cause. It is about objectification of other beings in order to be able to torture them and kill them. It is about killing by remote control. The blood and the bone do not signify if they belong to “the other” or if they are far away. Put the victim in a different category – species or ethnic group or religion- and the killing is easier to justify in the killer’s psyche.







Rural life is, like some farmers, nasty,

Brutish and short. Red in tooth and claw

Is what nature is. Scattered all across the vasty

Fields, dead lambs and sheep are nibbled and gnawed

By crows and worms and silphidae.

These carrion lovers are blameless, driven by need

And karma, but how did the sheep come to die?

Not the fox. Was it disease, exposure lack of feed?



Whatever, the farmers’ unawareness seems a sin,

A mindlessness of the sanctity of life.

These sentient beasts are a commodity to skin,

Dismember and freeze. No matter if they die without a knife

There will be more to come on the production line.

Sheep, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens and kine

Are all grist to the EU subsidy mill,

Entries bent to an accountant’s skill.



Two rascally lambs frequently escape together

And come through our garden hedge. No bother.

More problem when the garden is crammed

Like a commuter train, jointed and jammed

With big sheep who trample and chew,

An ovine plague of rams and ewes

With staunch purpose. Shouting and waving a cane,

Like Betsy Trotwood, I chase them away again



A scruffy crowd gathers at the far end of the acre every day.

Skinny and horned, they wheeze, cough and choke.

They sit and stare and chew the fat and the hay

As if they’re down the pub for a pint and a smoke.



Gates are mainly theoretical here. Along the lanes

Cows and bullocks wander freely like the sacred beasts

Of India. Even could you find the owner, useless to complain.

“Ah, they’re desperate cunts all right”, is all the farmer says.

We promise the cows that, come what may, we at least,

Won’t eat them. Their soft intelligent eyes fix us with a gaze.

“Small comfort to us”, they must think.


Mary had a little lamb-

The farmer’s daughter had a pet

Sheep. What happened to it?

“We ate it”.



In the Black Museum at New Scotland Yard

I saw the very gas oven and hobs

Where Nielsen in total disregard

Of normal culinary thingamabobs

Boiled up his victim’s heads in a stockpot

After ramming the remains of the remains

Of those he had garrotted

Down the inadequate drains.


After a repast of succulent roast lamb

The overflowing sink drenched my sock

In greasy water. Trying to locate the jam,

I unscrewed the U-bend and got quite a shock

As slimy lumps of white lamb lard

Slithered down my neck, cold and hard.


My old alma mater is now mostly car park.

School House, rickety death trap in the sixties

Surprisingly still shakily stands,

I walk through the empty site my feet treading

What was once the chemistry lab

Where I sweated cold in ignorant panic.

This is a short cut to the park

And Spa Road, past the corner shop

Where we bought ice cream

And idled away summer lunch breaks.


Another rickety old house, boarded up,

No longer in use. A literal death trap.

In a street named for the butcher of the Irish.

Number 25 Cromwell Street.


The local police often dropped in

For a drink and a laugh with Fred,

A good old boy from the forest of Dean,

Or to pleasure themselves with Rosemary.

Or with the waifs?

Like lambs to the slaughter. Innocent

Sentient beings. Anonymous.


By family.


By friends,


By documents

Free of identity

Used for pleasure

Butchered for convenience




The “purveyor of fine meats”

Is “pleased to meet you,

And has meat to please you”.

An ultra-violet insect repeller hums

And gives out a purple glow

Like an undertaker’s neon sign.

A bluebottle settles with a cyclorrhaphous

Languor on a lamb carcass.

Among dripping cadavers of cows

And smaller pieces of mutilated animals

The butcher tuts and whistles

Through the gap in his teeth

As he reads in his news paper

Of carnage and mayhem in Ireland.

A literal shambles

Of children and pregnant women.




At the beef stall in Badulla market

Huge screeching crows make skidding

Scraping landings on the rusty,

Lacy corrugated iron roof,

Clattering, shrieking, swooping,

Scooping up bloody scraps of offal.


The butchers unload the slaughterhouse

Van using huge bovine rib-cages

To carry the other cuts.


