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The Edge of the Union - Steve Bruce

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Paperback: 188 pages / Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks / Published: 12 July 1994

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      19.02.2013 19:48
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      A litany of past wrongs - and boring to boot.

      Steve Bruce begins this book with the very real awareness that by writing about events as they unfold he could "end up overtaken and embarrassed by the turn of events". This is exactly what has happened in the case of this book, published in 1994. Events have not gone at all the way the author foresaw - Thank God! My exclamation may seem out of place here, but as you read this review I'm sure you will see my reasons for it.

      I bought this book expecting something very different from what I actually ended up with. This is my fault for placing too much importance on the single review written which claimed this book was written based on lengthy interviews with the people involved. But I also took this statement at face value - quoted directly from Amazon "To get to the heart of the unionist position Bruce asks how they see the last twenty-five years, what they want from the future, what they think they will get, what they will accept, and what they will fight to oppose." In short, I was expecting actual interviews with the key voices in Loyalism at this time - the majority of whom are now dead. I wanted to see what they expected of the peace process - what their hopes and fears were, and to what extent both of these have been realised.

      Instead this is more or less a run down of the last round of the troubles, focusing heavily on Republican violence. I do agree with him on many aspects - and I do agree there is as ethnic aspect to the troubles, including ethnic cleansing of certain areas, but I think most of us know the IRA did commit sectarian attacks - I don't see much to be gained by arguing it. At times Bruce seems very sympathetic to loyalism, at other times less so, but it almost seems as if he is afraid to really take a stand - he hints at his opinions until the end but hedges around any commitment. I'm not blaming him for this - it's a very dodgy subject but it does feel like there is too much beating around the bush - but it gets tedious reading and does take from the flow of the book. This is not a pleasant or entertaining book to read.

      There are brief references to surveys taken by the Newsletter and such, and a few quotes from interviews but by and large, this is just the authors opinion and a very negative opinion at that. He has some very valid points, and I do agree with him on some issues. In particular he points out that people here have two forms of speech, what you say in public - because only a very rude an ill-mannered person would discuss religion and politics in mixed company and what is said in private. It is true that the Unionists do not discuss the depth of hurt in mixed company, and they rarely discuss it in private they just get on with it. But because people are guarded in their speech for fear offense does not mean everyone is filled with hate. This book attempts to justify that hate by reading out a litany of past wrongs, but it as hinted in the title - yesterdays news. We all know about the many bombings etc.. I'm sorry if I sound callous but I really am not very interested in reading them all again.

      Bruce states that if the majority of people were as tolerant as they sound there would not be over 3,000 dead. But he fails to realise that only a small minority of people can do a lot of harm. The support for violence in the Unionist community is not nearly as strong as he suspects. If it were there would be loyalist parties with the political clout of Sinn Fein - there are not. He also seems to have completely focused on the negative without any mention of the good. There are people on both sides who will do what is right. I could fill this review with story after story of people getting involved and helping someone on the "The other side". This book focuses only on hate - and there is more than enough of that already. There is not one reference to common ground - one instance of genuine kindness.

      There are several areas of this book where Bruce explains what Protestants think and I can only say to myself "What?" I've never heard that. The shipyards being closed was a fiendish plot by the papacy - how do you work that one out? The Catholic prohibition on birth control is only so they can out breed Ulster? There are quite a lot of Catholics in the world - the majority of whom have probably never heard of Ulster - did anyone really say this to him? If so I think they were seeing just how much they could wind him up. But all this nonsense means the real issues have been left out - and there are many real issues which do need to be examined.

      I also felt Bruce put far too much emphasis on religion. Religion is only important in that it is an identifying factor in a greater ethnic/ cultural and political mix - as well his idea of country evangelists and city terrorists. It really isn't that simple and you simply can not define Ulster in black and white. I found his Ulster loyalist vs Ulster British classification even more bizarre. I can accept that sociologists need to classify things, but we do not all fit into perfect compartments. As to his impression of the DUP gaining it's popularity through religion - I really don't think so. If anything Paisley's views on Sabbath laws etc have detracted from his popularity. I wouldn't be in my house without the DUP, and a representative who stood at my door at 2am getting bricks thrown at her before seeing to it that my house was made secure. This means quite a bit more to me than religious affiliation.

      Another short coming of this book is that with his focus on Ulstermen, Irishmen and Englishmen, he has forgotten something. We aren't all men at all and he seems to feel women have no role in this. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. It is the attitude of women that will determine the fate of Ulster - whether the men realise it or not.

      I ended up terribly disappointed in this book. Ulster Unionists usually do not state there case, their feelings and Bruce is right in his prediction that the continued alienation of the Unionist people constitutes a real threat to peace. However he does not seem to grasp very much about the causes of this alienation. He has ignored almost all of the major issues, and he offers no realistic alternative. His solution is simply to say there will be no settlement - no peace agreement - no more negotiation of any kind. He insists one side must win and the other lose, so its the will of the majority and Britain should help create a victory. He also seems to put far too much focus on repeating over and over that so far the IRA has won - this could be taken as an incitment to violence. He felt no peace was possible without completely beating the enemy - but of course the GFA came along and made this book quite out dated. It isn't perfect - and I can very easily see it failing altogether, but what Bruce offers is only a return to the worst of the Troubles. Violence continues, just on a smaller scale and there are issues that desperately need to be brought to light, but this book has accomplished nothing, I'm glad he has been proven wrong.

      I paid over £5 for this book and I feel robbed. I can usually take something from a book, even if I disagree with key parts. In all honesty, I have not learned anything from this book, there is nothing I want to pass on to my sons, or would encourage anyone else to share. The full retail price for this book is £26.60 and at that price the man should be wearing a mask.

      I hope you will forgive me for closing with the same quote I used for my last review on the Troubles. It fits perfectly here and is something the author should perhaps read. I strongly feel this book does just the opposite of what is suggested in this quote, it makes history into a weapon. Of course this isn't the first time, but if history teaches us anything - it should teach to quit repeating the same bloody mistakes over and over again. It's time to move beyond "He Started it" and move towards ending it.

      The quote is from the Coroner of Sligo after the death of Lord Mountbatten as published in "The Struggle for Peace in Northern Ireland".

      " I believe it is necessary to stress again the great responsibility that parents and teachers of any nation have in the way they interpret history and pass it on to the youth of their country. I believe that if history could be taught in such a fashion that it would help to create harmony among people rather than division and hatred, it would serve this nation and all other nations better".

      I would note that the author is a history professor in Scotland.

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