They say that in War, the first casualty is Truth.
I would say that in Civil War, the first casualty is Friendship.
Back in the 1960s, it seemed everything was normal. From 1963 to 1970 I was on a scholarship to a grammar school. One of the few from the working class parish and district. And relevant to say that the street in which I lived was a mixed street…predominantly Catholic at one end and predominantly Protestant at the other end. We lived in the middle.
Of course in the 1960s, we did not know the word “Demographics” but the street was changing. Protestants were moving out as (in their eyes) the street was going downhill. Arguably you could say that it was a slum area and the Belfast City Corporation was bigoted and re-housed Protestants first. And they tended to move out to places that were unknown to us…Rathcoole, Dundonald, Glencairn. We spent Sundays getting the number 13 bus to Andersonstown and walking around the construction sites at Lenadoon and Suffolk, hoping that one house was destined for us.
For a child, everything is ideal. There were reminders of the Past. …the dark days of the 1920s and 1930s. Mrs Crossan and Mrs Masterson sat in our house drinking tea and talking about the B Specials, the Black and Tans, Christy Clarke, and people being burned out of their homes.
My father advised me to be careful because our “mixed street” team played football in the Falls Park, Ormeau Park, Lady Dixon Park, Botanic Park, Grove Park and Woodvale Park. We just went… the traditional “jumpers for goalposts” game against other kids from North, South and West Belfast. I cant honestly say that we ever played in East Belfast. It was just familiarity and logistics. Were the other teams Catholic or Protestant……some certainly were one or the other….but I suppose most were also “mixed” as Catholics lived seemingly at ease at Annadale, Crumlin Road, Lisburn Road.
There was a kinda protocol about living in a “mixed street”. You could never (certainly as a Catholic) be entirely yourself. In July, the British flags would fly from windows at the Protestant end of the street. Behind us and to our left was Protestant area and to our right and in front of us was Catholic. As the 1960s progressed, there were fewer British flags, maybe just three ….in part it was the demographics and in part it was the changing times. The newer Catholic neighbours might open their doors and Irish rebel songs would blare out.
The protocol was effectively just good manners. The Protestants were Sunday observers so it was not considered good manners to play football or street games on a Sunday. And we were all happy to go our separate ways to church and school.
It was all very…civilised.
I suppose everyone thinks they are unique. But there is something about the decade 1963-1973 which seems particularly unique to me. Grammar school began (1963) with the Beatles “She Loves You” at the top of the British charts. The Summer of Love (San Francisco and Sgt Pepper 1967) is a half way point. And the final years to 1970 when the Beatles split up. …Grammar School/High School were the Beatles Years.
To emphasise the line drawn in the sand on the weekend of 15 August 1969…the Troubles broke out in violence at exactly the same time as people my age were heading to a place called …Woodstock in upstate New York.
More significantly 1963 took me away from the neighbourhood school and the “mixed street” to a Catholic school. Certainly I met boys from posh areas like the Malone Road and Antrim Road and out of town boys from Bangor, Portaferry and Lisburn but there were just as many working class kids from other Belfast areas, Short Strand, Ardoyne and Ballymurphy.
I was in a strange limbo…never fully at ease with the slum and never really at ease with the Grammar School and compounded by Protestant friends leaving the area and my family moving out in early 1970 when our house was finally knocked down. Leaving school in 1970 and starting work and the Troubles in full swing within a few years, it was unattractive proposition to go outdoors after dark and the petty harassment of the Brits (don’t get me started on the Paras, the Black Watch, the Grren Cowards and the Inglorious Gloucesters). Keeping myself to myself was a better option than being a “social” .
It would be several years before the notion that a workplace should be neutral really caught hold and was initially enforceable by legislation.
Easier to enforce in the relatively sophisticated atmosphere of the government upstairs offices where I worked rather on the shop floor in the basement with the trappings of Britishness such as the walls with fading newspaper pages commemorating the 1953 Coronation.
As in the Seamas Heaney poem, there is a protocol to working in a “mixed” office. No talk about Politics but in 1972, on the 7th Floor at Dundonald House and watching “Bloody Friday” take place, the discomfort was obvious …my colleagues ill at ease at a Catholic in the midst as IRA bombs exploded in the city. Eventually a good hearted boss found someone willing to drive me the five miles into the City Centre. The Public Transport was suspended……..a driver whose silence made his feelings known.
The “don’t talk about politics” rule produced a kinda blandness. We spoke but said nothing. Clichés like “where will it all end?” after a bombing , “I don’t understand all this” after a shooting and then we all went home to our homes in unionist Newtownards or Catholic Armagh……..and we could talk freely to our parents and spouses as we saw the bombings and shootings on the News.
It was all just a Big Lie.
In the “mixed street” in 1966 we all seemed moderate. In the “mixed office” of 1976 we all seemed moderate. I am sure in the 1980s we gave the impression every election day that we couldn’t wait to vote for the Alliance Party but in reality we voted UUP or SDLP and even DUP or Sinn Féin….and nobody seemed to suspect.
But that is the trouble with being bland. Those unionist neighbours who in the 1960s we called friends would be supporting the Ulster Workers strike in 1973. And in 1981, moderate Catholic famers voted for Bobby Sands in Fermanagh-South Tyrone which was a big shock to their Protestant neighbours.
That’s who we are ……unionist/Protestant and nationalist/Catholic. What about the “LetsgetAlongerists”? . Beneath the front, they are just like the rest of us. Which is why I would rather have honest unionists than dishonest letsgetalongerists.
This is the prologue to Civil War. The failure of…Nuance.
Look at United States of America. Friendships are broken. It turns out that the “moderate” in Georgia voted for Trump and that making America great again is just a code for bigotry. It turns out that the “moderate” in California supports the NFL players who are kneeling down.
People post messages on Facebook to tell their friends that if they support a different position, the price will be losing a friend. And I would certainly be wary of making new American friends on social media.
It looks to me that USA is beyond the point of no return.