Friday 24 September 2010

The Great Mistake

There was a pub in Wexford that wives called the “honey pot” – for once in the door husbands were reluctant to leave.

Such may well prove to be the case with Iraq but with combat operations finally over, let us examine this dismal chapter of American history before the inevitable tide of revisionism rolls in.

Can there be any doubt now that the invasion was a grievous mistake, one whose price will be paid for generations to come? And why do I mention revisionism? Surely, that comes much later – as in Vietnam when it took decades to soften the image of US helicopters lifting off roofs during the fall of Saigon.

But already we have “the surge.” Yet, despite how well the 30,000 US troops performed, they would have made little difference if 100,000 Sons of Iraq had not already been placed on the US payroll.

Money well spent. I say, as it saved American lives; though one could argue that this federal handout could have been better used for Americans ravaged by an economic downturn partly caused by huge government borrowing to finance the Iraq adventure.

But let us stick to cold figures. Over 4400 Americans died for a neo-conservative notion that if we created a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq we could change that region’s balance of power. These think-tank boys were only slightly off the mark. We dismantled a horrid secular dictatorship that had been a bulwark against the mullahs in Iran and handed them a theocratic democracy on a plate. Well we did shake up the status quo, there’s no denying that.

But at what a cost! 35,000 Americans were seriously injured – not counting perhaps 100,000 more afflicted with post-traumatic stress.

Over two million Iraqis have fled the country; while millions more were displaced because of sectarian violence unleashed as a result of the invasion.

At least one hundred thousand Iraqis have been killed – though the figure is more likely two or even three times higher.

The infrastructure of the country was destroyed – open sewers are common, electricity is rarely guaranteed for more than four hours daily despite billions of US aid. Of course, much of this “stimulus” has gone to the coffers of various security firms and civilian providers who “won” no-bid contracts. And that’s before the remains trickled down to corrupt Iraqi officials.

There is a democracy, however, although six months after the last election a government has yet to be formed. Not surprising, since if the Allawi led Sunni coalition is not included, then the insurgency is likely to flare up again. Yet who can blame the Shite parties for wanting their day in the sun after a century of Sunni dominance? What a nest of hornets we stirred up.

And what of us? We were never asked to pay for this war – it was charged to the Chinese credit card that we’re still paying interest on. Most of us were never asked to do anything but wave flags and spout jingoistic sound bites. Most shameful of all, the bodies of our fallen were smuggled in at night so that our delicate sensibilities might not be offended.

The really sad part is that the idealism and blood of a generation inspired by 9/11 has been wasted in the sands of Fallujah and the alleyways of Sadr City.

Could the invasion have been stopped – certainly, had there even been a remote possibility of a draft; or if Hilary Clinton and Colin Powell had acted with their hearts rather than their heads. In such an unlikely scenario one or the other might well be president.

We have planted bitter seeds. The fruit will be with us a long time in the shape of huge deficits, a distrust of government, and thousands of young veterans with broken bodies and damaged spirits returning to a country and economy unable or unwilling to provide for them.

The only upside is that we can learn from this colossal mistake and resolve never again to embark on any more such foreign adventures or wars of choice.

Friday 10 September 2010

Mother and Son

I often watch PBS Newshour. It’s unadorned news followed by comments from a conservative and progressive of the non-braying genre.

Once a week the show pauses and, in silence, pictures of those in the armed forces killed overseas are shown. It’s a sobering couple of minutes as you stare at young faces, read their names, rank, ages and the small towns from whence they came.

To those of us from whom no sacrifice has been demanded it brings home the real cost of our ongoing wars. Women like Eileen Daly don’t need reminders. They live the loss 24 hours of every day.

Some of you may know Eileen. She’s first generation Irish. Her mother Bridie Keating Daly hails from Ballylanders, Co. Limerick, her father Dan was from Cahirciveen in the Kingdom of Kerry. They lived on Heath Avenue in St. John’s Parish, The Bronx before moving to Rockaway where Eileen attended Stella Maris High School while living on 114th Street.

She married Ron Kubik and moved down the Jersey Shore. She’s a sister of Chief Dan Daly, NYFD, of 9/11 fame and Dennis, a Green Beret injured in the Vietnam War.

Eileen raised three children as a single mother on a nurse’s pay. The youngest Sergeant Ronald Kubik, Company D, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was killed while on active duty in Logar Province, Afghanistan on April 23rd. He was 21 years of age.

Run a search on this stellar young man – he’s all over the Internet, and rightly so. But although she would demur, you can easily tell from whom the son got his character, for Eileen is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever spoken to.

Although her family has deep roots in the military, Eileen didn’t want her son to enlist at such an early age; in fact she has little time for recruiters who entice high school students with well-rehearsed sales pitches. That being said, once Ronnie joined up she gave him unqualified support in his tours of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sgt. Kubik was an achiever who discovered a thirst for life and adventure at an early age. On the Honor Roll at Manasquan High School he was a varsity running back, wrestled, acted, wrote a column for the paper - you name it, Ronnie did it.

