The novel appliance of war propaganda

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Gangsters or Guerrillas? Representations of Irish republicans in 'Troubles fiction' by Patrick Magee, Beyond the Pale Publications, £12.99 pbk

AS ONE should in such matters, I first have to declare my bias. Pat Magee, knowing of my interest in this subject, many years ago while struggling to obtain his doctorate while serving eight life sentences in Long Kesh, contacted me and asked me if I would help with information and my observations.

I was happy to do so and in this book, which is the publication of that successful thesis, Dr Magee duly acknowledges that help and quotes extensively from me in the last chapter. Having admitted that fact, I am not responsible for the way he has assimilated information, analysed it and put it together in a brilliant study which must surely be rated as one of the most important literary analytical works on fiction relating to Ireland.

He has worked his way through 700 work of fiction produced to date and comes to the same conclusion that I have commented upon in this paper -- that the books relating to the Irish struggle played a crucial role in the propaganda war.

It sets out to denigrate and de-humanise the ‘enemy’, in this case, the Irish republicans who appear as “psychopaths” or “godfathers” and at best “misled romantic young men” fixated by “blood sacrifice”. Without exception, the English are painted as standing firm for the rule of law and fair play with ‘fair-minded’ officers and ‘good-natured Tommies’. The stories present a ‘never-never land’ world.

Such books, many of them made into films or tv adaptations and often given the Hollywood hype, have been remorseless is misleading the British public in particular as to what has been happening in their name in the north of Ireland.

Dr Magee sums them up thus: to read these works uncritically is to accept at face value many assumptions that continue to hinder a resolution of the divisions of Ireland.

Gangsters or Guerrillas? is a book that must be read. It is a book that will doubtless call forth our ërevisionistí friends falling over themselves to savage Dr Magee’s work. But one wouldnít expect otherwise. They have to justify themselves for supporting such rubbish to twist peopleís minds for the last three decades or so.

Dr Magee is already used to vilification from such quarters. In 1985 he was charged with involvement in the bombing of the Grand hotel in Brighton during the previous year. He was eventually released from jail in June, 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. He has established the Causeway Project which seeks to facilitate encounters between the victims and perpetrators of actions that occurred during the War in the north of Ireland.

Gangsters or Guerrillas? Is one of the most important books on the northern struggle, defining it by use of the analysis of attitudes shown in the literary propaganda that has presented a true understanding of the situation.

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