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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 238: April 2016

[Returned to related issued on Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Doing what needs to be done

A friend from the broad peace movement who I don't see very often, she lives elsewhere in the universe, suggested that I should write 'a book' about doing the things that need to be done when you're not paid to do them. Well, I don't think there would be a book in it but I'll try a wee piece here.

It is true that my approach in life is to try to do things that other people aren't doing. Why? Because they do need doing, and no one else is doing them! It does mean sometimes ploughing a lonely furrow, i.e. being in a minority of one or just a few, which can be bit of a challenge at times, wondering what the hell (sic) I am doing when things fall apart and nothing is going my way. But on the other hand I enjoy the challenge of breaking new ground and whether other people get involved or follow the track I hopefully have created, well, that is up to them. I was standing up politically in not too easy circumstances from the age of 16 so I have plenty of practice now; I don't want to give the impression that after that everything was dead easy, it certainly wasn't or hasn't been, but it set a kind of template for me.

Doing what other people can do seems a bit boring or at least unnecessary if I don't need to do it. I don't want to be, and hope I am not being, patronising here: I value the services of our binmen or office cleaners (I value them a lot more than hedge fund managers and the like!), and as someone with a partly sociological background, I am more than aware that it takes all sorts to make up society. And I guess that also applies to me, I am part of 'society', and part of my role is to do what others aren't doing.

It's certainly not that I don't want other people to get involved, I usually want more involvement by others than they can provide, but I have a commitment which is (in some ways) pretty unshakeable that comes from my early life and beliefs, political and religious. More generally. I guess in Bill Moyer's Movement Action Plan I usually find myself at stage 1 or 2 not because I want the cause to be at that early stage but because these are the issues others aren't taking up. And I treat this work like a job, i.e. I try to do it as well and professionally as I can.

But I have also been lucky in having a partner in life who has supported me, financially and emotionally. It's not that I don't earn money (usually – I shared the last time about being on the dole again) but deliberately try to work part time in an earning job to give me time to do the other things I want to do. If we were dependent on my earning power we would long ago have slid under the table. I do make a financial contribution but it is nothing like my partner, and that is OK with them, and OK with me. In a previous column I already explored different kinds of living support structures and modes for an activist; mine is 'the partner who earns more and lets me work part time so I can do peace work'; see which is partly an exploration of the topic in relation to a book by Frida Berrigan. This whole area is vital in freeing you to have the time to do what needs doing.

In terms of a list I consider that doing what needs to be done without getting paid for it needs:

  1. Personal support, as in the previous paragraph, of some kind although that can vary, some people may be more self sufficient than me. This is likely to be both financial and emotional support at a personal level. This includes very much your living arrangements.
  2. Organisational or political support even if it varies in extent and strength – being totally a one person band is not a great idea, and if you were only doing things by yourself, well, there could be trouble ahead.
  3. Courage or foolhardiness to not be too concerned about making an eejit of yourself, or having high expectations of success (while working to be completely successful).
  4. Imagination as to what is possible to do that is different – if you don't let your imagination and creativity flow then you can never do anything different.
  5. Dedication and strength to see something through, in other words the water on stone technique. This requires a belief that things can and will change; maybe not even in the immediate future or even in your lifetime, but that change will come about, sooner or later (quite probably later).
  6. The ability to pace yourself so you don't get burnt out or destroy the important relationships in your life through being totally work focussed. It can be difficult to keep your imagination and mind in check once you get going; there are far too many things that I would like to do and far too little time to do them in.
  7. Discipline. Choice as to what to do is required including some discipline not to be a butterfly, continually flitting from issue to issue and organisation to organisation. There are people like that and while networkers (people with hands in many pies) are welcome, people who move on to the next big cause without relinquishing their involvement in a previous one are A Big Pain where then there are expectations in their old involvement which they don't fulfil because they are too busy with the next one. However sometimes 'going with the flow' of what excites you at a particular time, getting smaller projects done and out of the way, is good and can help your sense of achievement. So I think it is helpful to survival if discipline is a modified discipline, i.e. a plan that includes the ability to deviate from the main direction at times.
  8. The ability to take satisfaction and a sense of achievement where you can by creating small and achievable goals, and also taking pride in the work and the achievements of colleagues. These achievements can be staging posts in achieving a longer term aim, or they can be the completion of a smaller project which is done and dusted.