The guy even played guitar in a metal band, A Void Within. In fact he sported a mohawk and when cautioned about it brought a case to the Manasquan Board of Education and won – felt it was important to protect every kid’s right of self-expression.

I finally had to stop Eileen dead and ask the question many of you are wondering, “How do you do it, girl, how do you go on?”

“I had to make a choice – for life or…”

She didn’t finish. And then it came pouring out. For the first months she was paralyzed by grief. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t move - and this from a nurse who could put in four straight 12-hour shifts at Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood.

But she had family and friends – the backbone of Irish-American life. Her brother Dennis who faced his own problems after Vietnam told her “if the current is pulling you down, you have to swim.”

Chief Daly, in his practical kindly way, suggested she set her alarm and go back to the gym. While her friend, Mary McCloskey told her to put on her sneakers and come walking with the girls. Eventually she made the decision to live and, one step at a time, that urge to carry on and turn the pain into something worthwhile returned

She did it for herself but, more than anything, she did it for her son. ”I know Ronnie is watching and I want him to be proud of me.”

This is a story that’s being played out all across the country in homes and barracks. Most of us are insulated from it.
Ronnie Kubik was a great American who asked not what his country could do for him. Eileeen Daly is no less a hero for choosing life in the midst of pain.

We, as citizens in a participatory democracy, must remain eternally vigilant that such sacrifices are absolutely necessary. Stay strong, Eileen.

Tuesday 7 September 2010


I have always been wary of describing Black 47’s music as Celtic Rock especially since Horslips and Fairport Convention wrote the book on that genre forty years ago.

On another occasion I’ll deal with the tragic magic of Fairport but their album, Liege & Lief, will add luster to any collection.

My connections to the roots of Horlips go back to the churning ‘70’s Wexford Rock scene. Christy Moore’s brilliant guitarist Declan Sinnott – amazingly, I introduced him to his first minor chords – informed me that he had joined a Dublin outfit that played “revved up jigs and reels.”

As often happened with the mercurial Deckie, as we then knew him, he stayed barely long enough to leave an indelible mark on the band. But the Horslips legend had begun.

Not only did they create their own particular myth, they were at their best when dealing with legends and concepts - from The Táin to Book of Invasions, and now they’re exploring Rotha Mór an tSaoil.

It was this latter project that caused my path to once more cross with Jim Lockhart and Barry Devlin. They were recently over to film a four part series for TG4 based around Rotha Mór an tSaoil or The Big Wheel of Life - the autobiography of Micí Mac Gabhann who left Donegal and trekked across the US in the late 19th Century to find gold in the Yukon.

Ambitious as ever, Jim and Barry are using the book as an analogy for Horslips’ own musical travels - and travails - from Ireland to a fabled America. What a blast then to introduce them to Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx, the dead center of Irish-American music in the latter decades of the 20th century.

Horslips recently reformed but despite a hiatus of almost 30 years band members have never stopped searching for connection. That quest has been their strength. They’ve always been fascinated by the American experience particularly pertaining to Irish immigration.

Jim and Barry are also two of the funniest and most self-deprecating characters in rock & roll. Not surprisingly, a gleeful sense of irony has always permeated their work and kept it from veering towards the precious or lugubrious.

We almost rolled around 204th Street as they recalled the horror of having a soon to be monster Van Halen open for them at New York’s Palladium. When I confessed that Pierce Turner and I were mightily ill after hijacking the champagne they’d abandoned in their dressing room, Barry wryly noted, “at least some good came from that bloody night.”

I hear echoes of Horslips in so much of today’s Irish-American music. Bands who may never have heard Dearg Doom or King of the Fairies casually stroll through arrangements where once Horslips kicked down doors by injecting Les Paul power into Irish Trad.

“It was the times.” Jim casually explained. “Everyone was into fusion - we were inventing it as we went along.”

And what a job they did. Listening to the haunting introduction to Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore I was transported back to a coldwater flat in Rathmines where I listened to that recording while making the decision to get the hell out of Ireland.

Marvel at the power of Dearg Doom as Eamonn Carr and Johnny Fean respectfully put the boot into Sean O’Riada. Or listen to Charles O’Connor nail a Scots-Gaelic weaving song to a Rocksteady beat on the mesmerizing An Bratach Bán. Horslips been there and done that!

It’s their fearless melding of old and new – along with a willingness to fall on their faces – that has always kept Horslips a step ahead.

And one recent summer’s evening I was lucky enough to be given a chance to add infinitesimally to the Horslips legend when Jim and Barry joined Black 47 onstage for a frenetic version of their classic Wrath of the Rain.

The Great Wheel of Life has done many the spin since Deckie Sinnott first told me about these guys back in Wexford. In an age where banal retreads are the norm, it was pure pleasure to help a couple of originals knock the dust off the ceiling for what will surely be a riveting television series.