Public Grief …Public Hysteria

Watching the English Defence League last night on the News. They are reacting to the death of a young soldier, Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London last week.

BBC, ITN, Sky News are not in much doubt. They are the very dregs of English Society. I cannot quantify just how much the average Briton is in shock over Drummer Rigby’s killing. Soldiers HAVE been killed in English streets the 1970s.  And all without hysteria…after all seven hundred died in the streets of Belfast and the hills of South Armagh.

Britain has a history of Imperialism. No big deal to send soldiers off to India, South Africa, Malvinas, Iraq, Afghanistan….Ireland. For the Imperialist soldier,Death is an occupational hazard. Necessarily imperialist soldiers die in foreign lands. And no English civilian gets hysterical. But Drummer Rigby died hacked to death in an English street….and this was not supposed to happen. English soldiers dont die in England.

Without irony, NATO issues footage of Drummer Rigby firing a machine gun…in Afghanistan.

What has produced the hysteria? We now seem to live in a world dominated by very public displays of Grief. Certainly during the worst years of the Troubles in the 1970s, there were no large floral displays to mark the spot where people were killed.

Is Grief…Public Grief that is….e rooted in the mid 1990s…was it 1997 and the death of Diana Spencer? Notably Mrs Windsor herself misjudged the public mood…a public that had gorged itself on every lurid detail the tabloids published. And the tabloids and the public on a guilt trip orchestrated the Grief. Less than twenty years later all that  Queen of Hearts stuff and Candle In The Wind CDs stuff looks risible.

But 1997 was around the time that 24 Hour News came into its own. Dianas death and 9/11-and maybe even Hurricane Katrina were the events that “made” 24 Hour News. But News is insatiable…it needs things to happen and it makes things happen. Every year when GCSE Exam results are announced, BBC, ITN and Sky send off their cameras to a “nice” school where photogenic girl students…its always girl students hug each other at the good news.

And when tragedy occurs like a teenager stabbed on a bus in Birmingham, a 4year old child murdered in Wales or six kids killed in a house fire in Derby…we see the lines of neighbours and schoolfriends lay flowers at the scene. All too public. It is now the accepted form of behaviour. Did we do that in Belfast in 1972?

And of course the technology allows us to see grief at international level…tsunamis in Japan and tornados in Oklahoma. And the technology allows us to post grief…We ” Like” and we “Share”. Our ability to empathise is reduced to clicking on those Facebook buttons.

None of which is any way sinister. Its 2013…thats how we are. But there is one sinister aspect. The Iraq War was unpopular, based on a lie and illegal and public opinion was fuelled by grief-stricken relatives like the redoubtable Mrs Gentle, the mother of a Scottish soldier who challenged the Government that it was all worthwhile. These days, the Ministry of Defence press officers and grief counsellors handle it all.

Seemingly to give relatives space, names are not announced so quickly. All the war dead are loving sons and devoted partners and gentle fathers. Yet statistically Army personnel have a disproportionate capacity for domestic violence. Commanding Officers read a piece to camera. The Dead Soldier was a Good Soldier. All were brave and all of them seemingly of good humour and the life and soul of the party. So seemingly none of them had ever got into a pot of bother with the civilian population in Catterick, Aldershot and Colchester. And being good guys would not have gone into a civilian life that involved petty crime or imprisonment…too often the lot of former soldiers.

We were naive in Norn Iron In the 1970s. We thanked GOD we were alive and we never thought…in those days before compensation culture…that the trauma was worth a few quid if only it had happened to us (less likely) in the 1980s and 1990s.

And we knew nothing about the “right way” to deal with Grief. We simply moved on. No counselling. And maybe that is the reason that people of my generation are so skeptical about Conflict Resolution and Truth and Reconciliation and Healing and all that stuff that the Overclass say we must have. Because it is too late. Much too late.

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