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Irish flashback: Sowing the seeds of the Afghan massacre


When I heard the news of the American soldier charged with the slaughter of 16 people in Afghanistan, I instantly flashed back to a ferry trip in the early 1970s from Liverpool to Belfast.

What could the tragedy in Afghanistan have in common with that trip so long ago in a different part of the world? Plenty.

On that ferry was a company of British soldiers headed for duty in Northern Ireland during the three-decade period of violence now called "The Troubles." I have never seen such a depressed group of people, before or since.

Those young soldiers were dreading our arrival in Belfast because they perceived everyone in Northern Ireland to be “hostiles.” It didn’t matter whether the civilians were Nationalists or Loyalists (what the American media portray as “Catholics” vs. “Protestants”). As far as these troops thought, they were all “the enemy.” And indeed, at that time, the soldiers were under guerrilla-style attack from both sides, subject to sniper attacks, and worse. While on the ground in Ireland, they were confined to gated and fortified compounds, except when they were on patrol—and on patrol they were in units of at least 10 or 15 soldiers, dressed in uniform with body armor, and all intensely observing every house, building, vehicle, and person in the area.

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