Divided We Fall

There is no question about it, warfare is one of the most tragic experiences for humankind. However, when considering the topic of war, we Americans have a tendency to recall most prominently the foreign conflicts in our history. This is likely due to the fortunate circumstance that the USA has not faced a militaristic domestic issue in nearly a century and a half. However, one need only read a brief history of recent domestic conflicts like those in Rwanda or Darfur to see the horrendous hatred that a person can harbor toward his countryman. More directly related to us Americans, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, there were more US casualties during the Civil War (~500,000) than in any other conflict in which the USA has participated (WWII coming in second at just under 400,000)1. These domestic conflicts are of particular interest in that they both require a greater deal of animosity to raise arms against fellow citizens and have a strong impact on the nation’s self image, particularly for the losing party. Consequently, the accounts of the event can have far greater effect. For example, there is a striking discrepancy between Paul Greengrass’ depiction of Ireland’s “Bloody Sunday” and the official British inquiry. It is said that the winners of wars write the history books and certainly one such modern example of this is in Northern Ireland.

This conflict saw several periodic culminations of gruesome violence, one of which occurring on the 30th of January 1972. Called both the Bogside Massacre and Bloody Sunday, this controversial event saw 13 dead and 14 injured after what was intended to be a peaceful march. The tumult caused by political oppression along religious lines had a polarizing effect and the resulting animosity led to what may have been a gross overreaction by the British Paramilitary on this day. However, the specifics of the events that transpired are still not yet known; Eamonn McCann from The Guardian writes referring to the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday that Lord Saville “will hand the report to Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward in the week beginning 22 March (2010)”2 . However, true to the adage, the victors—the British in this case—write the history books. The initial inquiry, called the Widgery Tribunal, condoned the actions of the Paramilitary but this tribunal has since been discredited marked by the commencement of the Saville Inquiry in 19983. Barnett and Reynolds refer to a study on the British press coverage of such IRA-related matters that concludes “political motives for the bombings were not discussed, and only British rather than Irish officials were interviewed.”4 However, a relatively non-traditional coverage of this event sheds a drastically conflicting account of this vicious struggle.

Director Paul Greengrass provides a dramatized documentary-style account (called a mockumentary) of the Derry Massacre. In this portrayal, Greengrass creates a sense of authenticity by using several strategies. To differentiate this from a typical rendition of a historical event, Greengrass omits a soundtrack of any kind; the only music is the A Capella “We Shall Overcome” sang by the participants in the march. Additionally, Greengrass does not create a fluid, logical flow from carefully crafted scenes but rather creates a sense of a crudely connected sequence of short, sometimes tangential scenes with shaky camera work and frequent fading to black. Greengrass uses all of these strategies to create the impression that viewers are watching a legitimate documentary and with this impression, enhances the emotional reaction to the dramatic events that he depicts. However, it is not completely clear that this depiction is an accurate one.

Whether the account is accurate or not, it is clear from both sides of the story that the IRA had at least an indirect effect on the conflict. Being that there is such a fine line between terrorists and freedom fighters, it would not be unreasonable to assume that there might be some support for the Catholic Irish plight and perhaps even for the IRA cause. However, Ilias Kiritsis provides a different stance. Ilias states that in Greece “there’s no diverging opinion—it’s terrorism” in reference to the IRA. When asked if there is sympathy for the IRA cause, Ilias responds “There’s sympathy for the cause, I guess,but everyone condemns it. See for Europeans, its a bit too close to home, I reckon.” Interestingly, when posed with the question of the religious aspect of the conflict, Ilias portrays a conflicted opinion: “[It’s] not about Catholics. The way its perceived [is] it’s all about Irish independence, not so much a religious war, which I guess it is. Basically they see it as Ireland wanting its autonomy.” So while Greengrass attempts to evoke sympathy from viewers, it seems that in some countries, there is a certain no-tolerance attitude that Ilias has described.