Some of these points are ones which pertain to doing anything in life. But if you are trying to do things which no one else is doing, and without being paid for it, it does have special requirements and/or things which you would take for granted in a paid job (e.g. organisational support) are still vital and spelt out above.

I also make the assumption here that 'doing what needs doing without being paid for it' does entail ploughing a lonely furrow to some extent because if there were more people supporting it then there would probably be money to pay for work to be done. However I recognise that someone else's list on this might be somewhat different.

There, I've done it – or tried to do it - in a thousand-odd words [odd words is right – Ed] and not in a book.

Boring vegetarianism
You don't get the accusation very often these days that vegetarianism is boring. But it happened to me recently. I happened to be in the company of some guys who were talking about fishing, and, being lightly provocative, I used the quote that if you eat beef or pork there is some chance the animal was humanely slaughtered but with fish there is little or no chance – the fish likely suffocated in agony. Sorry pescatorians, if you only eat fish for humane reasons, you're on a loser. It is now known that fish are sentient and sociable creatures; the idea that they are not probably stems from the fact that they live in a totally different environment (water) to us (air). Though the response from a recreational fisherman in this conversation was that they would kill any fish they caught immediately (which is as opposed to commercial fishing where the fish suffocate when caught).

Anyway, the question-statement came back to me from one of those involved in the conversation, is vegetarianism not very boring? I answered with incredulity. I told the speaker that my partner in life is usually giving out about the bulging nature of our recipe file – with too many recipes to get around to cooking, and sometimes difficulty in finding a recipe that you want as a result. There is a huge world of vegetarian cooking out there, not just a thousand but a million varieties. We would still be lacto-vegetarianian but try to get our major supply of protein from vegan sources.

But there is one boring aspect to vegetarianism which I have written about before; eating out. Some decades ago if you didn't want meat or fish you were offered an omelette (which seems to have disappeared completely from menus today). In this day and age the staple veggie fare is pasta (and more pasta). If that is the only option then I don't want a whole plateful that will sit heavily in my stomach until the next day, I would like a small amount of pasta and vegetables or whatever accompaniments are available.

The other thing about pasta as an offering is that it is unlikely to include much if any protein. If the dish included tofu or had a pea or bean based accompaniment, then yes. Some restaurants are obviously making an effort these days and would offer three, four or even more veggie options, most don't, although if they clearly offered their starters as a main course, for a higher price, they could very easily increase their veggie offerings. Where this option isn't on the menu it can still be requested.

I didn't say, in relation to the incident above, that I have written a veggie cookbook and that is only one very small reflection of vegetarianism. I do like to try different dishes but we have tried so many that we like it is actually difficult to get around to cooking them all regularly, and you forget, and things fall out of your repertoire. Cooking should be a mixture of the routine (that does not mean bland) that you can make without having to think too much and the creative, where you are trying something new or occasional that maybe takes more work or is harder because you have to try to follow, and sometimes interpret, a recipe. But to be doing the latter all the time would be exhausting. I like a challenge and a new culinary experience but not all the time. We all have our favourite dishes.

Anti-militarist songs in Ireland
You will note the title of this piece; 'in Ireland' rather than 'Irish' because many are from outside rather than Irish written ones, like Eric Bogle's 'The Green Fields of France' about Willie McBride which have become staples but are not by origin Irish – though 'Willie McBride' himself may have been from Co Armagh. Another caveat is that I mention a couple of Troubles related songs but being opposed to sectarian slaughter in the North doesn't necessarily make you anti-militarist, since you could take this position but be very much in favour of British military escapades elsewhere, for example.

