Lethal Allies: Anne Cadwallader (Mercier Press)
Seen all the media hype and ‘who-ha’ around the book but as usual I won’t know what’s its really like until I read it for myself. It doesn’t take very long to get into the slant of the book which in fairness the author makes explicit early on. So the author must take on board that this will sound like Republican propaganda dragging up the old, old stories. Everyone in the early 70s knew dirty tricks where going on. The recent fuss over the MRF is puzzling to a person, like myself, who was involved in the troubles, went to prison, had friends killed, seen buildings blew apart, etc, etc.
I read the book with a rather untypical slant. I was a UVF life sentence prisoner, I grew up in central Belfast (admittedly a long way away from most of the events in the book) but I had one friend executed by the police on a Belfast street and another friend shot and seriously wounded by the police. It is a given, that my wounded friend was to be executed also only for the intervention of a bystander. I had friends killed by loyalists and British soldiers. I had friends killed by Republicans. I may be a Prod but am no stranger to dirty tricks, beatings by the police, harassment by the army, etc. For many people the ‘70s in N.Ireland was a semi-war zone.
The basis of the facts are taken for granted. The shootings, bombings and events are well documented and now supplemented by the HET. But, as noted in a previous book review on this site there is a distinct lack of context. The early ‘70s in this country were ferocious and horrible. What of the continued IRA violence, which we as young loyalists, responded to, especially after 1972? The emotional aspects to the killings and the suffering of the families are powerful testimony in this book. I just hope that the many readers will consider the anguish and pain that took place in thousands of homes here and in England, Scotland and Wales. Mother losing sons and never really getting over it.
There are some details I am puzzled over. Given the nature of the book with so many names flying about why was the author coy about not naming the two people convicted of killing young Duffy? (see page 72) I know the two men well and they were regarded as different, namely in that they were innocent compared to the rest of us. So maybe this fact does not fit in well with the thrust of the book namely that the UVF and security forces were in cahoots, slaughtering innocent Catholics. In this case 2 UVF men were set up by the very security forces that were in collusion with them? The two men served out 15 years each for something they did not do.
On page 80 there is reference to a named source. Given nearly everyone else (except 2 ) are named why not reveal this? This is a form of censorship by the author?
A bigger question that arose while reading this book was, given the power of the security forces, why did they not target the real activists, operators, players? It appears from every case here (bar Green who could not be easily denied as an activist) that each and every victim was innocent. (The majority of people killed by Republicans were innocent.) The question is; why would these trained soldiers and policemen, presumably with an agenda to halt IRA violence, not target the IRA men they knew where involved? As a reader of the book I have to assume from the author that the police and army were so stupid they had not the foggiest idea who the IRA activists were? This also do not sound reasonable when one considers today just how infiltrated the IRA had become. There appears to be no IRA supporters in south Armagh, no usual haunts or pubs they frequent. I think we all accept now that the British Army and more so its intelligence branch took time but riddled the PIRA from the inside. (The RUC/Special branch riddled the loyalists from the inside.) I suspect there were deeper moles in the IRA long before Stakeknife and Callaghan. Why would the security forces target innocents and drive people towards the IRA?
The author is asking us to believe that the police, the courts, the Lord Chief Justice and senior civil servants all are in cahoots here. I leave out the army because they were fighting a terrorist movement using all means at their disposal for a political end.
This is a well-researched book with a clear agenda but that does not mean we have to take it to be the entire truth. Finally, what does this book mean in the larger context of N.Irealnd, its future and dealing with the legacy of the conflict? Does it help and heal? Given the way the story is delivered it will not be seen as helpful within the loyalist community. It has the feel of continuing the ‘struggle’ in a different guise. All of us have to agree on something about the past otherwise we are all going to limp on to an uncertain future.