Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: war

Terrorism, Business, Politics and Ordinary Decent Criminals

I posted this article on Open Salon on March 26 2011. I will be rewriting the article to bring it up to date in the light of recent developments in Sri Lanka and Ireland.

Terrorism, Business, Politics and Ordinary Decent Criminals

There are fuzzy boundaries between war, terrorism, crime, politics and business. Politicians use terms like “war on terrorism”, “war on crime”. “war on drugs”. Some might believe that this is part of a plan to militarise civil society. “Freedom fighters” easily morph into criminals as they resort to bank robberies and drug dealing to raise funds for the cause. Many once considered as terrorists later take their place in government.

Northern Ireland

On the right of the picture, a young Martin McGuinness at an IRA funeral

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.

IRA leadership 1972 – Martin McGuinness on the left of the picture.

Raids on illegal distilleries in Ireland uncovered bottling and capping machinery and high- quality copies of brand labels. Many of the products were designed for use in pub optics. The IRA took  the production of counterfeit spirits so seriously that it even had a quality control unit.

Ordinary Decent Irish Criminals

Martin Cahill with a truly criminal wrap-over hair style

The Irish gangster Martin Cahill was the subject of two feature films. In The General he was played by Brendan Gleeson. In Ordinary Decent Criminals he was played by Kevin Spacey. Cahill was involved in petty crime from an early age and turned to armed robbery after stealing arms from a police station. O’Connor’s jewelers was forced to close, with the loss of more than one hundred jobs after Cahill stole €2.55 million worth of gold and diamonds from the store at Harold’s Cross.

In 1994, a gunman, who was armed with a .357 Magnum, shot Cahill in the face and torso, jumped on a motorbike and disappeared from the scene. The IRA said that it was Cahill’s “involvement with and assistance to pro-British death squads which forced us to act”. One theory is that John Gilligan, who was convicted of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin (also shot by a motorcyclist in a hit similar to the murder of Sri Lankan editor Lasantha Wickrematunge), had Cahill killed because he was trying to get a slice of Gilligan’s drug profits.

John Gilligan

Gilligan effectively had the complicit support of the Dublin IRA and had members of the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) in his pay. He was importing enough cannabis to make everybody rich. He was even importing small arms which he passed on to republicans as sweeteners.

The rate of murders in the Irish Republic that can be attributed to organized criminals, all involved in drugs, has trebled since the period before the murder of Veronica Guerin.

Veronica Guerin

The Murphia on the Costa del Crime

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.

The dissident republican group, the Real IRA, has been responsible for murders, attempted murders and pipe bomb attacks in the Republic. The group is believed to be extorting millions of Euros from targeting drug dealers — as well as business people — in Dublin and Cork. The Real IRA have taken over many of the security and protection rackets once run by the Provos. The dissidents are also believed to be selling some of these bombs to gangs including criminal elements within the Travelling community. In 2009, the Army Ordnance Corps dealt with 61 live bombs and 140 hoax bombs. In 2010, they dealt with 40 live bombs, mostly in Dublin.

Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein

Not Laurel and Hardy – McGuinness and Paisley

The Provisional IRA funded its activities with bank robberies and protection rackets. Martin McGuinness was the IRA Commandant for Derry. He and Gerry Adams were prominent in the labyrinthine negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the IRA laying down its arms. McGuinness  was  a minister in the government of the statelet of Northern Ireland until he resigned to run for  the presidency of the Irish Republic. He visited  Sri Lanka to advise us on peace and reconciliation. In the Republic’s last general election, Gerry Adams for Sinn Fein topped the poll in Louth, in the north-east, with more than 15,000 votes. Sinn Fein, which used to be seen by voters in the Republic as the proxy of the Provisional IRA, has scored its best-ever election result in the Republic with 14 seats and will be a major Opposition force in the new Dáil. Fiachra Gibbons, in the New Statesman, described Sinn Fein as “a kind of cross between Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church, but with extra guns, paedophiles and front businesses.”

The Tamil Tiger Mafia


In Sri Lanka, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was mainly dependent for funding in the early days on robberies and extortion.  Trading in gold, laundering money and dealing in narcotics brought the LTTE substantial revenue to buy sophisticated weaponry. They also played a role in providing passports, other papers, and also engaged in human trafficking.

KP – the Tamil Tigers’   leading arms procurer, now working with the government he sought to topple.

Crime Pays and so Does War

There were those on “the other side” who profited from the conflict continuing for so long. As in Ireland, Sri Lankan politicians and businessmen are accused of taking commissions to do favors. War is a profitable business.

