Two investigative journalists (who originally reported the story for the London Sunday Times) summarize in wrenching fashion the events of January 30, 1972, when British paratroopers fired on a civil-rights demonstration, killing 13 Irish civilians.
Although the authors focus on “the events of a single day,” they necessarily weave through time, skillfully identifying the events and beliefs that precipitated the tragedy and explaining the situation today. Pringle and Jacobson do not hide their thesis: they identify “a deliberate plan, conceived at the highest level of military command and sanctioned by the British government, to put innocent civilians at risk by authorizing the use of lethal force.” The authors were able to use not only their original research materials but also documents from an ongoing government inquiry and recent interviews they conducted in Derry. They effectively—and poignantly—flesh out the backgrounds of the victims that day (e.g., “Paddy Doherty was hard-working, and lucky,” and Barney McGuigan “was a big, caring man”). Because most of the soldiers involved have never been identified to the public, no such humanization is possible for them, and so we see the men only through the cynical and outraged eyes of these journalists and in the testimony of the survivors, most of whom, understandably, view the military as “hated occupiers,” “undeniably sinister.” Methodically, the authors guide us through the day, showing how the stewards of the march were unable to control the flow of the crowd, how neighborhoods soon became “killing fields” as paratroopers sealed off areas, then opened fire. Despite military claims to the contrary, civilians say “no petrol bombs or nail bombs exploded at any time during the afternoon.” Most painful to read are the graphic descriptions of grievous wounds and the grotesque, macho posturing of the paratroopers.
A lucid and often bitter chronicle of yet another day that lives in infamy. (b&w illustrations)