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Gunsmoke and Mirrors [Hardcover]

Henry McDonald
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 2008
Henry McDonald, himself from the republican Markets area of Belfast, talks to ex-IRA men about their real motivations for starting their war. It had nothing to do with civil rights. The settlement which Sinn Fein/IRA finally secured in 2007 is almost identical with one that had been on the table thirty years earlier. McDonald exposes the memorialist culture which continues to rewrite history to justify the unjustifiable. McDonald gets past the cheap hagiography of terrorists and the wasted lives of a generation to focus on one essential truth: none of the IRA's principal war aims was achieved. The whole sorry business was a waste of time. The people who died, died in vain.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Gill & Macmillan Ltd (Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0717142981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0717142989
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,184,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Henry McDonald was is Irish correspondent with The Observer and The Guardian.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reality Check For Irish Republicans 20 Nov 2008
Format:Hardcover
"Gunsmoke And Mirrors" is a refreshing change. Henry McDonald, a Belfast born journalist, has turned the spotlight on Sinn Fein and the IRA and illuminated them in a way that so many others in his profession have failed to do. Unlike others in mainstream journalisim, he has side-stepped the Sinn Fein propaganda-machine and revealed what really lurks behind the smoke and mirrors. It will certainly make unpleasant reading for the "true believers" who support Sinn Fein / IRA, as it basically says that Sinn Fein / IRA have ditched their old ideology, but have been careful not to draw too much attention to the fact they have sold out. No doubt many Republicans will try to dismiss the contents of the book, however I believe that is what psychologists call, "living in denial".

McDonald has challenged recent attempts by Irish Republicans to rewrite the history of the "Troubles", and create a myth that will justify and rationalise their campaign of terrorism. He has questioned why so many thousands of people had to die when peaceful democratic avenues were open to Republicans, despite Sinn Fein / IRA attempts to say otherwise. He has highlighted the ideological flip flops that Irish Republicans have had to make, such as now accepting that the "British presence" in Northern Ireland is not simply British soldiers, but actually one million citizens who live there and condsider themselves to be British.

As a result of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein has had to accept the principle of consent, ergo constitutional change can not occur without the consent of a majority. This is in stark contrast to the belief that a strategy of terrorist violence would bring about British withdrawal and a united Ireland, despite the wishes of the majority to remain within the UK.
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Justifying the SDLP position 28 Dec 2008
Format:Hardcover
The only flaw in this almost perfect book is that McDonald simply fails to state that the Sinn Fein position has become the SDLP position after having tried and failed to achieve anything with their own methods.

It is simply the case that violence in the form of armed struggle or otherwise was doomed to fail from the beginning. Its basis was that the British could be forced out of Ireland at the point of a gun and thus it failed to recognise the essential Britishness of the Unionists. They were not going anywhere no matter how many guns the IRA had. Instead of dealing with the unionists as partners in a New Ireland, as they are doing now at the behest of the SDLP, the IRA set out to destroy their links with Britain.

I suppose you could call it "learned stupidity" but killing Prods has been the republican approach in the North since the plantation, bar 1798 which came from the Protestant side. Killing to create unity has to be the most profoundly erroneous path ever embarked upon.

The basis of this value sytem that teaches us that violence works is that evil is more powerful than good and thus that Satan is more powerful than God, which means that they worship Satan not God. In good and evil terms all who lift the gun are Satanists.

In psychological terms that means that their conclusions about the evil of the "other side" are dubious to say the least and merely reflect the evil they see in themselves.

This book is a fantastic read for the SDLP supporter who takes the high moral ground that all violence is wrong and that those who prosecuted the armed struggle were destined to stop it in humiliation just as Henry McDonald states very clearly.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not as the subtitle says 19 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback
Gun-smoke and mirrors is supposedly the 'story of how Sinn Fein dressed up defeat as victory.'
But it is simply not. This book is actually an incoherent anti provisional Sinn Fein/IRA rant.
The notion that Sinn Fein 'dressed up defeat as victory' in the peace process years may be a valid point or it may not be. My point is the reader is none the wiser whatever the case may be after reading this lazy work.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
An excellent book, using terrific analysis, reasoned argument and backed up with plenty of facts that cannot be denied or even disputed or misinterpreted. Obviously some aren't going to like it but those who cannot face unpalatable truths should looks inside themselves and ask why they cannot rather than blame the source.
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The subtitle says it all 12 Nov 2009
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The blurb makes this book sound more like first-person interviews with IRA men. It's not that personal. See my review of his earlier memoir, "Colours," for a more intimate take on growing up among the Official IRA, the Marxist wing (aka Sticks, Stickies) as well as other Northern Irish cultural and political contexts.

