Nathan Bedford Forrest And Raymond McCreesh

Conflict Resolution is a terrible thing. As I have always said, the best way to resolve a conflict is to have one side completely destroy the other. It is not exactly a moral stance. But the alternative …resolving a dispute by negotiation and attributing victory and defeat is not exactly a very satisfactory way to go about things.

In 1945, Nazi Germany was defeated. Crushed. The most complete form of Conflict Resolution. Nazis were taken off to be executed, imprisoned or simply re-educated in western democracy or soviet democracy. Denying the Holocaust or honouring Nazis is a crime (as it is in Poland, Austria and many other places which witnessed the Holocaust and Hitler. In Britain, it is merely anti-social. But in modern Germany, there are no memorials to Hitler and Himmler. There are no “childrens play parks” named for Goerring and Goebbels.

Take General Benedict Arnold. There are no American cities named for him…the hero of Saratoga. There are cities named for Houston, Decatur, Lafayette and Custer. But on the Saratoga site, there is merely a nameless monument, really understood by those who understand “The Boot”. At West Point Academy, where Benedict Arnold served, he goes without a name on the list of Commanders.

For Benedict Arnold was of course a traitor to th United States of America. If you ever see a movie called “The Red Jacket”, Arnold is despised by both the American and British spies, who are the heroes of the movie. Yes, the movie was made during the Second World War when USA and Britain were allies.

Of course the United States defeated Britain in the Revolutionary War. That is Conflict Resolution. There would be monuments to Benedict Arnold all over the United States, had Benedict Arnold been on the winning side. As it is, he is vilified as a traitor. He has no glory, like General George Custer, American hero with the city of Custer in South Dakota named for him. Around the same time that Hollywood was telling the story of  Benedict Arnold in “The Red Jacket”, it was telling the story of George Custer in “They Died With Their Boots On”. No nuance there either because War against the Native American tribes ended in Victory and Defeat. And a Holocaust. That is Conflict Resolution.

Take the War Between The States. Or if you prefer the American Civil War. Or if you prefer, the War of Northern Aggression. Pretty complete Conflict Resolution at Appomattox in April 1865. Victory. Defeat. Heroes (Lincoln, Grant, Sherman). Traitors (Davis, Lee, Stuart). Well….not quite. The attempt at reconstructing Southern racist society stalled and was finally given up….effectively allowing “southern society” to rule itself for a further century, slavery abolished and segregation facilitated within the United States.

Conflict Resolution was rolled back and put on hold so USA was left with effectively the less satisfactory form of Conflict Resolution which results from Stalemate.

Memorials for Confederate Veterans are in southern cities. A statue of Jefferson Davis is in the University of Texas in Austin. There are memorials and statues to Davis across the South. High Schools are named for him. As recently as 1964, a Community College in Alabama was named for him.

The Confederate Flag flies in private houses across the South. The Nazi Flag does not fly in private houses in Germany. Re-enactors carry the flag into camp-sites and on to battle fields. They will say that it is a banner that fought for “States Rights”. They will say that it is “Heritage, Not Hate”. Some might well believe it. But I would like to ask them how they feel about Mexican migration, Islam, Gun Rights etc to get a better flavour of how they might have felt about Slavery in 1861.

Take for example Nathan Bedford Forrest. Hero or Traitor? Well…with the secondary form of Conflict Resolution, it is a bit hard to tell. A slave owner and a slave trader…is hardly heroic. But to rise thru the ranks to become the best Cavalry General on either side iin the Civil War, well ….he fired on the American flag, killed American soldiers and got there fastest with the mostists….so he is kinda both. Then after the Civil War, he becomes a central figure and possibly a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee which doesnt sound very nice at all. But then THAT Ku Klux Klan was not the worst KKK and he did leave when it all got too nasty. And before he died, he was (it is claimed) on reasonably good terms with former slaves.

Confederate Hero? American Traitor? Yet they named schools and institutions for him. They even named Forrest Gump for him. They erected statues for him and in Memphis, Tennessee there was a public park named for him. Kinda controversial in 21st century. Hate or Heritage? It was renamed to something more neutral a few years back. The right decision?

Take….Ireland. Whatever about the North, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was a form of pretty complete Conflict Resolution within the Republic of Ireland, as it became. Victory and Defeat.