Nor in the broader scheme of things – and I am taking a very broad view here - does anti-militarist necessarily mean being nonviolent - beating up people, as in 'Arthur McBride' (the McBrides get a good look in here) is not, when I last looked, particularly nonviolent. And going on from there, a final caveat is that there are many different kinds of being anti-militarist in this context which can range from opposition to the results of war – a badly wounded soldier as in 'Johnny I hardly knew ya' or 'Johnny McGory' (the Johnnies are also getting a look in) through to all out opposition to war in general. And I'm just trying to give a quick look at this area in what comes to mind, not an exhaustive analysis. [OK, I cave in at your caveats – Ed].

An aside in this context is that 'anti-militarist' in the peace movement sense (being opposed to all things military) is also badly understood. I once partly defined myself as being anti-militarist to a prominent member of a Northern Irish peace group or organisation and they had no understanding or idea whatsoever of what I was talking about.

Anyway, the songs. 'The Green Fields of France' was made famous in Ireland by the Fureys and Davey Arthur and written by the inimitable Scottish-Australian songwriter Eric Bogle. It bemoans the effects of war – "Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean / Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?" and "Do all those who lie here know why they died? / Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?" / Did you really believe that this war would end wars? / Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame / The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,/ For Willie McBride, it all happened again, / And again, and again, and again, and again." So it's a fairly strong statement on the futility of war, and the futility of believing that a war will end war.

The Irish Independent online makes a bit of an error when in an otherwise interesting piece it states about the probable original William McBride: "From a Presbyterian family he would have been a regular mass-goer at the local Temple [Co Armagh] Presbyterian Church." Going to a 'Presbyterian mass' would be a bit like going to a 'Muslim church'! Presbyterians have (religious) services - and Muslims have mosques as places of worship.

'Arthur McBride' is more specifically anti-British military from a time all of the island of Ireland would have been part of the United Kingdom; the song is most associated with Planxty or with Paul Brady from the 1970s. Its origins may predate the early 19th century. The storyteller and his cousin, Arthur McBride, are taking a stroll 'down by the seaside' when they come upon an army recruiting team of two NCOs and a drummer boy. After decrying the inducements to enlist which are offered them, and aware that they could be sent to France to die if they did sign up, they seriously beat up the recruiting team (who are, admittedly, about to attack them for their verbal resistance). Hmmmm. Not quite nonviolent then but still at least a response to organised warfare, admittedly with impromptu violence of a lesser kind.

Christy Moore is Ireland's foremost ballad singer and has a number of anti-militarist songs under his belt. Other songs he sang at one time or another might be seen by some to support Irish military republicanism and I think there is a grey area there (he would have seen it in terms of resisting oppression). Early songs of Christy Moore which fit the anti-militarist slot include 'Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette' (written by Jim Page) and associated with the Carnsore anti-nuclear power festivals of the end of the 1970s; 'The Sun is Burning in the Sky' (by Ian Campbell) is another from the same era, a very powerful Hiroshima-themed song – "Now the sun has come to earth / Shrouded in a mushroom cloud of death'.

Christy Moore's more general songs critical of war would include 'Soldier boys' by Wally Page ("It's all for the roses"), 'Dying Soldier' by Ger Costello ("I don't want to die here"), "Remember the Brave Ones" by Barry Moore, and 'The Kerry Recruit' (author unknown according to Christy Moore's "One Voice – My life in song"). Another more specific one was "Hey! Ronnie Reagan" by John Maguire which dealt with Raygun's policies in relation to his visit to Ireland in 1984. In Christy Moore's "Allende" song the refrain includes "The bullets read US of A".

"Johnny McGory" by Pete St John, sung by the Dubliners among others, is one about the fate of an old soldier in Dublin who has lost a leg. "Johnny I hardly knew ya" is probably better known (particularly sung by the Clancys and Tommy Makem although sung by many others) and was first published in London in 1867 and written by Joseph B. Geoghegan whose father was Irish but was born in England. "Where are the legs with which you run / When first you went to carry a gun / Johnny my dear you look so queer / Johnny I hardly knew ya".