Though the film is very emotionally charged, certain accounts indicate that this film may not be fair. For example, the conflict is portrayed as a struggle between Catholics and the British military; very little is mentioned on the subject of Catholicism versus Protestantism. Seeing the British all in uniform uttering phrases, like “We must win the Propaganda War” and “There is no doubt there will be (trouble)”, establishes a negative view of the British before any alleged impropriety occurs. Other depictions of the British as making generalizations such as “all civies are terrorists” and justifying actions with “we can’t afford to disappoint Protestants” provides a stark contrast to the Catholic’s analog: “all civil rights people are Catholic” and Ivan Cooper’s statement that their protest is “against internment of people.”5 This contrast depicts the Catholics as humanitarian and purely motivated while the military seems like a collection of politically biased bigots. Perhaps the military overreacted to the situation but of particular interest is the recent evidence that suggests the main character Gerry Donaghy was not indeed an innocent victim.

According to Henry McDonald of The Guardian, the IRA “officially claimed a victim as one of its fallen volunteers,”6 this volunteer being Gerard Donaghy. McDonald cites Tirghra, which is Irish for “Love of Country”6, and in particular, notes that a “four-paragraph salute to Donaghy reveals that he attended IRA training camps.”6 This certainly gives a potentially shattering opposition to the account set forth by Greengrass; where Donaghy was portrayed as a well-intentioned, though somewhat misguided youth who was murdered in cold blood and was framed as having 2 nail bombs on him, McDonald reveals that the IRA claim that Donaghy was indeed part of the IRA forces. In agreement with this claim, a report from breakingnews.ie discusses an account from Paddy Ward who claims to

have given “two nail bombs to 17-year-old Gerard Donaghy several hours before he was shot dead.”7 It is interesting to note, though, that while the IRA seem to have claimed Donahy as one of their own, this report relays that “Mr Ward told the Saville Inquiry in London that former IRA members had launched a concerted effort to discredit him,”7 indicating a potential discrepancy with this testimony. Again, such a diametrically opposite portrayal of this particular character brings into question the legitimacy of Greengrass’ portrayal.

Though it is not clear if the film gives viewers an accurate portrayal of Bloody Sunday, it is certainly clear that Greengrass crafted a emotionally charged dramatic documentary-style depiction of the culmination of violence in the Northern Ireland conflict. Through intentional shoddy camera work, a lack of soundtrack, and abrupt scenes, Greengrass conveys a certain verisimilitude that a typical historical dramatization could not. This discrepancy between initially reported accounts shortly after the event, Greengrass’ film, and recent developments in the past ten years as a result of the Saville Inquiry serve as an excellent example of how media can affect not just the opinions of the public but also perhaps the policy of nations. Had the British media pursued information more exhaustively by consulting with civilian witnesses, IRA members, and military personnel who knew the magnitude of the crime they had committed, this issue might have been resolved more peacefully but instead, 1972 became the bloodiest year of the conflict with nearly 500 dead.8


(1) Department of Veterans Affairs. “Fact sheet: America’s Wars”. November 2008. http://www1.va.gov/opa/fact/amwars.asp.

(2) McCann, Eamonn. “Bloody Sunday: the wait continues”. The Guardian. September 24, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/24/bloody-sunday.

(3) “Bloody Sunday Inquiry”. BBC News. March 24, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/northern_ireland/2000/bloody_sunday_inquiry/665100.stm

(4) Barnett, Brooke; Reynolds, Amy. Terrorism and the Press. New York: Peter Lang Publishing 2009.

(5) Greengrass, Paul. Bloody Sunday. Bórd Scannán na hÉireann. January 25 2002.

(6) Mcdonald, Henry. “Bloody Sunday victim did volunteer for us, says IRA”. The Guardian. May 19 2002.
(7) “Witness claims campaign to discredit him”. Breakingnews.ie. October 20 2003. http://www.breakingnews.ie/archives/2003/1020/ireland/witness-claims-campaign-to-discredit- him-118146.html.
(8) Sutton, Malcom. “An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland”. October 2002 http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/sutton/chron/1972.html