Former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka, fought the presidential election in January 2010 on a platform of rooting out corruption and nepotism. An Asian Tribune article, published on November 22, 2009,  was entitled “Every bullet fired at innocent Tamil civilians fetched kickbacks to Gen Fonseka family”.  One of the charges against Fonseka  was that he was involved in corrupt arms deals with his son-in-law, Danuna Thilakaratne. Thilakeratne’s company Hicorp, was involved in the purchase of MIGs from Ukraine, uniform and telecommunication equipment from China, food rations from Malaysia and tank transporters from Russia. Hicorp also supplied ration packs, which were past their shelf life and bought cheaply from a Malaysia. Thilakaratne started many new businesses in Sri Lanka, such as a beauty salon at the Galle Face Hotel,  as well as   a salon in Las Vegas, and a communication company in London. He invested millions of dollars in the American and Sri Lankan stock markets. Where did he get this money? After police investigated his bank accounts, Thilakaratne fled the country. Fonseka is in Welikada prison.

The Asian Tribune has also accused Fonseka of selling off army land rovers for his own profit. When Fonseka was Army  Commander, he forced the Army Board to condemn many serviceable army vehicles which found their way to Dhanuna’s friend , who bought them cheap. The Asian Tribune published this man’s name and address. I will not repeat it here as he knows where I live and, indeed, has been an uninvited guest in my home.

Police and Crime, Criminal Police

One incident (among many) in 2009  highlighted the danger of people’s frustration at police impunity turning into mob outrage and vigilante “justice”. Two young men were killed by police at Angulana. Local people described the Angulana police post as more like a brothel-cum-tavern than a police station. Nine police officers from Angulana police station were arrested and a court heard that they had been drunk on the night of the murders. Eyewitnesses testified that armed police officers blindfolded the young men and took them away in a jeep on the night of 12 August. The two victims, handcuffed and with blue polythene bags over their heads, were bundled into the jeep by the police, one of whom was armed with a T-56. One of the accused policemen admitted to his uncle (another policeman) that he had shot and killed the two victims.

Clint Eastwood was LTTE leader Prabakharan’s hero and seems to have many fans in the Sri Lanka police, at least in his Dirty Harry persona.

Impunity International

The Sri Lankan government’s “war” on the underworld led to key underworld figures  being “taken out’”. Summary executions by shadowy death squads during the JVP uprising in 1989, evoked memories of the British government’s “shoot-to-kill policy” in Northern Ireland. The phrase “culture of impunity” is frequently heard in Sri Lanka. No one wants to live in a country where the police can kill anyone they want, including private-grudge enemies, and get away with it. There is a danger of police impunity being mirrored by vigilante justice by sections of the public.

The Angulana incident garnered a lot of publicity, and some have taken comfort from the fact that police were arrested and brought before a court. They were found guilty and sentenced to death (the death penalty is still on the books but never used). Yet hundreds of other incidents around the country may go unreported. The lawyer and human rights campaigner Basil Fernando had high hopes in 2003 of the 17th Amendment of the Constitution, which included the setting up of a National Police Commission (NPC). He described the NPC as “one of the most extraordinary mechanisms created in Sri Lanka to check human rights violations.” Unfortunately the NPC has been allowed to wither and die, with its powers delegated to officials of various ministries, including defense.

Banalisation of Violence

Eric Meyer wrote in his book Sri Lanka: Biography of an Island about a “society confronted by the  banalisation of violence. Meyer does not attribute this only to the deadening effect of thirty years of terrorism, brutal conflict and emergency legislation. He traces a deeper malaise. He sees the frustration felt by a large part of Sri Lankan society: “arrogance and indifference of the capital’s bourgeois microcosm, the corruption found in the administration, the Macchiavellism of the country’s leaders, and the frustrations of  the younger generation faced with a competitive society that only parsimoniously concedes them a place”.

These tensions are exacerbated by the contradictions imposed by Buddhism being the dominant philosophy. Buddhism’s emphasis on harmony and non-violence “does not permit the verbalisation and exteriorsation of impulses that brutally and suddenly erupt into frenzy, condoned by the silence of the authorities”.

Meyer also sees in Hinduism and Catholicism ambivalent strains that contribute to a proclivity to violence: “The diverse religious traditions provide the people with the means to confront and combat violence, yet they tend to diabolise the adversary, stripping him of his human qualities”.

Nevertheless, whatever ambivalence may have been generated by Buddhism, Hinduism and Catholicism, they have been in Sri Lanka for a long time and violence does seem to have got measurably worse in recent times. According to John Richardson, communal violence ranked low among categories of violence in the immediate post-independence years. Two events reported in 1948 and 1952, were Sinhalese-Muslim and Tamil-Muslim clashes. From 1953, incidents of communal violence began to be associated with rising Sinhalese Buddhist political movements. Initially, clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils were similar to   Northern Ireland turf wars over tribal marching.

The real descent into political instability came in three phases: the first from 1955 to 1961 over affirmative action measures for the majority Sinhalese; there was a second phase of confrontation, often leading to violence, in the 1970s, culminating in the riots of 1977; the most violent period of ethnic conflict began in 1983, when the killing of soldiers by Tamil terrorists led to horrific anti-Tamil riots involving the hacking to death and mass rape of innocent bystanders.