Songs associated with the Troubles in the North which could be considered more generally anti-militarist include Tommy Sands' "There were roses" – "I wonder just how many wars / Are fought between good friends", and Paul Brady's "The Island", an Irish themed anti-war song which has a universal feel to it. Many of Tommy Sands' other sings would be about peace and indirectly therefore anti-militarist; "Daughters and Sons", "Music of Healing", and "Our dreams are all the same". Another directly anti-militarist song of his, and an excellent one, is "Who knows where the wind blows" about Irish brothers who end up in different parts of the US of A and then fighting each other in the Civil War there with the denouement that "a brother dies in a brother's arms". It is a telling commentary on the role of chance (which sides the brothers end up on) in war and violence. Tommy Sands also has a beautiful version of "Where have all the flowers gone?".

Wikipedia has an extensive list of anti-war songs i including a section on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. However, great song that it is, "Viva la Quinta Brigada" by Christy Moore which it lists surely counts as a pro-war rather than anti-war song, if also with a strong anti-fascist message.

I'm not a fan of U2's music, let me get that out of the way first, but they have a considerable number of songs which fit an anti-war or anti-militarist mode or mould. This would include "Seconds" about nuclear war (1983 "War" album). "Mothers of the Disappeared" about Central America (1987) could be considered anti-militarist in relation to who was causing the disappearing. "Sunday Bloody Sunday", also from the "War" album, is about Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 and although you wouldn't know it from the lyrics seemingly also the Dublin Bloody Sunday of 1920 – and it ends with a Christian allusion to Jesus. It is a powerful song: "Broken bottles under children's feet / Bodies strewn across the dead end street / But I won't heed the battle call...." "Peace on Earth" meditated on the Omagh bombing of 1998. "Love and Peace or else" (2006) is anti-militarist, "Lay down / Lay down your guns / All your daughters of Zion / All your Abraham sons", though some of the lyrics might be considered a bit simplistic. "Bullet the Blue Sky" is a bit more direct, again Central American focused, and in particular on USA's military policies there.

"The theme from Harry's Game" is sometimes interpreted as being anti-war or anti-The Troubles in Norn Iron but there is nothing in the lyrics (as gaeilge) to indicate that, however it might have been used. Maura O'Connell's "Guns of love", despite wording which might seem a contradiction (the 'guns' are metaphorical), is a powerful piece of music, "When guns of love / Put an end to war"; it was written by US songwriter Michael Caruso. "The Bantry Girls' Lament", a traditional offering which I most associate with Jimmy Crowley (but also sung by Frances Black and others) is a haunting and beautifully gentle take on a soldier's death and its effect on friends. It dates from at least the Peninsular War of 1807 and is one of my favourites. Finally, the Saw Doctors' "Freedom fighters with mandolins" is a relatively light hearted alternative to military 'freedom fighting', "We're not here to blow you away".

That's a quick spin around a couple of dozen songs. Doubtless there are a rake of others I haven't touched here. You can find many of those I mention online.

So called
So called David Cameron of the so called United Kingdom (less united by the day, and not just in terms of its internal national borders or its membership of the so called European Union) and a member of so called NATO (the so called North Atlantic so called Treaty so called Organisation) has spoken of the dangers of so called radicalisation and supporting Islamic State. Meanwhile the so called neutral state of so called Ireland has continued to support the so called United States of so called America by allowing Shannon so called airport (or warport) to be used as a military staging post. Meanwhile the so called Iraqi state and others have been engaged in a so called military offensive against Islamic State. It's obviously a so called close call to call Islamic State so called Islamic State. What a so called state we are in when, for propaganda purposes, so called western leaders can not only call for, but dictate, the addition of 'so called' to a name. No, we don't in any manner support Islamic State but please call a spade a spade and not a so called spade. So there.

Well, summer has been here for a little while. In Ireland summer is a season where usually the rain is a bit warmer than in the rest of the year, and those who expect little are the only ones not disappointed. Still, the holliers are not too far away and we'll see how it goes. Next time I talk to you the year will be a bit more relaxed, until then, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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