People hand over small amounts

Of money

For small amounts

Of unrecognisable body parts.


No part of a cow is too trivial

To be sold and cooked and eaten.

Hairy matter that cannot be named

Or explained,

Hangs in folds and pleats and sheets

Like curtains in a horror house.

Disembodied ankles and hooves

Are lined up in neat rows

As shoes outside a hotel room door.


Bad tempered live chickens strut


About on strings, necks twitching,

Unaware that they

Are comestible commodities.

A man stands calm like a statue

With a live chicken under each arm.


Feral cats forage among the giblets and plastic bags.


The Tamil Tigers blew up a bus

Full of schoolchildren.

Those who escaped from the bus were shot.

Now the war is over,

The bombs are silent

But a vanload of children

Exploded  in meat and blood

Because one driver

In this market economy

Cut his fares.



War and Terror, the War on Terror


“It has often been observed that war is exceptional in human experience for sanctioning the act of killing, the act that all nations regard in peacetime as ‘criminal’. This accurate observation acknowledges that the act  of killing, motivated by care ‘for the nation’, is a deconstruction of the state as it ordinarily manifests itself in the body. That is, he consents to perform (for the country) the act that would in peacetime expose his unpoliticalness and place him outside the moral space of the nation. What, in killing, he does is to wrench around his most fundamental sanctions about how within civilization (and this particular civilization, his country) another embodied person can be touched; he divests himself of civilization, decivilizes himself, reverses not just an ‘idea’ or ‘belief’ but a learned and deeply embodied set of physical impulses and gestures relating to any other person’s body. He undoes the learning in his body as radically as he would if he were suddenly required to abandon the  upright posture and move on four limbs as in his pre-civilized infancy. He consents to ‘unmake’ himself, deconstruct himself, empty himself of civil content  ‘for his country’…When during peacetime he gently touches his neighbor, or keeps a five-inch space between himself and an acquaintance encountered on the street, one can ‘see’ civilization inside the gestures and postures themselves, see it literally residing within him, as will be especially apparent if one then observes his restraint when he comes upon someone he deeply dislikes and avoids him rather than shattering him… Because his act of killing  does not itself contain civilization in its interior, the fact that it is being done for a particular civilization, the referent for his act, is re-established and carried by the appended  assertion (either verbalized or materialized as in the uniform), ‘for my country’.”

Elaine Scarry –  The Body in Pain

The Thirty Years War

In 1648, the Thirty Years War ended. CV Wedgwood wrote of those times: “The outlook even of the educated was harsh. Underneath a veneer of courtesy, manners were primitive; drunkenness and cruelty were common in all classes, judges were more often severe than just, civil authority more often brutal than effective, and charity came limping far behind the needs of the people. Discomfort was too natural to provoke comment; winter’s cold and summer’s heat found European man lamentably unprepared, his houses too damp and draughty for the one, too airless for the other. Prince and beggar alike were inured to the stink of decaying offal in the streets, of foul drainage about the houses, to the sight of carrion birds picking over public refuse dumps or rotting bodies swinging on the gibbets. On the road from Dresden to Prague a traveller counted ‘above seven score gallowses and wheels, where thieves were hanged, some fresh and some half rotten, and the carcasses of murderers broken limb after limb on the wheels’”.

Thirty Years of War in Sri Lanka

A thirty years war has ended in Sri Lanka. Perhaps 100,000 people died, many more were maimed or displaced or forced into poverty. The Tamil nationalists were fighting to detach the north and east from the rest of the country. The people of Sri Lanka are so relieved that there have been no terrorist incidents for over a year that they gave  an overwhelming mandate to President Rajapaksa. Even the political parties who called for a separate Tamil homeland have laid down their arms and promised to work for reconciliation. There are those, mainly living outside Sri Lanka, who  want the killing to resume in pursuit of the chimera of a separate Tamil nation in Sri Lanka. The USA and the UK criticize the way the war in Sri Lanka was won in spite of their own actions around the world.


