Bobby Sands Died for Your Sins

Dear Elizabeth II,

What a dandy duo of imperialism you and our own George II made during your recent visit to Jamestown. How appropriate that together you celebrated the 400th anniversary of the theft of indigenous lands in the Americas.

It wasn’t long after the settlement of Jamestown that your country introduced the plantation system into Ireland, forcing the Irish off their lands and replacing them with loyal British settlers. And then there was the rest of world to seize.

Those pesky Irish were always rebelling, so-between Cromwell and the Penal Laws–your people turned that country into a charnel house of cultural genocide which included denying people access to the resources of their own land. The subjugation of the Irish was an illustrative model for our own George II as he and his corporate comrades made plans to lay waste the people and culture of Iraq and take their oil. The tragedy for the people of Iraq is that our own George II didn’t read the part where people don’t like being occupied by somebody else and will fight to the death over the right to their own land. Of course, maybe he just didn’t get it; the original story was prettied up by the embedded historians, like most of our Anglo-American history books.

“Play the orange card,” Lord Randolph Churchill said a few hundred years later when the Irish were at it again for independence. And it certainly worked! Nothing like fomenting sectarian and ethnic violence to keep the blighters under your majesty’s thumb. What a concept! So successful you used it in Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Palestine, Malaya–you name it.

Hey, did you or Tony Blair tell our own George II that divide-and-conquer would also work in Iraq? Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Baathists, etc.-set them all against each other, so the Anglo-American “interests” can be served without interruption from any kind of unified rebellion. Keep those internecine cauldrons boiling, and hopefully, no one will notice what the “interests” are up to!

How about our own George II’s colony at Guantanamo, a geopolitical purgatory where prisoners are held indefinitely without the benefit of a trial? Sort of like the concentration camps your guys invented in South Africa over a hundred years ago: when folks get uppity, round ’em up and stick ’em all in one place! And how imaginative those Victorians were! Up until that time, people thought barbed wire was used to keep cattle from wandering onto the neighbor’s ranch. Who would have thought it could be used for corralling people?

You must have been miffed during the beginning of your reign when the ungrateful people of Malaya decided that they no longer wanted to be part of the British Empire. But you guys couldn’t let that happen, so you pioneered the “strategic hamlet” plan–a variation of the old South Africa resettlement model–and crushed the insurgency. That plan didn’t work so well for us in Vietnam though, so now we just take insurgents out of their own country and imprison and torture them somewhere else. Clever, huh? And so much cheaper!

Last year Americans flocked in droves to your movie, “The Queen,” and our tastemakers heaped awards all over it. (I thought, my God, not another movie about all those royal layabouts–but, who’s counting?) One thing we can say about Americans: most of us can’t wait to genuflect when a bit of perceived royalty passes our way, whether it’s a pop star or a politician or some old royal roach with a title. A sad indication of our own tumble from our democratic ideals is that we haven’t flocked to “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” a more accurate portrayal of the consequences of resisting royal occupation.

Sometimes the ordinary soldiers refuse to do the dirty work for our familial and financial dynasties. Like after WWI when the rank and file had had it with rich people’s wars. But, Elizabeth, you don’t have a problem with that, do you? We know the drill: pay someone else to do the heavy lifting! Over two hundred years ago, your country hired Hessians to put down the American revolutionists. During the Irish War for Independence, your grandfather set those murderers-for-hire known as the Black and Tans loose on Ireland. (Did you know that in Cork they had orders to shoot anyone who had his hands in his pockets?)

Our own George II and Dick Cheney figured that one out quick. They hired thousands of mercenaries-high-paid killers from companies like Blackwater–to subdue Iraqis and protect Big Oil’s new preserves. No military supervision, no Geneva Convention, no legal or moral restraints whatsoever. “Kill’ em all and let God sort ’em out,” they say, video game style.

Occasionally, we hear some chatter from Tony Blair and our own George II about “the rule of law,” so I think we should address some of that law stuff here. Like, ha- ha, when did you guys really need a law to OK the invasion of another country or the seizure of their resources? But, seriously, we know you have to provide the voters with some tidbit of legality so they can tuck the kids into bed at night and tell them all’s right with the world and they’ll live happily ever after. Because, of course, they live in the country that DROPS the bombs, not the one that RECEIVES them. But, all legal, mind you.

I know: quibble, quibble, quibble. However, you guys do need those laws, at least so your house historians can write You-Done-Good when you’re dead and gone. So Parliament and Congress passes stuff like The Prevention of Terrorism Act, The Patriot Act, and The Military Commissions Act, enabling the government to do whatever the hell it wants without any legislative interference. The Magna Carta and the Constitution went down the drain but, c’mon: be there or be square! We’re makin’ history here!

I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but some people are calling our legislative bodies “The Weimar Parliament” and “The Weimar Congress” because the original Weimar Reichstag passed eerily similar legislation in 1933 enabling Hitler to do his thing without any legislative constraint. However, the Nazis were more up-front about it. They actually called it the “Enabling Act.”

The Magna Carta never did apply to occupied Ireland, though. For example, during Internment in the 1970’s, your police arrested people without charge, held them incommunicado, tried and convicted them without jury trials and imprisoned them in places like Long Kesh. (There’s that barbed wire again!)

And then, in a transparent attempt to re-frame Ireland’s historic struggle for liberation into a criminal enterprise, your government rescinded political status for the Irish political prisoners.

Margaret Thatcher, your prime minister during that time, liked to posture a lot with tough-guy tautologies like “crime is crime is crime.” Engulfed in privilege and surrounded by bodyguards, Thatcher never put herself in harm’s way for her principles, did she? Heaven forbid! Nor have you or Tony Blair, our own George II or Dick Cheney. It’s so much more comfortable to send other folks and their children off to war and occupation isn’t it?

In 1981, a courageous young man stood up and said That’s Enough and–Gandhi-like– began a hunger strike for the principle of political status. His words were bold. “They have nothing in their imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn’t want to be broken,” said Bobby Sands.

For “Irishmen,” insert any nationality struggling against oppression. At that point and forever, Bobby Sands represents the political prisoners of the world: Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Lori Berenson, Gerard Jean Juste. And all those unknown prisoners on a list which is growing like a cancer in a socio/political milieu where imperial oppression, not justice, is the order of the day.

After sixty-six days, while the world watched in horror and pleaded with your government to negotiate, Bobby Sands passed into history. And then-one by one over the following three months–nine more young men in the hunger strike died hideous deaths: Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Michael Devine.

Margaret Thatcher has written in her memoirs that her meetings with you were “quietly businesslike and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience.”

What did you and Thatcher say to each other when you talked about the hunger strikers? Were your conversations “quietly businesslike” while these young men died the horrible death of starvation? Did the telephone ring to inform you that another one had died? Or was it really not that important in your conversations?

Do you or Tony Blair ever chat with George Bush or Dick Cheney about Abu Graib and Guantanamo, two of the latest products of the Anglo-American empire? I wonder if George and Dick are also “quietly businesslike” in their discussions of things like waterboarding.

Do any of you hear the screams of the tortured in your sleep?

DON SANTINA is a cultural historian who received a 2005 Superior Scribing award for his Counterpunch article “Reparations for the Blues.” He can be reached at




Don Santina’s latest novel, “A Bullet for the Angel,” is a noir tale of murder and gentrification in 1959 San Francisco. He can be reached at