The Wind that Shakes the Barley

As Sir Winston Churchill himself declared: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
Much has been said about Germany and it’s roll in the extermination of millions of Jews in the 10 years from 1935-1945.It seems that every angle of this atrocity has been covered and yet still every year more books and more movies cover this dark side of our own human history.Why the Germans?As a child growing up in the 50’s and 60’s I often wondered how it would feel to be German and to carry that enormous weight of guilt,that a German child of my age must have surely endured.
“Never again” is the phrase that I remember hearing.And so it seems we predict our own destiny to constantly repeat over and over again.And after 911 I remember hearing,”We will never be the same”and “We must never forget” What a thing to say and what a concept to predict. The name 911 ensures one thing and that is that it will not be forgotten for a long time.Few people remember the date of Pearl Harbour so the day can come and go and we are not even aware of it.Other days that we always are aware of besides our own birthdays are Christmas and Easter,July 4th and Thanksgiving.All over Europe and in France, Mayday,”demandez muguet le premier mai“a phrase forever embedded in my head after spending 2 consecutive springs in Paris.In England,there is Guy Fawkes Day,surely the oddest day for a country to remember since Guy Fawkes was the man that tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
So why Germany?Why, of all the atrocities that humanity has committed is the one that Germany committed considered the worst of all.Mao killed 30 million Chinese in the late 50’s and early 60’s,during his Great Leap Forward,as a foot note he also invaded Tibet which has led to the subsequent death of 1.2 million Tibetans.There were 100’s of years of slavery which killed untold amounts people,so many that nobody would even try to guess.How many died during the 100’s of years of the genocide of the Native Americans?How many Vietnamese did the the French kill?How many did the Americans kill after them, leading to the dirty war in Cambodia and then Pol Pot who killed a third of all Cambodians in the 70’s?.How many are still suffering from the debilitating effects of Agent Orange?The Philippine-American War, from February 1899 to July 1902, claimed 250,000 Filipino lives — some say as many as 1 million and the only people who seem to know anything about this are the Filipinos.
The people who really seem to have gotten away with murder on a grand scale were of course those lovable Brits,so I guess Churchill was not the only Brit writing his own history.The great thing about winning a war is of course that you get to write the story.So here are a couple of quotes from the great British hero of the mid 20th century “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes,” this statement was made in 1919. Churchill was secretary of state at the war office when the Royal Air Force asked him for permission to use chemical weapons against “recalcitrant Arabs”,the Kurds, as an experiment. Winston promptly consented. Churchill’s gassing of the Kurds pre-dated Saddam’s by nearly 70 years.
In language later appropriated by the Israelis, Winston Churchill had this to say about the Palestinians in 1937: “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
The new Irish movie “The Wind that shakes the Barley”covers a small chapter in the the long history of the British Empire.If the sun never sets on the British Empire then I guess the sun never rises either,and that was a long dark night.In 1921, the British Empire held sway over a population of about 458 million people, approximately one-quarter of the world’s population. It covered about 36.6 million km² (14.2 million square miles), about a quarter of Earth’s total land area.
In December of 1922 the Irish gained their Independence and the Brit’s saw the beginning of the end of their empire.The intense cruelty has somehow been forgotten,and maybe that is good for the Irish to put this behind them and I’m sure the Brits appreciate this but they should stop playing the victim,and their whining about the air raids by Hitler over London.I’m sure the citizens of Baghdad did not appreciate bombs raining down on them in 2003.And since the Irish are willing to forget about something as brutal as pitchcapping,they should forgive Germany for what they did.
Pitchcapping refers to a form of torture devised by British forces in 18th century Ireland which was widely used against suspected rebels during the period of the 1798 Rebellion.The process involved pouring hot pitch, or tar , into a conical shaped paper “cap”, which was forced onto a bound suspect’s head and then allowed to cool. Less elaborate versions included smearing a cloth or paper with pitch and pressing onto the head of the intended victim. The “pitchcap” was then torn off taking lumps of skin and flesh with it which usually left the victim disfigured for life.
Refinements to the torture included unbinding the victim’s feet to allow the spectacle of them running about in agony and in some cases, deliberately smashing their own heads in an attempt to end the torment. Another variation involved adding turpentine or gunpowder to the pitchcap when cooled and then setting it alight.
OK I know that is not the way the Brits behave anymore and that is in the past and we must forgive and forget,but dropping cluster bombs,or Storm Shadow bombs and other types of bombs from 20-30 thousand feet is not very civil either and just because you don’t have to witness the suffering does not make it ok,so “ban the bomb” is still a good idea.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley is not just a movie about Ireland,it is a movie about everyone,everywhere,it is our past,our present and hopefully not our future.

I sat within the valley green, I sat me with my true love
My sad heart strove the two between, the old love and the new love
The old for her, the new that made me think on Ireland dearly
While soft the wind blew down the glen and shook the golden barley

‘Twas hard the woeful words to frame to break the ties that bound us
But harder still to bear the shame of foreign chains around us
And so I said, “The mountain glen I’ll seek at morning early
And join the bold united men,” while soft winds shake the barley

While sad I kissed away her tears, my fond arms round her flinging
A yeoman’s shot burst on our ears from out the wildwood ringing
A bullet pierced my true love’s side in life’s young spring so early
And on my breast in blood she died while soft winds shook the barley

I bore her to some mountain stream, and many’s the summer blossom
I placed with branches soft and green about her gore-stained bosom
I wept and kissed her clay-cold corpse then rushed o’er vale and valley
My vengeance on the foe to wreak while soft wind shook the barley

But blood for blood without remorse I’ve taken at Oulart Hollow
And laid my true love’s clay cold corpse where I full soon may follow
As round her grave I wander drear, noon, night and morning early
With breaking heart when e’er I hear the wind that shakes the barley
Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836-1883)

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