History Teaches Limited War Makes For Long, Deep Hatred

Tuesday August 12, 2003

George Harrison, age 88, sat in his Brooklyn apartment and recited lines from Irish poet Patraic Pearse who, upon standing at the grave of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, executed by the British, wrote these lines, and Harrison wishes the Lord would make everyone in Washington read them: 

“The fools, the fools. 

They have left us our Feinian dead. 

While, where grass grows or water flows 

Ireland unfree will never be at peace.” 


This was in 1916 and it has kept them going until now, when the British finally are getting out. 

“The displaying of the bodies of Saddam’s sons was unnecessary.” George says. “I heard Pearse as I watched our people show them off. There are people of Iraq who have not come out of the mother’s womb yet who will come to ask questions of us 50 years from now. The women are the worst. They will come and they will ask. We think it will all go away. Time makes no difference.” 

Harrison is an example. He was indicted for gun running to the IRA in a famous trial in Brooklyn federal court a few years ago. At the outset, the federal prosecutor told the jury, “George Harrison has been running guns to Ireland for the last six months.” 

At which point, Harrison squirmed in anger and had his attorney, Frank Durkan, rise and announce: “My client is insulted by the prosecutor’s statement of six months. George Harrison has not been gun running for six months. He has been gun running to Ireland for the last 25 or 30 years.” 

The other day, Durkan went to Europe. For the first time in his life he went on a British ship, the Queen Elizabeth 2. Everybody had to hide this from his client, George Harrison, who would neither forgive nor forget if he found out. It seems like a small amusing thing. But fighting the British is a living thing with Harrison, and the problem with this is that he is a reminder of all those others everywhere. I don’t know much about Iraq at all. But George Harrison’s Irish emotion on behalf of the long dead is a passing argument when placed alongside the feelings in Tikrit. 

We called this incursion into Iraq “Operation Iraqi Freedom” or was it “Operation Iraqi Liberation?” The tough chins in Washington said that once the people knew that Saddam was gone, they would welcome us with open arms. Instead, they look on sullenly, and murder one of our soldiers every day or so. And they do nothing to improve things. Somebody pointed out yesterday that many weeks after the incursion, there still is no electricity in Iraq. 

The other day, we buried another American soldier, Spc. Wilfredo Perez Jr., 24. A few days earlier, there was a funeral for Pfc. Raheen Tyson Heighter. Right before that, Marine Cpl. Roberto Marcus was buried and there was a funeral for Marine Riayan Tejada at St. Elizabeth’s church in Washington Heights. 

At a recent service at St. Barbara’s church in Brooklyn, when the ushers passed out a sheet that said to pray for the men in Iraq, there was a list of 75 Latino names from the one parish. 

From a distance, from watching television news and reading, I hear and see a general or Defense Department politician skipping over words or mumbling and saying that there now is a “limited guerrilla war.” 

There doesn’t seem to be any such thing. I can tell you a little bit about a guerrilla war I know something about, the one in Northern Ireland. There were once 1,000 people in the IRA and that got cut down to maybe 75 men in three-man units, one not knowing the other. One of the IRA leaders insisted that 12 people would be all that was needed. Whatever, the British asked the IRA what it would take to make them stop. 

That was another guerrilla war lost by a major country. While Britain cut up Muslims in Malaysia so that they never came back, the rest of their colonial history is filled with being slaughtered in Iraq and Afghanistan. See Rudyard Kipling. The French could not win in Vietnam. The United States had 58,000 of our young killed there. And you keep reading of how well we are doing against Filipino guerrillas, keep hearing of it every year. Russia tried Afghanistan and caught a frightful beating. Russia now cannot handle Chechen guerrillas. The car bomb in Indonesia tells you how much helicopters and tanks can stop young men with bombs. 

The worst part is that these are Arabs who don’t let venom be ruled by a calendar. George Harrison, in his living room, is a small illustration of how long anger can be carried. In Iraq and the Middle East, surely somebody can come out of a dust storm to try revenge in a half-century or so.