The main thoroughfare in Dublin was re-named. Sackville Street becoming O’Connell Street. The railway stations, Connolly, Pearse and Heuston in Dublin and Ceannt in Galway honour executed leaders of 1916 Rising. Queenstown beccame Cobh, Kingstown became Dun Laoighre and Maryborough became Port Laoise. Queens County and Kings County (originally named for English Queen, Mary Tudor and her consort, Philip, became County Laois and County Offaly respectively. Of course there are anomolies, reflecting the History….the Dublin Horse Show is held at the “Royal Dublin Society” grounds and in 1963 thru my thoroughly nationalist Irish Christian Brothers, I got a certificate from the “Royal Irish Academy of Music”.

Gaelic Athletic Clubs (which are of course nothing to do with Government) and organised on an all-Ireland basis are routinely named for Irish heroes from the mythical to the War of Independence leading to the Treaty.  It has never been controversial in the Republic of Ireland. There is a point where “rebellion” becomes “establishment”.

If Conflict Resolution in the Republic of Ireland is mostly a “done deal” since 1922, it has not been the case in the North of Ireland, which had/has a distinct air of “unfinished business”. There was no acceptance of (unionist) Victory and (nationalist) defeat by nationalists. Therefore unionist persistence in referring to the mainly nationalist city of “Derry” as “Londonderry” or the 1960s decision to name a new city in County Armagh as “Craigavon” (named for a unionist founding father of Norn Iron” is only really appropriate in a Victory-Defeat scenario.

While the naming of GAA clubs for Irish heroes is normal in the Republic of Ireland, it offends unionists. It should not …but it does. As a community, unionists are easily offended. In Tyrone, there is Dungannon Clarkes (named for an executed 1916 Leader). In County Derry, there is Bellaghy Wolfe Tones (named for a 1798 Leader). And in County Armagh, there is Derrytrasna Sarsfields (named for 1690s Jacobite). And this is a pattern across the North. Not controversial to nationalists. Its part of our History. And even the re-naming of a club for Kevin Lynch a deceased 1981 hunger striker can be understood in the context of  Lynch being a member of the club. To unionists it is naming a club for a “terrorist”.

As the northern conflict was brought to an end in 1998 by the Good Friday Agreement, it is a mantra that nobody won and nobody lost. It has been unsatisfactorally concluded in Stalemate. Academics in the odd field of Conflict Resolution have tried to attribute Victory and Defeat. Especially as vital elements of the Agreement were never fully addressed.

Perhaps in this context the nationalist and republican Newry and Mourne District Council, feel it is right to name a childrens playground for Raymond McCreesh, a local IRA man who died on hunger strike in 1981. The move is proposed by Sinn Féin and opposed by unionists. To the embarassment of the SDLP leadership, local SDLP councillors have abstained on the issue. The likelihood is that the decision will be reviewed and reversed by the “new” larger council which comes into office next month.

At best…the decision seems insensitive. But the problem with LetsGetAlongerism in Norn Iron is that it purports to believe in “parity of esteem” but the default position is that primacy is given to the British tradition. The Irish Flag is not afforded the same respect as its British counterpart. The Irish and British anthems not accorded equal respect and the default position is that a way must be found to facilitate Orange parades rather than residents who oppose the sectarian nature of the institution.

But what has this got to do with General Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Confederate States of America and Newry, County Down.

Well….John Mitchel Square is a very small square in Newry, County Down. He was an Irish patriot who was sent into exile to Australia and made his way to the United States, prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War. So far…so predictable. But on the outbreak of the War, Mitchel advocated for the Confederacy, supported slavery and was a critic of the “moderate” President Jefferson Davis. He was at least as racist as Nathan Bedford Forrest. He returned to Ireland after the war, became an agent for the Fenians and ended his days in Newry.

And in Newry, they build a statue to John Mitchel. AND a GAA Club, Newry Mitchels is named for him. Named for an outspoken racist. In fairness in the late nineteeth century, few would really have scrutinised the discepancy. But in 2015, we should maybe wonder if John Mitchel Square is more or less appropriate than Raymond McCreesh Playground.

Nor does anyone seem to notice that the City of Craigavon carries a name of a unionist politician that is offensive to me….a resident (albeit one who never shows the name on any form of address).

But it could be worse. There is a Jefferson Davis County in Mississippi. There is a Nathan Bedford Forrest in Mississippi. And there is a Mitchell (sic) County in Iowa….named for our very own racist, John Mitchel (sic).

As a footnote….in our Assembly, Tom Elliott MLA (UUP) will be tabling a motion to prohibit the naming of public buildings/spaces for “convicted terrorists”. The SDLP is minded to support this, with the proviso that it is tweaked to be more even-handed.

But meanwhile….next week, I have an appointment at CRAIGAVON Hospital.



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