Wednesday 19 April 2023


How will history judge us, I wondered while listening to Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration, as he looked back on the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq?


Wolfowitz had learned few lessons; in his closeted view, Saddam Hussein was a dangerous man, and the universe was better off without him.


At best you could say Wolfowitz, a noted American political scientist and diplomat, was guilty of only viewing the world through a prism of his own choosing.


We continue to be haunted by his ilk, those who seek to foist their own particular reality upon the rest of us. Our guilt is that we allow them to do so.


Why do I single out Wolfowitz from the other three architects of America’s greatest foreign policy debacle? Well, I have little doubt that Donald Rumsfeld is still arguing his case with St. Peter at the gates of heaven, having departed this mortal coil back in 2021.


Can you ever forget his smarmy self-satisfaction as he guided us through nights of “shock and awe,” exulting over the precision bombing of Baghdad – never mentioning that innocent civilians were dying in this obscene, videogame-like barrage.


Not a word did we hear from Vice-President Richard Cheney, the main architect of this “war on terror.” 


Unlike Rumsfeld, Mr. Cheney always knew when to duck back into the shadows and let retired military experts whitewash the carnage.


As for President Bush, nowadays he paints pictures down in Texas and apparently sleeps like a log at night, no second thoughts needed.


After all, barely 4500 American service people died in this useless war, roughly 10% of those who perished in that other noble overseas crusade, Vietnam.


There have been many public mea culpas since the end of the Vietnam disaster, but on the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion not a word of apology was to be heard, though the official cause of the war - Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction - has long ago been disproved.


Needless to say there was little mention of the estimated 400,000 Iraqis killed, and the many millions displaced.


What of the damage done to our own people who served over there? Well, hey thanks for your service, guys, and what a shame those ungrateful Iraqis never appreciated all you went through on their behalf! 


But it’s way deeper than that. Our institutions have suffered, there’s now a general mistrust of government, we loathe our politicians, and much of it dates back to our Iraqi misadventure.


This, by the way, is not a partisan screed. President Biden and Senator Clinton both voted to authorize the invasion. In fact, I believe Mrs. Clinton would have been president by now if she’d made a stand against the invasion. 


I have little doubt either that Donald Trump would still be a reality TV star had we allowed United Nations sanctions to successfully continue restraining Saddam Hussein.


Contrary to his usual revisionism, Mr. Trump did not immediately come out against the war; still he was yards ahead of Mr. Biden and Mrs. Clinton.


But talk about foisting his unique reality upon us, President Trump has since unleashed a base of distorted prism gazers to whom even he must serve. Uncharacteristically, the man rarely demands credit for his greatest achievement, Operation Warp Speed that facilitated the creation of the Covid-19 vaccine. 


Why ever won’t you take a bow, Mr. President, afraid it might rattle your base?


Unfortunately, the furor over Mr. Trump’s NYC arraignment may allow Jerome Powell and the other Federal Reserve commissioners to turn a booming economy, with historically low unemployment rates, into a recession.


This unelected body of patrician bankers and academics refuses to even consider other methods of taming inflation except by upping interest rates.


Temporary wage/price controls, sales and income tax increases, and other economic restraints are not even given an airing.


Accordingly, your job – but not theirs – may soon be on the line, for you have had the temerity to gain wage increases that impinge upon corporate profits, the sole barometer of wellbeing in this economy.


A bleak view of the world, perhaps, but it’s never too late to apologize for a gross military misadventure 20 years ago, or to prevent an undemocratic stampede into an unnecessary recession.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

Fading Whispers of 1847

 Have you ever been down to the Irish Hunger Memorial on Vesey and North End Avenue in New York City? It’s a place unto itself. 


I live within walking distance and often drop by. It’s a little piece of home: an overgrown garden, as it were, seeded from grasses and plants particular to Ireland. 


It’s a way of measuring and taking stock of the seasons, plus you get a sense of how things are looking in Kerry or Antrim, Wexford or Donegal. To someone who makes a home in the concrete canyons of Manhattan, even the weeds look good down there.


The stones too are from Ireland, some of them fashioned into a symbolic deserted cottage, abandoned by the millions who exited a ruined country back in the mid 19th Century.


“The best left,” my mother and grandfather used to sarcastically mutter about some skinflint local customer, when they’d finally written off a debt unpaid for one of their headstones.


The most desperate - or enterprising - did emigrate, and from atop this site, in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, you can see where many of them landed in bustling New York City.


What hopes they must have had after their storm-tossed voyages on tiny coffin ships from the west coast of Ireland, or in the steerage of more stately vessels from the port of Liverpool.


Though I visit this memorial to summon memories of the fields and hills of Ireland, it’s only a matter of time before I hear their dispossessed voices.


At first I ignore their gathering whispers and gaze out at the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the pristine towers of Jersey City. 


The huge cranes of Bayonne are mere specks in the distance, but occasionally a cruise liner will pass by carrying thousands of revelers on well-earned vacations. They wave anonymously, cocktails in hand, brave people willing to be cooped up with each other so soon after the ravages of Covid.


But the dispossessed voices continue to have their say: when they landed 175 years ago, drained from sea-sickness, and listless from a diet of moldy bread and brackish water, they were suspect too.


Fever, typhus, and smallpox, as much as hunger, had killed their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers back in Ireland. Were they still infected, these unwelcome immigrants, would they pass on their hidden diseases to god-fearing, decent Americans?


The wind is ever shifting on the banks of the Hudson; sometimes, you get a whiff of the ocean from out beyond the Verrazano Bridge, or the tempting fragrance of fried food from a vendor on Vesey Street.


What smells the “Famine Irish” must have experienced in their first minutes in America.


There was nothing pristine about the Manhattan dockland where sailing vessels from Europe, New England, the cotton-growing South, and the Caribbean jostled for space.


Ship chandlers and various suppliers called out their wares, and thousands offered themselves for hire - you sank or swam in this haven of fetid America.


What a shock it must have been to the senses! Pete Hamill once told me that the average Irish immigrant saw more people in their first hour in New York than they had encountered in their whole lives back in Ireland.


How did they handle the noise, the hustle, and the hassle, a rural people with little or no education, beaten down by landlords, and finally betrayed by the very earth they depended on for their diet of precious potatoes?


To say they were hated and despised by American nativists and Know-Nothings would be an understatement. And in an awful way it’s understandable, for modern America has lost patience with the hordes of refugees arriving from other broken countries.


In 20 years, hundreds of thousands of Irish swarmed across the small city of New York, begging, striving, and willing to do practically anything to feed themselves and their families.


Somehow or other they survived and eventually thrived, and there’s barely a trace left of the hardship and misery these desperate people experienced back in those disastrous days of Black ’47. 


But if you listen closely, you’ll catch the fading whisper of their voices as you wind your way out through the familiar plants and grasses, and deserted stones of the Irish Hunger Memorial down on Vesey Street and North End Avenue.