Horror in Charlottesville – and a warning from history

This is the most frightening sequence of film I have seen in a long, long time. I can only compare it to the scenes some of us – of a certain age – watched on Irish television back on the evening of October 5, 1968 . But this is at a much, much deeper, rawer, level of horror. What is most terrifying about this is the realisation that in Ireland those events were the beginning of what we euphemistically called “the Troubles” but which was in reality a blood-soaked civil war – a civil war which went on for thirty years.

The depth of injustice and the depth of prejudice and hatred which were at the roots of Ireland’s conflict were real, palpable and now, with hindsight, measurable and understandable. But for that hindsight to become a force capable of staunching the flow of blood from the wounds inflicted in that war, it took those thirty years. It also took 3000 lives.

In Charlottesville and in the precursors to Charlottesville – which only history will eventually be able to confirm as precursors to this and subsequent murderous follies which seem all but inevitable – can be seen the same ingredients which were present in the horrors of Ireland’s troubles. Here we also have: a class of citizenry denied human respect and equal rights – in practice if not always in theory – by another class; a fear of loss of privilege by that ascendant class generating a hatred of those perceived to be threatening their privilege – and a racism masquerading as religious fervour.

Add to that mix a State authority whose stance in the face of the unfolding chaos was at one moment seen as compromised by one side, at the next moment by the other side. In the resulting confusion the rule of law itself seemed to disintegrate.

Is this what is now facing the United States of America? In January this year, my namesake, Michael Kirk – without an “e” – made a compelling documentary for PBS television. He called it Divided States of America. It ended with little promise that things would get any better. One could only see them getting worse before, one hoped, they would get better. Its non-promise now looks ominously prophetic.

All we can say, with a quivering voice, is God Save America – or even more apt, God Help America.

Michael Kirk’s PBS documentary here:

 

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