Broadcaster and journalist Vincent Browne wrote of the Irish situation: “Just think of the thousands of lawyers, accountants, bankers, stockbrokers and others who must have colluded in criminality over the last decade or so, in fraudulent accounting, in fraudulent trading, in fraudulent preference, in insider dealing. And such is our public culture that not one of them has been charged with a crime and, very probably, not one of them will go to jail.”
Irish people have expressed their despair at the ballot box at the crime wave and the corrupt complicity of politicians, bankers and business men.

Have thirty years of conflict desensitised Sri Lankans  to violence and criminality?

Suffering at Wars’ Ends


This article was published in the Sri Lankan newspaper The Nation on December 11 2011 but has disappeared from their website.


War is hell and the suffering goes on after war’s end.


Over the past few years, there have been many books describing what happened at the end of the Second World War. The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard was published in April 2010. After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation by Giles McDonogh was published in July 2007. The Struggle for Europe by William Hitchcock was published in January 2003. Walter Laqueur’s books on post-war Europe came out in 1992. John Roberts, Norman Davies, Mark Mazower and Richard Vinen, David Calleo, and last but not least, the late, great Tony Judt,  have produced  strong analytical work examining Europe’s future in the light of what its 20th-century past reveals.


Scholars have had 67 years to assess the six years of World War 2. Sri Lanka has only had just over two years to come to terms with nearly 30 years of internal war.


In 1945, the Allies had to deal with  10 to 15 million DPs (displaced persons) –  concentration camp victims, foreign workers and slave laborers and  destitute Germans. The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was set up to deal with DPs. Shephard is sympathetic but also describes incompetence and political manipulation. Some UNRRA functionaries made mistresses of Polish DPs. Others engaged in crime.


One thing for DPs to do after years of deprivation was to get blind drunk. Two thousand people died from alcohol poisoning  in two months after war’s end. Many DPs reacted to freedom with sexual abandon. At Wildflecken DP Camp in Bavaria, the Virgin Mary in the “Holy Manger” Christmas show had gonorrhoea. The birth rate in DP camps rocketed.


Not everyone was ready to debauch. Richard Wollheim, later a distinguished philosopher, was tasked with organising  a dance party for British soldiers and female survivors in Bergen-Belsen. The party ended in mayhem, with panicking women expecting nothing but more torment from uniformed men


“Resettlement” was not an easy task. Shephard describes American soldiers dragging terrified Russians and Ukrainians to assembly points. They were often being sent in open cattle trucks to their deaths in Russia or Yugoslavia. British soldiers, sometimes with tears in their eyes, had to force about 70,000 people who had, in many cases already suffered terribly under the Germans, to go back to a more horrendous  fate.


McDonogh describes the rape and pillage that went with Red Army “liberation” of  Eastern Europe. Native populations turned on ethnic Germans with frightening ferocity. Whole  communities of Germans, up to 16 million, who had lived outside the Reich for generations, were violently uprooted. Old men, women, and children were forced to march westward, or crammed into cattle cars in which they sometimes froze to death. The most conservative estimate that  600,000 German civilians were killed at this time is still high. The savagery was comparable to what the Nazis had inflicted. Schools and public buildings became torture centres. Up to 15,000 Germans were held at Strahov soccer stadium in Prague, where  the guards amused themselves by forcing thousands to run for their lives and then machine-gunning them.


The Americans set up PWTEs (Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures) which make Menik Farm seem like Club Med.  In the spring of 1945, some 40,000 prisoners died of hunger and exposure in the twelve open camps containing a million men. The Americans had burned their kit, so they had nothing to protect them from the elements.


The British and Americans also set up Direct Interrogation Centres to find major war criminals or  subversive activity. Their function soon changed to gathering intelligence against the Russians. Prisoners were tortured by guards with scores to settle. Methods are familiar today from their use in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan and CIA centres all over the world: savage beatings, starvation, deprivation of sleep, and removal of clothing. Men were kept standing for hours. Many never came out alive.


At Schwäbish Hall, near Stuttgart, Americans used methods similar to  those employed by the SS in Dachau. Prisoners endured  long periods in solitary confinement. Men were led off in hoods and  lifted off the ground to convince them they were about to hang.  When the Americans set up a commission of inquiry, they found that, of the 139 cases they examined, 137 had “had their testicles permanently destroyed by kicks received from the American War Crimes Investigation team.”


NGOs such as Human Rights Watch were strongly critical of GOSL’s  decision to keep civilians in IDP camps. More extreme sections of the Tamil Diaspora accused the government of having a genocidal agenda and referred to extermination camps. David Begg, leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, took time off from watching his members lose jobs and welfare benefits as the Irish economy went  rapidly downhill, to take  an interest in far-away Sri Lanka. He claimed that 1,000 people were dying every week in concentration camps.


The UN Refugee Agency reported that there were around 16 million refugees and 26 million IDPs in the world at the end of 2008. In recent years it has been increasingly tasked under the UN’s humanitarian reform process with assisting IDPs.


War is hell and the suffering goes on after war’s end. Some wars just do not end.


Today, 63 years after the foundation of the state of Israel, five million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) services.





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?



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