Northern Ireland seems a situation in which there are many complexities but no subleties. In tonight's ABC News "Closeup," it appears to be a war in which there are only victims and in which innocent bystanding is absolutely no defense.
"To Die for Ireland," at 10 on Channel 7, was filmed in Northern Ireland by Alan and Susan Raymond, the talented documentarians who compiled an impressive record while working in public TV. The hour has, except for a brief prologue, no narration, and it doesn't pretend to tell everything there is to know about the ongoing battle between the IRA and the occupying British army. But it conveys, through the testimony of participants and occasionally penetrating imagery, more than has been told on television before. o
We get an impressionistic view of a standoff that looks hopeless. And we hear more of the IRA's side, especially of grievances against the British, than is usually heard in reports of this sort. In fact, the filmmakers were interrupted once during their interviews by a British patrol, whose casual interrogation of the crew was captured on film and included.
A moment later, a clergyman investigating violations of human rights by the British military is interviewing a lad who claims to have been apprehended and harassed without due cause. The clergyman says the British employ "Draconian" laws to intimidate anyone considered remotely suspicious. "The list is endless; the situation doesn't improve," he says.
We watch as British soldiers use a robot device armed with a television camera to neutralize a still-ticking bomb on board a Belfast bus. At the funeral of an IRA man killed by his own bomb, the eulogy includes what is supposed to be a high praise."He hated Brits" and he reached the conclusion that "the only solution was to engage in physical force."
Interviews are separated by shots of vituperative graffiti, including one rather rude suggestion regarding what might be done with the queen. Another scrawl reads "Bomb Damage Sale" while a British poster advertising for informers warns, "Murder! You Could Be Next!"
And then there is the seemingly well-meaning British soldier stationed in a testy town two miles from the border. "The atmosphere in the village itself is not a particularly pleasant one," he says with always-be-an-England understatement. He tells the Raymonds (who remain off-camera) that the only way for a soldier to walk through one part of the town is in the company of a local civilian. "There's less chance of your actually being blown up then," he says.
He points to the huge hole in a shop wall where one of his comrades was in fact blown up not long before.
The Raymonds are skillful and industrious filmmakers who communicate what it must be like to live in a land where a sense of peril has become the way of daily life. Children are seen playing, or merely fretting, in close proximity to rifle-toting soldiers charged with keeping the peace -- a peace that, this film suggests, has little chance of being kept.