As with that book, McDonald here moves rapidly over similar terrain, inevitably. The strength lies in comparisons and contrasts with current Islamist and Third World "liberation front" parallels alleged and asserted by forty years of Irish "freedom fighters." For McDonald, this belies the cant, the hyperbole, and the sheer falsehood of "dressing up defeat as victory." Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA, he insists, could have talked to the real "British presence," the Unionists, and settled their differences in the mid-'70s. Instead, their current leaders bullied any who sought by federalism or power-sharing what was decried as a "sop to loyalists"-- those on the ground kept fighting, killing, dying, and being locked up for their cause. Meanwhile, those now in charge of Sinn Féin were those who had been secretly moving towards compromise even as their public attitude remained "United Ireland" and nothing short of "Brits out."

This sums up the argument. The chapters, as with "Colours," may confuse those less knowledgeable with the intricacies of the past fifty years, or a hundred, of Irish republican and Ulster British history, infighting, and politicking. On the siding of the British far-left with the more thuggish factions of "liberators" everywhere against the Evil Empires of America and Britain, McDonald, who has depicted in "Colours" his own youthful observations from behind the GDR as a Marxist activist, finds that "the common denominator here has always been the wish to see their own country defeated and humiliated alongside a perverse sense of siding with one group simply for the sake of being contrary to a given consensus." (46) Kim Il Sung and genocidal Serbs become glorious leaders against imperial tyranny. He also notes that some on the left think through realpolitik more soberly: "From Ireland they have learnt a valuable lesson: just because a movement which is principally nationalist and by its actions at least latently sectarian wraps itself up in the trendy garb of 'anti-imperialism', that doesn't necessarily make it progressive." (51)

The strength of this brisk book lies in such remarks. Those on the Irish struggle and its cessation, often, prove less clear and often too convoluted in their presentation, out of chronological order; the chapters seem often bursts of insight mixed with journalism blended into opinion, all jumbled. The legacy left by Adams' former comrade, the late Brendan ("the Dark") Hughes emerges most poignantly as a principled man who refused to back down from his own opposition to the duplicity that the current Sinn Féin leadership has pursued in its grab for power in the Northern statelet and the Southern state that it once vowed to smash, and replace. The use of arms to force Irish unity had been rejected by those in earlier stages of the IRA, and now, after 3,500 dead, those in the IRA did the same. Sounds admirable, but the problem was that those same IRA members and those in Sinn Féin refused, for so long, to reveal that they meant to give in, and they kept leading those under them into streets and prisons to do their dirty work, unable as the leaders were able to admit the contradictions of their deadly, radical chic, mindset.

Critiques by McDonald can hit their target. He's often efficiently cutting in citing Adams and Co. nowadays spouting what their earlier selves vowed never to utter. He's also wicked in juxtaposing pious nods to Fenian verities that the party keeps reciting to a dwindling band of believers that 2016 will somehow magically result in a united Republic. Yet, after a couple hundred rapidly written pages of this reportage, one wonders what the Irish north and south should do next, other than not voting SF. It's hard to say who'd welcome this book outside of dissident or opposing readers as suspicious of the Adams-McGuinness-Morrison triumvirate as many Irish voters, after all, have been. That is, for an international reader, this may not be the first book to pick up on the collapse of the Fenian physical-force tradition as Provoism marches alongside Paisleyism, in McDonald's wry formula.

Still, for the attention to the posturing long indulged in by progressives eager to ally dubiously undemocratic causes abroad with the Provos, this take, from one raised in the Officials' more pro-British, socialist, and working-class tradition (not one without its own contradictions, as McDonald notes) can be instructive. He parallels the Workers Party manifesto from 1982 with recent pronouncements by Adams to deadly effect, to show how what the Provos once shot people to death for proposing now becomes policy for those sharing power in Stormont and earning their salaries from the Crown's coffers.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "How Sinn Féin dressed up defeat as victory" 12 Nov 2009
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The blurb makes this book sound more like first-person interviews with IRA men. It's not that personal. See my review of his earlier memoir, "Colours," for a more intimate take on growing up among the Official IRA, the Marxist wing (aka Sticks, Stickies) as well as other Northern Irish cultural and political contexts.

