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Letters

Vol. 24 No. 14 · 25 July 2002

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Bloody Sunday

Muray Sayle’s piece on Bloody Sunday (LRB, 11 July) is dotted with ambiguities and inconsistencies, and it would be useful to have his clarification in a number of areas. First, there is the issue of whether or not there were any shots fired by the IRA. Sayle states near the beginning of his unpublished Sunday Times article of 3 February 1972, written with Derek Humphry, that ‘we can find no evidence that any shots … were fired at the Army.’ Later he comments: ‘both IRA wings … decided to attend – without their guns.’ Further on still: ‘One Official IRA man was, however, nearby … and was armed with a .38 pistol … After Damien Donaghy was shot he says he fired a single round at the soldiers … This is the only Official IRA shot we can trace during the afternoon.’ Towards the end of the narrative, we find this passage:

The Official group at the march … sent an urgent call for gunmen, and one ‘active service unit’ arrived some minutes after the last Army shots were fired … One of these men fired one pistol shot at long range towards the Army … This shot was the last one fired in the engagement and we believe the only one fired at the Army – we can find no witnesses, among dozens, who heard or saw any other.

Finally, in the quote from Gilles Peress: ‘I heard two shots fired from somewhere near Free Derry Corner … There were no soldiers at that point, and they sounded like pistol shots.’ Which is of these positions is the correct one?

There are a number of other ambiguities in the text which I would be grateful if Sayle could explain. 1) Although Patrick Campbell is plotted as ‘I’ on the map which accompanies the article and appears in the attached list of wounded, I can find no reference to him in the main body of the text. Why is this? 2) In the article, Sayle writes of ‘seven Saracens led by a Ferret scout car’ emerging from Little James Street and racing up Rossville Street. In his memo of 19 February, ‘three APCs’ take the same route at the same time. Why this discrepancy? 3) One of these Saracens ‘crushes’ Alana Burke, but later on it is said that she was only ‘pinned’ against the wall. How far should we trust Sayle’s version of events, if he cannot even be sure of what happened to the same person within the space of a page?

When Sayle approves an Army statement which tallies neatly with his assertion that all those shot were wearing combat jackets, he gives a good example of the dangers that exist in attempting to mould a mass of conflicting evidence concerning a highly complex situation into an easy-to-grasp grand theory. Sayle writes that ‘the clothing of both dead and wounded fits very roughly into the classification, “male of military age wearing a combat-type jacket".’ The jackets worn by the victims were as follows: pin-striped jacket, light blue jacket, green checked sports jacket, brown corduroy jacket, blue zip-up jacket, brown anorak, brown suit jacket, brown cord jacket, dark grey three-quarter-length coat, brown tweed car-coat, blue denim jacket, grey and black tweed car-coat, blue zip-up anorak.

If Sayle cannot reconcile his facts within the same piece and has verifiable details wrong, far from his providing an evidential structure which is ‘overwhelming’, how can we be sure of the accuracy of any of his version of the events of Bloody Sunday?

John Upton
London NW1

Murray Sayle writes: I should perhaps make clear here, as I did to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, that the unpublished Sunday Times article was raw copy researched and written in four hectic and confused days, as opposed to the three months taken by the Widgery Inquiry, and two years plus by the current one. In the normal course of newspaper production the editors and sub-editors of the Sunday Times would have had two clear days before the inflexible Saturday night deadline to contact us and iron out inconsistencies, apparent or real, in the original file.

On the question of shots fired at the Army, I suggest that Upton go back to the entire passages from which he quotes. After thirty years I do not know whether the Official IRA unit, arriving after the Army shooting had ceased, fired one or two pistol shots. What I do know is that neither they nor the Official IRA man who admitted firing an earlier shot hit anyone: no bullet other than an Army round was recovered from any of the dead or wounded civilians, and no soldier was wounded at all. Derek Humphry and I are certainly guilty of less-than-immaculate editing of documents that had not been edited at all before they came to the attention of the Inquiry, and which I refrained from editing or commenting on when they were published in the LRB, preferring to present them exactly as found. However, it will be plain that we reported all the IRA shots that we discovered, and no one, as far as we know, has discovered any more since. Is Upton suggesting that the IRA played a causative role in the events of Bloody Sunday? If so, we should hear his evidence; if not, then the questions that need to be answered remain as I put them.

Taking up Upton’s numbered points. 1) I do not recall why Patrick Campbell was not mentioned in the text of the article; common sense suggests that the number-letter keying sequence was decided in London, and Campbell had already given his statement. 2) How many Saracens? As explained, I did not have the unpublished article with me when I wrote the memo. This looks like my careless slip, in an intra-office communication principally discussing serious legal implications. 3) I cannot believe that Upton is relying on the difference between ‘crushing’ and ‘pinned’ to cast doubt on my ‘version of events’, the main thrust of which he never addresses. In any event Alana Burke was not seriously injured.

