Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Truth: Reality but No Reconciliation

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Truth: Reality but No Reconciliation

Article excerpt

During the BBC's daring truth and reconciliation encounters, hosted by Desmond Tutu, Sylvia Hackett kept asking the iconic loyalist killer Michael Stone about "the files" that were, it seems, her husband's death warrant in Northern Ireland.

Why couldn't she see them, she asked. The answer takes us to the very heart of the strength and weakness of the series Facing the Truth.

This was reality television like we never see it--human beings living with great grief, unsoothed, lending their pain to something bigger: the effort to sort this thing out. They sat together with a guardian angel, the most popular priest on the planet, Archbishop Tutu, in a beautiful room where they were joined by men who had killed their people--stoical, contemplative soldiers.

One family exemplified the hardship of just sitting still, holding a gaze, asking a relevant question, speaking a sentence worth saying. What on earth would that be? The father's face seemed to be pulled away from the soldier as if by a magnetic force. The mother's face was ripped in sorrow. The young son, curious, and the daughter, transfixed, stared at the paramilitary man, listening to every word he said, watching every flick of his eyebrow, every breath in his cheeks.


The soldiers, all of them dignified, confounded the blithe contempt that the 30-year war has delivered to these men as the people who were to blame: low life, subhuman killers. Well, here they were, taking it, dangerous men deciding not to be.

We learned something that challenged the interpretation of that war, this side of the water--of Paddies doing what they do: killing each other--and something about their non-equivalence. The republican soldiers' mission was to kill the British state that was denying their right to be human. The loyalist soldiers' mission was to kill Catholics. …

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