In Ireland people fought to attach the north east to the rest of the island. I sat in a bar in Cork City. There was not a dry eye in the house as the TV news showed images of Omagh. On Saturday 15 August 1998, 29 people died and approximately 220 people were injured as a result of a car bombing carried out by the Real IRA. The victims included people from many different backgrounds. Among them were Protestants, Catholics, a Mormon, nine children, a woman pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists and other tourists on a day trip from across the border in the Republic of Ireland.

The 1,648 page-book, Lost Lives by a number of experienced Northern Ireland reporters is basically a compiled list of the victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles and gives the detail of their actual death, who they were, and what they were doing at the time. It lists 3,638 deaths from 1966 to 2000 directly attributable to ‘The Troubles’. It depicts them as individual human beings, blood and bone, with families and emotions, not just numbers.


April 19 2011, marked  the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Timothy J. McVeigh, a decorated army veteran, was executed on June 11, 2001.  David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University’s Law Centre, says that ‘terrorism’  is normally defined as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” There were only two suspects, which excludes it from being a conspiracy. The attack prompted a broadening of the definition. “If you can brand your foes as terrorists, that’s an important moral and political victory,” says Brian M. Jenkins, a terrorism expert.  “Bombs by their nature are indiscriminate weapons, and the issue is, why is it legitimate to drop a lot of bombs on a city, knowing full well that hundreds of thousands of innocents may be killed, but not legitimate to set off a bomb in a city in which scores may be killed?” The reaction to the Oklahoma bombing set in train a series of encroachments of freedom which led to the Bush regime’s use of torture so eloquently condemned in the writings of Professor Cole.

London Bombings

On 7 July 2005, 52 people were killed and 700 injured in co-coordinated terrorist bombings in London. Three bombs exploded within fifty seconds of each other on three underground trains. A fourth bomb exploded on a bus in Tavistock Square an hour later. The attack was by Muslim militants angry at Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq. 30% of the victims were foreign nationals.

Gulf Wars

One George W Bush served two terms as President of the United States. He avoided killing anyone personally during the Vietnam War by staying drunk in Texas pissing on people’s cars throughout the hostilities. Somewhat eccentrically, he sent a lot of other people’s children to invade Iraq because a group of Saudi Arabians living in Germany killed around 3,000 people in New York. The latest civilian body count from Iraq is 126,371.

Previous Gulf Wars and the bombing of Kosovo were carried out with few US casualties. This was war by remote control, like a video game.


President Obama continues to authorise the killing of civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003–2007 – edited by Shawn Christian Nessen, Dave Edmond Lounsbury, and Stephen P. Hetz, with a foreword by Bob Woodruff, Office of the Surgeon General/ Borden Institute.


The photos show wounds—”Figure 4. Fragment of human rib removed from right scrotum”; “Figure 1. Wound showing evisceration of the small intestine”—that have never been seen in this way before.

“This 28-year-old male sustained an injury to his right leg from a high-energy blast,” begins the chapter on below-the-knee amputation. “His clothing was saturated with blood. Removal of his combat boots revealed a significant, grossly contaminated, soft-tissue injury and a poorly perfused foot.” There are full-color photos of legs that have been smashed and feet that have been pulped, of flesh that does not look like flesh, of bone hanging like broken branches.


Here are some explanations about parts of the poem.

Cromwell Street

I was educated at Sir Thomas Rich’s Bluecoat Grammar School in Gloucester. The school yard backed on to Cromwell Street. Gloucester builder Fred West and his wife Rosemary murdered an uncertain number of young women, including their daughter Heather West and Fred West’s step-daughter Charmaine West, in the basement at 25 Cromwell Street. He was charged with eleven murders but there were probably more. There were unsolved disappearances in Glasgow when he was selling ice-cream there. Fred West hanged himself in his prison cell on New Year’s Day in 1995 while awaiting trial. Rosemary West was convicted on ten charges of murder in November 1995 and sentenced to life. It has been suggested that incest was an accepted part of the West household when Fred was growing up in the Forest of Dean, and that his father taught him bestiality from an early age. West recalled, in police interviews, that his father had said on many occasions “Do what you want, just don’t get caught doing it”. A good motto for politicians. When Fred West moved to Gloucester, he took a job in an abattoir. Incest was a factor in Rosemary’s family also. What are the chances of two such people getting together? A marriage made in hell.

