MANY years ago I interviewed a man from Fanore with the surname of O’Driscoll about his life and times at war. His war was the Burma campaign during World War II and he spoke about fighting the Japs and being a POW for a few years.
Here was a man who could talk at length about the famous film, Bridge on the River Kwai, because he was there – not on the film set of the David Lean epic starring Alec Guinness, William Holden et al, but because he was there for the real thing. His story was fact, not fiction. He lived it, fought it and now talked it.
It was now in the late 1990s and O’Driscoll was in old age and over half a century on from the battlefields he was living in London. He was largely forgotten about, but here he was a real war hero, because he’d played his part.
Alas, celebrating the likes of this Fanore man in his native county isn’t going to do anything for Clare tourism, just in the same way as seeking out the names of the Munster Fusiliers from Kilrush, Ennis and everywhere and celebrating their sacrifice isn’t going to put bums on airbuses into Ireland.
But hey, Vietnam might.
Vietnam isn’t that long ago after all, while sticking with the tourism value of US war efforts around the world, Iraq and Afghanistan might just put bums on airbuses too, because they’re still with us and aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.
And, of course, war tourism wouldn’t be that many air miles away from the Government policy, as espoused by the Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar, as recently as last week when he revealed the formal timetable for the Shannon’s independence – the policy “to grow military traffic out of Shannon”,
In light of Minister Varadkar’s comments it’s safe to assume that wearing his tourism minister’s hat he will give his blessing to The Gathering project that’s built around Vietnam and its infamous war.
In a way Clare could be said to be living up to its moniker of being the Banner County, because this latest ‘plan of campaign’ must be a famous first for anywhere in Ireland, albeit infamous at the same time.
It’s certainly the strangest Gathering project of all – using the Vietnam War as a carrot to lure tourists into the new independent Shannon.
Strange, but true, because Clare is going retro – all the way back to the 1960s and ‘70s and celebrating Uncle Sam’s great stain on its character and the war that polarised a nation.
Neutral Ireland, thanks to Clare, is throwing its arms around a war effort in the name of tourism.
Wonders will never cease! Is this a case of GUBU gone mad? Is this a case of the county losing the plot? Has this really been thought out?
Think about it. Think about the My Lai Massacre.
It was March 16, 1968 when anything between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam were murdered by soldiers belonging to the ‘Charlie’ Company of an infantry regiment of the US Army. Most of the victims were women, children, infants and the elderly. Women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated.
Details of what happened didn’t emerged until the following year and while 26 US soldiers were initially charged in relation to the massacre, only one of them, Second Lieutenant William Calley, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he only served three and a half years under house arrest.
Is Clare now about to celebrate My Lai and other war crimes perpetrated in the name of freedom?
While we’re at it, why isn’t there another monument erected to Operation Menu – that was Trickie Dickie’s year-long bombardment of Eastern Cambodia and Laos in 1969-70. Tens of thousands were killed as Nixon gave personal authorisation for the use of long-range B-52 bombers to carpet bomb the region.
The irony of the whole situation with regard to Vietnam and Ennis, of course, is that the most famous conscientious objector to Vietnam is a Freeman of Ennis – one Muhammad Ali, who stood sentinel for all opposed to Vietnam when refusing to be drafted, famously telling the watching world “I ain’t got not quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger”.
As a result Ali was ostracised, stripped of the heavyweight championship of the world and almost jailed.
But before he was stripped of his title, many of America’s 50 states were his effective gaolers by refusing to sanction him a boxing licence, thereby taking away his right to fight and earn his living.
This was Vietnam; this was the weight of establishment America embracing Vietnam and its war and making outcasts out of those who stood up and cried stop.
Ali didn’t flinch or blink, took all the low blows and became a beacon for the other America that was against Vietnam, what it stood for and how it wanted another way.
This is the type of monument we want in Ennis. And, we have it already up in the Turnpike.