Bobby Sands: 66 Days
Northern Ireland could have been a lovely place to live in the 1960s and 70s. It enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. It didn’t have any problems that cooperation and togetherness couldn’t solve.
But no such luck. Of all the many virtues of the Irish people, togetherness has never been one of them. This was the time of the Troubles.
The Troubles began when gangs of young Protestant men began fighting similar gangs of Catholic men. Officially, the local police and the federal government in London was neutral in the conflict. As time passed, however, it became increasingly clear to the Catholics that the Establishment was against them. In the face of oppression, the IRA became more militant.
Though the Catholic Irish Republicans were right to think of the British as colonial oppressors, it was the British who were winning the propaganda war. Most people – even most Irish – viewed the IRA as a terrorist organization. Most people didn’t see them as revolutionary heroes; they saw the Republicans as cowards who sent letter bombs and blew up cars by remote.
If the Republicans were to accomplish anything positive, they needed to flip the script. That’s where Bobby Sands came in.
In 1972, Bobby Sands was a teen IRA soldier serving his first prison term. While his fellow revolutionaries were reading about Mao Zedong and Che Guevara, Sands was studying Terence MacSwiney.
Terence MacSwiney was the Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish Revolution. He had a powerful new theory about warfare. He argued that the winner is not the side that inflicts the most violence, but the side that is willing to endure the most suffering.
MacSwiney practiced what he preached. He starved himself to death in a British prison in 1920. A year later, Ireland won its independence.
During his early years behind bars, Bobby Sands was treated well. Irish revolutionaries were treated like respectable political prisoners. Suddenly, the British government decided to strip the IRA prisoners of their political status and treat them like common criminals.
Now 27 year old Bobby Sands had a cause to fight for. And he had a tactic with which to fight. On March 1, 1981, Bobby Sands began a hunger strike, demanding that the UK recognize that his men are political prisoners. Several other young men joined the Fast.
“Bobby Sands: 66 Days” does a magnificent job of teaching us about Irish history while also helping the viewer understand Bobby Sands, the brave young man who altered the fate of Northern Ireland with his martyrdom.
Republican propagandists ran Bobby Sands for Parliament to spread the word of his hunger strike. When a dying Sands won, he became a household name from Montpelier to Melbourne.
Sands’s demands were modest, but London never gave in. Unfortunately for the Fasters, Britain’s Prime Minister wasn’t known as the Empathetic Pushover Lady; she was the Iron Lady. Bobby Sands died; as did nine of his fellow Fasters.
Finally, the IRA called off the Hunger Strike.
But in death and defeat, the Republicans had learned a surprising lesson. If they could get an emaciated felon elected to Parliament, it was clear that serious political power was within their grasp. Sinn Fein began its evolution from Extreme Left mischief-makers to serious British politicians.
Replacing bombs with bon mots and Molotov Cocktails with cocktail parties led organically to The Good Friday Agreement, which finally granted Northern Ireland dignity, equality, and self-rule.
“Bobby Sands: 66 Days” has a happy ending, as the violence finally ended. But I don’t understand why all that that killing and bombing and maiming was necessary to begin with.
Looking back, the differences between the Catholics and Protestants were not so great as to explain or justify murderous hatred and revolutionary war.
Thank goodness we live in a country where we don’t let relatively minor difference lead us to divide ourselves and hate each other. Right?