Upton’s (unnumbered) discussion of youths wearing combat jackets seems to refer not to the article or memo but to my witness statement made in 1998, which was not read out to the Inquiry in Derry or published in the LRB but which is available on the Inquiry’s website. The relevant passage reads:

I read and heard statements issued by the Army public relations office that seemed to offer some illumination. From my exper-ience, as for instance in Tel Aviv in June 1967, statements issued during or immediately after a military operation are often drafted before the operation is launched, as part of the overall preparations, and can be an indication of what was meant to happen, as much as what actually did. Statements I heard said that ‘young men of military age wearing combat jackets had been shot.’ Derek and I were both familiar with the Army’s ‘Yellow Card’ restrictions on shooting, and felt that this might well be a key to understanding what had happened. If a clash with members of the Provisional IRA had been expected, then ‘young men of military age wearing combat jackets’ (or windcheaters, a near-universal item of winter clothing in Northern Ireland) would roughly describe their expected appearance. The statement sounded very like a restriction, not to fire at anyone not answering to the description ‘a youth of military age wearing a combat jacket’. In my experience, such restrictions can easily be seen as permission to open fire if a soldier believes he is, or is about to be, risking his life in combat.

This seems clear enough to me and did to Daniel Lee, the Inquiry’s assistant solicitor who took my statement, but the language may be over-military and I will gladly elucidate, as I did at some length to the Inquiry. The Army’s public statements immediately after the shootings were confused, suggesting that something had gone gravely wrong in the operation which produced the Bloody Sunday casualties. In particular the statement that ‘young men of military age wearing combat jackets had been shot’ was puzzling: the ages of the dead and wounded ranged from 15 to 53 and their clothing was, as Upton reports, varied. They were, however, with one exception male, and the high proportion of dead (13, later 14) to wounded (11) and the multiple hits on many bodies indicated that they must have been precisely targeted. As none carried a weapon or was an IRA militant, some other selective principle, however crudely applied, must have been at work, in addition to where they were standing. In our article we made reference to one possibility, clearly labelled as such:

Donaghy was in no sense a leader of the march, and was hit well back from the march leaders. He was in no way remarkable, except that he was dressed in blue jeans and a Campari waterproof jacket – not an unusual dress in Northern Ireland but, combined with his youth, just possibly what an Army briefer might describe as the likely appearance of an IRA man. We are confident that in fact he was certainly not.

Upton then puts words into my mouth: perhaps he could tell us where he found my approval of an Army statement that all those shot were wearing combat jackets, or my assertion to the same effect? The question before the Inquiry is not my veracity, but what happened on Bloody Sunday, as far as this can be reconstructed thirty years later. Derek Humphry and I offered, not a grand theory, but a simple conclusion that leaps out of the uncontested material evidence, photographs, TV films, sound recordings, medical reports and the rest: there was no armed engagement or gun battle between the IRA and the Army on the afternoon of 30 January 1972. This is for the Inquiry to confirm or reject. I hope that Derek Humphry, John Upton and I have been of some small help.

LA Noir

Frank Phillips (Letters, 27 June) shouldn’t be surprised that Art Pepper was sentenced to serve his time for possessing heroin in San Quentin, considering the number of times he fell foul of the law and his knack for antagonising the district attorney. In any case, San Quentin did have one advantage for a jazz musician – its prison orchestra. As a youth in Vancouver I used to listen to their regular radio programme, the theme tune for which was the ballad ‘Time on My Hands’.

A. Mackenzie Peers
Limeuil, France

In Icy Baltic Waters

In his review of Günter Grass’s Im Krebsgang, David Blackbourn (LRB, 27 June) imagines a reader responding with ‘Günter Grass of all people’ to the news that the former proselytiser for Ostpolitik had taken on a subject hitherto the preserve of right-wing revanchists – namely the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, laden with thousands of refugees, by Soviet torpedoes on the night of 30 January 1945. As early as 1959, Grass had his first and most slippery narrator, Oscar Matzerath in The Tin Drum, allude to this maritime disaster, though only in passing and with feigned unconcern. Several of Oskar’s neighbours went down with the former cruise ship. Walter Matern, the villain of Dog Years (1963), lost both his parents and Eberhard Starusch, the narrator of Local Anaesthetic (1969), his mother in similar circumstances. Yet in The Tin Drum Oskar’s nightmare of the infernal merry-go-round, kept going by Goethe and Rasputin, who take it in turns to insert the coins, is caused by news of an entirely imaginary catastrophe, the killing of about four thousand children who were fleeing the advancing Red Army. In 1959 Grass ducked both the political complexity of apportioning blame and the challenge of realist description by recourse to this allegory. Now he makes amends.

Grass’s approach to that other taboo-ridden subject so long exploited by the revanchists, the mass rape of German women by Soviet soldiery, is even more intriguing. Oskar appears not to take the gang rape of another neighbour, Lina Greff, sexually frustrated after years of marriage to the street’s homosexual greengrocer, at all seriously. Indeed, he makes it clear that she is pleased by the sudden attention of so many men: ‘she had the flat full of Russians. You could hear her singing,’ we are told. But we learn, too, that the same Russians had spared his young stepmother, Maria, because she cradled baby Kurt on her lap. An elderly German woman told me in the early 1990s that she had been spared, seemingly because she was holding a child, while single women were dragged away.

