Consequences: Post 5

(posted by Clare)

For the first time, the system had let me down.

Because it did, surely it did… didn’t it?

At some time, it must have done. Or how did I end up a revolutionary socialist, at the tender age of 16? I was angry, and chomping at the bit. I was going to save the world. Because there were wrongs everywhere I looked, and they needed righting.

What made me most angry? Nuclear weapons were the first thing I marched, shouted, jumped up and down about. That was when I was 13. Then I got riled about the unequal distribution of wealth, and the exploitation of the working class. But I’d always been a stickler for fairness. Wherever there was an underdog I’d be there, whether the quiet girl teased at primary school or the mother whose daughter (my friend) was castigating her for not ironing her uniform… “Parents are people too, you know!” was my self righteous cry.

But revolution is quite an extreme reaction. Was it feminism? Is that what did it? Was I a victim of terrible sexism? At the age of five I insisted my teddy was female (why should all bears be male?), and marched around the playground shouting “Boys are rubbish, put them in the dustbin!” I declared myself a supporter of women’s lib at the age of nine and naïvely rejoiced at the introduction of a female prime minister. But do I have any personal tales of misogynist injustice? Nope. I was the only girl studying A level maths. I felt a bit outnumbered. But nobody ever, would have dared ever tell me I couldn’t do whatever the hell I wanted to do.

I honestly can’t think of one single significant example of being let down by the system. Not personally.

But boy, I can tell you a gazillion tales of other people’s pain. The friend who was dragged into the back of a police van on a Saturday night, beaten up and then charged with assault. One of them headbutted him and broke his own glasses. My mate was charged with criminal damage.

I could go on. I won’t.

But you know what? I’ve been trying to work out why somebody would blow themselves sky high if they hadn’t grown up in a war zone. Why they would kill innocent people if they didn’t have blameless dead relatives of their own. What would make them feel THAT strongly about something…

But we do. Human beings. We’re capable of anger, passion, great good and sheer evil. And we always, every one of us, think we’re right.

What we’re not so good at is taking a step outside, and looking at things from someone else‘s point of view. We’ve all behaved badly, we’ve all hurt people. But we all feel happy to condemn when someone else is committing a crime.

There’s no question in my mind that those bombers perpetrated a hideous, heinous, evil act. But that gets me nowhere. I want to know why. I want to know who next. I want to know when. And what scares me most is not that a stranger whose mind I’ll never inhabit has done this terrible thing. The question that burns in my brain is… Could it be me? Could it be you? And whose eyes, and whose teeth will be exchanged for the eye and the tooth of last week’s victims?

The greatest atrocities in world history have been committed at the hands of ordinary men and women. Nazi soldiers and every-day Germans. Rwandan soldiers. Balkan citizens. Large numbers of people caught up in the language of hate, seeking retribution against those they consider to be their enemies. People like you and me, answering the call of “We will not be beaten” and “They can’t do this to us, because we are strong.”

In the summer of 1969, I was born.

That year Nixon gave the go-ahead to “Operation Breakfast” – the covert bombing of Cambodia, conducted without the knowledge of Congress or the American public.

On June 29th, in New York’s Greenwich Village, the police raided a gay bar and sparked the Stonewall riots.

On July 14th, Francis McCloskey (aged 67), a Catholic civilian, died one day after being hit on the head with a baton by an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during street disturbances in Dungiven, County Derry.

For the first time, the system had let me down.

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