Most of their victims were runaways, waifs and strays. However, one was an art student from a loving family who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lucy Partington, the cousin of writer Martin Amis was waiting for a bus when Fred and Rose offered her a lift. I know well the spot on the Cheltenham to Gloucester road where she was abducted. Lucy must have thought it was OK to accept a lift because Fred had Rosemary with him. Lucy’s sister, Marian, writes movingly about this at

“But first I had to face the truth. Lucy had been abducted, gagged, raped, tortured and murdered, before she was beheaded and dismembered.” Marian Partington writes about Rosemary West: “I began to have some insight into her mind. I later discovered she’d been sexually abused by her brother, then abducted from a bus stop and raped aged 17. Her story seems to be about the impoverishment of a soul that knew no other way to live than through terrible cruelty. A life deprived of truth, beauty or love. I imagine that the deviant ignorance that fed her sadistic, egotistical crimes was rooted in her ruined, crooked childhood.”

In October 1996, 25 Cromwell Street was demolished and the site made into a small garden. Every brick was crushed and every timber burnt to discourage souvenir hunters.


Oliver Cromwell

The street in which the Wests pursued  their gruesome hobby was named after Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell killed King Charles I and lots of Irish people. Cromwell has his defenders among modern historians but a recent book, God’s Executioner by Mícheál Ó Siochrú, is a forceful and largely convincing restatement of the case for the prosecution. The 1649-53 campaign remains notorious in Irish popular memory as it was responsible for a huge death toll among the Irish population (40 %?). The reason for this was the counter-guerrilla tactics used such as the wholesale burning of crops, forced population movement (ethnic cleansing) and killing of civilians. In addition, the whole post-war Cromwellian settlement of Ireland has been characterized as “genocidal”, in that it sought to remove Irish Catholics from the eastern part of the country

Dublin Bombings

I remember standing in a butcher shop in Burnage, Manchester (just around the corner from the Irish family of Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis) on May 17, 1974. News came over the radio of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, by loyalist terrorists from Northern Ireland. There was a literal shambles of broken humanity, including children, still-born foetuses and pregnant women. (Shambles – a flesh market, slaughterhouse, bloody carnage). Sammy Smyth of the Ulster Volunteer Force said “I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them.”

Dennis Nielsen

Mild-mannered civil servant Dennis Nielsen was suspected of killing up to 15 homosexual men at his home in Muswell Hill, North London. He strangled most of his victims and disposed of their bodies by chopping them up and flushing them down the toilet or storing them under the floorboards of his home. Before becoming an employee of the Department of Employment, he had been a butcher in the Army Catering Corps. He was apprehended after neighbours complained about the smell coming from his drains. In 1983, after being found guilty on all counts, 37-year-old Dennis Andrew Nielsen was sentenced to life in prison. Gordon Burn wrote a book about the case called ‘Killing for Company’

Serial Killers and Animals

A lot of serial killers and mass murderers , like the Wests and GW Bush seem to come from disturbed backgrounds. Should we sympathise and forgive? Many serial killers started out by torturing animals. LTTE fuehrer Prabhakaran was known to do this as a youth.


On a quotidian level, a  ready acceptance of received wisdom is toxic. The fantasies and delusions induced by our corporate masters through TV and advertising leads to posturing and violence. We are induced to respect the hit-man, the sniper, even as he kills defenceless victims unseen from a distance. Our meat is more palatable wrapped in cellophane in a clean supermarket than it would be if we had to wrestle it to the ground and listen to its cries as we slit its throat.

Orson Welles – Ask not what you can do for your country, ask ‘what’s for lunch?

National myths and patriotism brainwash us to justify imperialism. Are we inured to violence by violent images being thrust at us constantly for fun and profit? What damage is being done to us by getting our entertainment from murder and mayhem? The ante seems to be continually raised as we become de-sensitised to the gruesome horrors of Hannibal Lecter or Karen Slaughter. I have just read a crime novel by Mo Hayder which raises the ante still further, going far beyond necrophilia for fun. Should we be concerned that we are watching images of people being killed  in order to have ourselves a little consumerist fun as we slouch our couches?



Padraig Colman

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