In The Flounder (1977) Grass appeared even more flippant when it came to rape: the grotesque climax of that novel’s sweep through Central European history is a multiple rape involving a plastic penis and a group of caricatured West Berlin lesbians. The victim, Sibylle Miehlau, had been raped once before, when she was 14, by three, or sometimes she says five, Russian soldiers. This in turn is a re-enactment of the rape of Agnes Kurbiella, The Flounder’s 17th-century heroine, by Swedish cavalrymen during the Thirty Years War.

In an interview with a French journalist in the year The Flounder was published Grass confided that his own mother, who died before he became famous and to whom he paid tribute by way of Oskar’s ‘poor mama’, another Agnes, had been repeatedly raped by Red Army soldiers in 1945. His mother’s experience is not alluded to anywhere else in all the thousands of pages of essays, articles, speeches and interviews he has published. Was it a slip? Did he regret the revelation? He has never commented. But then neither has anybody else in Germany, as if it were simply not polite to bring up the subject.

Julian Preece
University of Kent, Canterbury

Suspect

‘Tim Andrews’ (Letters, 6 June) asserts that he was present at a breakfast in 1949 at the American University in Beirut when Dorothy Thompson was notified that her article for the New York Times on Palestine refugees in Lebanon would not be published because of pressure from Jewish-owned businesses in New York. But Dorothy Thompson wrote a column for the New York Herald Tribune, never the Times, and her syndicated column was carried by some two hundred newspapers, so the Herald Tribune was in no position to be a censor. Nor has any such conspiracy by New York Jewish businessmen ever existed – journalists and historians would have noticed. I would wager that every other ‘fact’ in Andrews’s letter is equally fictional.

Irving Kristol
Washington DC

Boggs the Forger

Christopher Prendergast (Letters, 27 June) asks whether the currency-artist J.S.G. Boggs can be thought of as a counterfeiter or a forger, since, in his work, everything is, ‘so to speak, above board’. Despite this, he has been arrested twice, and is currently embroiled in a protracted legal battle. In 1986, Boggs was arrested in England under Section 18 of the 1981 Forgery and Counterfeiting Act. The US Secret Service declined to join the Bank of England in the prosecution and Boggs was eventually acquitted by a jury in 1987. He was arrested again in Australia in 1989 by the Federal Currency Squad; when the case came to court it was thrown out and he received $20,000 damages. When the US Secret Service raided his studio in the early 1990s, Boggs filed a civil suit, and then appealed when the judgment found partially in favour of the Secret Service. The case continues and commentators believe it will reach the Supreme Court, not least because Boggs is paying his lawyers in Boggs bills he is printing himself. These bills are artistic forgeries which make use of certain generic and economic traits rather than counterfeits; they are originals, not copies. A Boggs piece rarely consists simply of the redesigned note. He performs transactions as part of his artwork, and has used his bills and more recently plastic coins to buy hamburgers, a Harley-Davidson, even gold bullion. The artworks become composite pieces, consisting of the Boggs bill, the transaction, the item purchased, the receipt for goods or services, any change and so on, and aspiring collectors are invited to recover as many of these constituent parts as they can. Boggs dismantles the illusion that authenticity is an inherent quality in an object such as a five-pound note or ten-dollar bill; it is rather a supposition briefly shared by buyer and seller – the convention of a certain economic genre. Boggs is mimicking this genre.

Nick Groom
University of Bristol

Muntjac

They may pronounce it ‘monkjack’ in Essex, but the correct name of the shy deer referred to by Iain Sinclair (LRB, 27 June) is muntjac. This small creature of South-East Asian origin has spread widely from Bedfordshire since the 1920s, and as far north as Warwickshire it is now considered a sufficient traffic hazard to merit its own warning signs. On another point of detail, the inn at Ferry Lane would never have been a haunt of ‘narrowboat skippers’: the River Lea carried barges of much greater beam than those of the national canal system.

Richard Storey
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

‘Louis Kossuth’

Hugo Stolkin says that the ideas about nationalism in my poem ‘Louis Kossuth’ have left him uneasy (Letters, 11 July). I think that is a valid reaction. I did not bring in the figure of James Macfarlan (1832-62), a published poet well known in his day, in order to mock him, but to show that Kossuth had been forcibly made aware, in Glasgow, that there were alternatives to his brand of nationalism. That Macfarlan was an unprepossessing alcoholic makes him all the more of a foil to the melodramatics of Kossuth (‘Some say I am a showman’). The Scottish context is significant in the poem. Scotland has unfinished political business, with a devolved Parliament that pleases some and not others. Neither socialist nor nationalist aspirations can be ruled out. Stolkin says he is sad that ‘Macfarlans are in short supply these days.’ I agree. But they are not in quite such short supply in Glasgow, where they may be nationalists as well.

Edwin Morgan
Glasgow

All Mouth and …

The Northampton version has it ‘red shoes, no knickers’.

Martin Ward
Northampton

It was ‘red shoes, no drawers’ in the 1950s in North Devon.

John Batten
London N6

In Texas they say ‘all hat and no cattle’.

Brian Tilbury
Lottsburg, Virginia

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