DUBLIN. Bono (blessed be his name) seems at last to have employed the services of a weatherman. Having thus discerned which way the wind blows, and lifting his purple wraparound shades long enough to wink at the Nobel committee, U2’s frontman has finally outed himself, ever so carefully, as antiwar.
You wouldn’t have guessed when the tabloid Ireland on Sunday blared its ‘exclusive’ Bono antiwar interview on February 23 that the ‘outspoken’ Bono would actually hedge his criticisms so thoroughly. But reading through the article all you find is implied criticism of excessive tactics when dealing with ‘terrorism’, contained in a simplistic history lesson. “I think the way terrorism in Ireland was encouraged by a very over the top British response is a good example. You had 300 active service members of the Provisional IRA in the ’70s and ’80s and they sent in 30,000 troops. They also interned everybody who was suspicious without fair access to trial lawyers. Internment was the thing that actually grew the IRA.”
Bono’s surging concern) about civil rights and liberties in Ireland will come as some surprise to people who actually campaigned for them during the Troubles. Back then Bono was just another of the establishment voices in the Republic who worked hard to ensure that republicanism was marginalized and criminalized. (Remember his re-assuring “This is not a rebel song!” on the live version of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’?) Like most of that Irish establishment, and sharing its complete lack of compunction about changing tune now that the IRA has ended its campaign, Bono is now an moist-eyed spokesman for dialogue, negotiation, addressing the causes of conflict, bringing people in from the cold, etc etc. He even offers “Irish people” (himself?) as experts on call to President Bush: “It would be wise at this moment in time to think about the mistakes that have been made. Irish people have a little bit of experience with terrorism, and America has none.”
In any case, Bono’s comments were certainly more akin to “Steady on there, George and Tony” than “No blood for oil!” Around the same time he was chatting to Ireland on Sunday, he was attending a ‘MusiCares’ benefit in New York City, where he was honoured for his tirelessly self-promoting ‘humanitarian work’. There he told the crowd: “The war against terrorism is bound up with the war against poverty.” Which, when you think about it, sounds less like a criticism than a plea for a piece of the action.
At the same celeb-studded event, Bono introduced Bill Clinton as “more of a rock star than any in this room”. Was this some caustic reference to the ex-prez’s sexual proclivities? He’s such a messer, that Bono; he sure knows how to afflict the comfortable.
Last week Bono was at it again in Paris, when he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor (which definitely sounds better than ‘MusiCares Person of the Year’) for, you guessed it, his ‘humanitarian work’. This time Jacques Chirac was the duly appointed flatteree, and Bono did not disappoint. Did he approve of Chirac’s stance on Iraq? “How can you not be for peace? I think America has no experience with terrorism or even with war. In Europe, we know a little bit more about these things. We must not make a martyr out of Saddam Hussein He’s good at propaganda. Let’s not make it easier for him.”
The press reports don’t say whether he dropped his American drawl in favor of a European accent (Dublin middle-class will do), but his pulling of historical rank in favor of ‘old Europe’ still left him with Tony Blair to address. Bono did so with his customary tongue-work: “Tony Blair is not going to war for oil,” he said. “Tony Blair is to me a great politician. He is sincere in his convictions about Iraq but, in my opinion, he is sincerely wrong.”
Compare this patented Bonoblather to the maturing outlook of fellow superstar Bruce Springsteen, who upset some fans last year when he was mealy-mouthed about the Afghan campaign. (Check out Garry Leupp’s excellent August open letter to Springsteen on the subject.) In recent months, Bruce has been opining away in interviews against an Iraq invasion and domestic repression; opening his recent gig in Austin, Texas, with Edwin Starr’s ‘War’; and giving his props to the late Joe Strummer from the Grammy stage with a version of ‘London Calling’. (Since February 15 no one can be in any doubt about what London’s saying when it calls.)
Still, you might say, better late than never from Bono. Except that here in his own country, Ireland, antiwar activists may be suffering from the notorious curse that afflicts those associated with the Wailing One. (Just ask his erstwhile travelling companion, ex-US treasury secretary Paul O’Neill.) Let’s look at the record: less than three weeks ago, well over 100,000 people turned out on the streets of Dublin to oppose the war. Since then, Bono has revealed that He is On Our Side, and the movement here has descended into argument and sniping about the admissibility or otherwise of ‘direct action’ tactics, divisions gleefully exploited by the media. This belated confirmation of Brendan Behan’s too-oft-quoted maxim about how an Irish agenda begins with the split led to a disappointing turnout of fewer than 2,000 protesters (in two separate groups) at Shannon ‘Warport’ on March 1.
Coincidence? Nah. Sure, you could explain the middle-class likes of the Labor Party and the Greens running a hundred miles from a demonstration where the ‘violence’ of wirecutters applied to a runway fence might be employed. But Sinn Fein (the IRA’s political brethren) taking a stand against ‘direct action’? They can only have been spellbound by the Curse of Bono.
HARRY BROWNE lectures in the school of media at Dublin Institute of Technology. He can be contacted at email@example.com.