November 1941, while the Nazi extermination machine
was still only taxiing down its runway of mass murder
Count Helmuth James von Moltke, the legal advisor
to the High Command of Germany's military, wrote to
day brings new insights into the depths to which
human beings can sink. But in many respects the
bottom has been reached: the lunatic asylums are
slowly filling with men who broke down during or
after the executions they were told to carry out.
those, such as the Nazi exterminators who carry out
such atrocities can be expected to slide into the
vortex of mental collapse what then of the others
tasked with ensuring that such things do not happen
and are forced to stand 'with both arms the one length'
while they do?
the end of 2000 an article featured in a Canadian
newspaper. If there were prizes - and what could they
be we may wonder - to be awarded for the most insensitive
piece of reporting in the first year of the millennium
this article would have been a serious contender.
The story centred on Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire,
the former commander of UN forces in Rwanda. In it
he was described as someone who had descended 'from
model soldier to park bench drunk'.
road to ruin it seems was to have been
in Rwanda at a time when the Hutus were busy massacring
their Tutsi neighbours. It was hardly his fault that
he was in the country with manpower grossly insufficient
for the purposes of even minimising never mind thwarting
the genocidal onslaught. When presented with the Dr.
Samuel Henry Prince Humanitarian Award in May 2000
the citation stated that he was placed in the
position of having to witness horrendous barbarity
without the capacity or authority to intervene.
World leaders ignored his warnings of what Dante like
horrors awaited the Tutsis. They led those very nations
the leaders of which today tell us they bomb Serbia
and Afghanistan because of their concern for human
rights. President Bill Clinton of the United States
for his part in the Rwandan affair was described by
the writer Fergal Keane as 'the most culpable
of them all.
now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and
has contemplated suicide on a number of occasions.
He concedes that alcohol is his one avenue of escape
from the nightmare that was Rwanda.
Stress Disorder affects millions of ex-combatants
throughout the globe. The attitude of many towards
this would seem to be 'slap it up them'. That, with
no small measure of hypocritical cant, is invariably
determined, of course, by which side they supported
in whatever conflict affected them or captured their
interest. An 'our grizzly-doers are in some way superior
to yours' outlook. In the North of Ireland many who
rally to the aid of the torturers of the RUC and prison
service would be the first to howl if they sniff any
assistance being directed towards ex-prisoner groups.
it seems clear that a case can be made for such assistance
not to be merely retained but expanded to cover ex-combatants
of all persuasions. 'From model soldier to park bench
drunk', if one were callous enough, is a term that
could be applied to a number of former republican
combatants. The same is most likely true for RUC,
loyalist, prison staff and British Army personnel.
In West Belfast we need only look to the parks and
graveyards to find the most unfortunate cases plagued
by the virus of excessive alcohol consumption. Elsewhere,
the virus ravishes its victims behind closed doors.
Sometimes we never learn of the extent of the problem
until we are walking up the Falls Road behind the
hearse of yet another of the largely anonymous fallen.
of these people have ever reached the prominence and
stature of the unfortunate Romeo Dallaire. It shall
remain beyond their worst nightmares what he has gone
through. In some cases they themselves may have caused
great pain and inflicted much violence needlessly.
Yet, their anonymity, their lack of public name and
face recognition, their shuffle from the dole queue
to the wine store may confirm rather than invalidate
their status as ex-combatants. And whatever function
they performed during that combat, it was a role none
of them saw for themselves prior to British militarisation
of the dispute in Ireland. Britain in large part created
them as combatants. And while none of them may expect
sympathy from the British for that they deserve a
future which holds more than the contents of a blue
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