The Brits Have Their War Dead, We Have Bobby Sands 


Last Sunday Britain remembered yet again its soldiers which were “killed in past and present” wars. This annual British event – Remembrance Sunday – is their annual “fuck you” to the world. It basically is a defence of the British Empire and the willing executioners it sent out to the four corners of the world. It’s insensitivity towards the peoples Britain conquered and condemned is so breathtaking that it begs a bloody response.

And when Britain’s role in the 21st century Arab slaughter is taken into account – the sight of Britain’s military shamelessly looking for respect is nothing less than the sabotage of morality. It makes a mockery of international solidarity and international equality. It is not a nation remembering but a nation defecating – defecating on the universal rights of men and women everywhere. It is a pure crime parading as pure innocence.

Britain’s ruling class was profoundly embarrassed by Brexit. Ever since the vote to “leave” Europe – this establishment has been at pains to express its love for Europe and the globe. Yet every year this social class recalls with pride the British rape of the world. Indeed this ruling class has steadfastly refused to apologise for its historical and contemporary acts – choosing instead to institutionalise its rapaciousness. Brexit may be an embarrassment for this class – but not war. On the contrary – war is policy – a perennial policy.

Just how long has war been British policy? Since it’s unification in 1707 Britain has been at war more or less nonstop somewhere in the world. From the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-13) to the destruction of Libya and Syria (2011-16) the British have been in the business of killing foreigners. In a light hearted book All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Around To (2013) the writer Stuart Laycock concludes that Britain has invaded 90% of the world’s countries. That is: out of nearly 200 countries – only 22 have escaped British terror. However being light hearted about this will not stop the killing machine.

In contrast the writer Richard Gott in his book Britain’s Empire (2011) looks very closely at this trail of blood and guts. For him it is not a joke for Brits to laugh at. But is a problem to deal with. And overcome. He looks for the victims of British terror and their resistance to British rule so as to gain a liberating view of the past and therefore of the present. Once the revolt and resistance is included and embraced – an alternative to Empire becomes possible. By seeing Britain clearly and by rising up against it – Britain’s victims gave and give birth to a better world. This is one of the great stories – if not the greatest story – of the modern world. One that we cling to today in the face of a resurgent Empire.

In a revealing remark Gott claims that this global struggle against British violence can be summed up in one story – that of Ireland.

“No colony in their Empire gave the British more trouble than the island of Ireland. No subject people proved more rebellious than the Irish. From misty start to unending finish, Irish revolt against colonial rule has been the leitmotif that runs through the entire history of Empire, causing problems in Ireland, in England itself, and in the most distant corners of the British globe.”

And if this is so – we contend that this Gaelic/Global rebellion against Britain is embodied in the life of one Irishman: Bobby Sands. If Ireland is the cutting edge of freedom from Britain everywhere – then Bobby Sands is the diamond that cuts deeply into the rock of British rule everywhere.

Born in Belfast in 1954 and dead 27 years later – Sands lit up the world from inside a British dungeon. He died because he refused to be broken by Britain. He died because he had more integrity and courage than Britain’s entire military history. He died because he rejected the criminalisation of resistance – resistance to Empire. He died with nine other Irish men on hunger strike. Sands was not only the leader of the striking prisoners – he was the leader at that moment of the entire global fight against injustice. From inside a prison cell he touched the four corners of the world.

Not only was Bobby Sands a leader in the political revolution – he was also a leader in the cultural revolution. His lust for freedom was not just a material thing. It was also a mental thought. One he put into words: words that fit perfectly into the art of Che and Mao. In his Writings from Prison (1997) he sings to us as he deconstructs the British gulag. Without needing to break down the walls that imprisoned him – he walked free. And in that cultural sense (indeed in every sense) he was freer than and greater than any of the mercenaries and sepoys that have died for Britain. Fidel Castro said Bobby Sands was more valuable than Jesus Christ. And he was right.

We remember the working class hero from Belfast – the IRA volunteer – who will always be an example for the world. In Bobby’s words:

“I was a skeleton compared to what I used to be but it didn’t matter. Nothing really mattered except remaining unbroken. I rolled over once again, the cold biting at me. They have nothing in their entire imperial arsenal to break the spirit of one single Republican political prisoner-of-war who refuses to be broken, I thought, and that was very true. They can not or never will break our spirit. I rolled over again freezing and the snow came in the window on top of my blankets.

“Tiocfaidh ár lá,” I said to myself. “Tiocfaidh ár lá.”

“Tiocfaidh ár lá” means in English “Our day will come”.

More articles by:

Aidan O’Brien lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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