The Men Behind The Wire - The Wolfe Tones, 1973
WHEN JOHN KEY reassured us that any New Zealand soldiers sent to train Iraqis would be safe "behind the wire" of Iraq's army bases, it dislodged a little stone from the wall of my memory. "The men behind the wire?" Why did that phrase have such a familiar ring? And then I remembered the back bar of the Cook, in Dunedin, and men with thick Belfast accents, and learning the words to a new song born of "The Troubles".
Watch this video and struggle, as I did, with images of young men wearing balaclavas, carrying sub-machine guns and firing rockets - not from the dusty streets of Gaza or Mosul but from the terrace houses and narrow alleyways of Londonderry and Belfast. Understand that those children hurling stones at the retreating squaddies aren't stateless Palestinians from the West Bank but British subjects from the Falls Road. Absorb the fact that those gun-toting terrorists belong not to IS, but to the Provisional IRA. There are no Muslims in this footage - just good Catholic lads and lasses!
The song itself, written by Paddy McGuigan of the Barleycorn folk group, protests the British Government's decision in 1971 to "intern" (i.e. imprison) IRA suspects without charge and without trial in special camps (hence "the wire"). Recorded by Release Records in Dublin The Men Behind The Wire topped the Irish charts for three weeks in January-February 1972.
Our soldiers will not be "behind the wire" in quite the same way as the martyred Irish nationalist, Bobby Sands, and yet the phrase is curiously fitting. For the struggle in Northern Ireland, like the struggle we are about to join in Iraq/Syria, was also born out of religious schism and imperial arrogance. And so, as we watch the video, let us all recall that repression breeds resistance; that guns and bombs solve nothing; and that it is only when people finally agree to sit down and talk to one another that peace and justice become possible.
Video courtesy of YouTube
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