As with that book, McDonald here moves rapidly over similar terrain, inevitably. The strength lies in comparisons and contrasts with current Islamist and Third World "liberation front" parallels alleged and asserted by forty years of Irish "freedom fighters." For McDonald, this belies the cant, the hyperbole, and the sheer falsehood of "dressing up defeat as victory." Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA, he insists, could have talked to the real "British presence," the Unionists, and settled their differences in the mid-'70s. Instead, their current leaders bullied any who sought by federalism or power-sharing what was decried as a "sop to loyalists"-- those on the ground kept fighting, killing, dying, and being locked up for their cause. Meanwhile, those now in charge of Sinn Féin were those who had been secretly moving towards compromise even as their public attitude remained "United Ireland" and nothing short of "Brits out."

This sums up the argument. The chapters, as with "Colours," may confuse those less knowledgeable with the intricacies of the past fifty years, or a hundred, of Irish republican and Ulster British history, infighting, and politicking. On the siding of the British far-left with the more thuggish factions of "liberators" everywhere against the Evil Empires of America and Britain, McDonald, who has depicted in "Colours" his own youthful observations from behind the GDR as a Marxist activist, finds that "the common denominator here has always been the wish to see their own country defeated and humiliated alongside a perverse sense of siding with one group simply for the sake of being contrary to a given consensus." (46) Kim Il Sung and genocidal Serbs become glorious leaders against imperial tyranny. He also notes that some on the left think through realpolitik more soberly: "From Ireland they have learnt a valuable lesson: just because a movement which is principally nationalist and by its actions at least latently sectarian wraps itself up in the trendy garb of 'anti-imperialism', that doesn't necessarily make it progressive." (51)

The strength of this brisk book lies in such remarks. Those on the Irish struggle and its cessation, often, prove less clear and often too convoluted in their presentation, out of chronological order; the chapters seem often bursts of insight mixed with journalism blended into opinion, all jumbled. The legacy left by Adams' former comrade, the late Brendan ("the Dark") Hughes emerges most poignantly as a principled man who refused to back down from his own opposition to the duplicity that the current Sinn Féin leadership has pursued in its grab for power in the Northern statelet and the Southern state that it once vowed to smash, and replace. The use of arms to force Irish unity had been rejected by those in earlier stages of the IRA, and now, after 3,500 dead, those in the IRA did the same. Sounds admirable, but the problem was that those same IRA members and those in Sinn Féin refused, for so long, to reveal that they meant to give in, and they kept leading those under them into streets and prisons to do their dirty work, unable as the leaders were able to admit the contradictions of their deadly, radical chic, mindset.

Critiques by McDonald can hit their target. He's often efficiently cutting in citing Adams and Co. nowadays spouting what their earlier selves vowed never to utter. He's also wicked in juxtaposing pious nods to Fenian verities that the party keeps reciting to a dwindling band of believers that 2016 will somehow magically result in a united Republic. Yet, after a couple hundred rapidly written pages of this reportage, one wonders what the Irish north and south should do next, other than not voting SF. It's hard to say who'd welcome this book outside of dissident or opposing readers as suspicious of the Adams-McGuinness-Morrison triumvirate as many Irish voters, after all, have been. That is, for an international reader, this may not be the first book to pick up on the collapse of the Fenian physical-force tradition as Provoism marches alongside Paisleyism, in McDonald's wry formula.

Still, for the attention to the posturing long indulged in by progressives eager to ally dubiously undemocratic causes abroad with the Provos, this take, from one raised in the Officials' more pro-British, socialist, and working-class tradition (not one without its own contradictions, as McDonald notes) can be instructive. He parallels the Workers Party manifesto from 1982 with recent pronouncements by Adams to deadly effect, to show how what the Provos once shot people to death for proposing now becomes policy for those sharing power in Stormont and earning their salaries from the Crown's coffers.
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