Issue 267 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Hold on a minute

Silence isn't always golden, says Pat Stack

Keeping quiet for a minute

I have decided that when I die I want all friends and acquaintances (if not the nation as a whole) to observe a minute's raucous noise. Klaxons, bells, whistles, Ramones CDs and the like must be blasted from every corner by anyone who vaguely liked me.

The reason for this is that I have taken a definite dislike to minute's silences. Firstly because they have become damn commonplace, and secondly because frankly some of the minute's silences I have had to sit through have been for people whose deaths leave me at best untouched and at worst positively cheerful.

Now, this may seem harsh, not to say disrespectful. However, I feel no need to pretend to have respect for somebody in death that I loathed during his or her life. Indeed, there are moments when disrespect is the only appropriate response. Three incidents spring to mind. The first, at some point in my teens, was the death of the then Archbishop of Dublin, a brutish guy by the name of McQuaid.

This was in Ireland at a time when the strength of the church was at its height. Pundit after pundit appeared on TV saying what a wonderful man McQuaid was.

One person invited to speak about him, though, was the maverick left wing TD (MP) Noel Brown. Brown had been minister for health in a rather peculiar left-right coalition government in the late 1950s. He had tried to introduce important health reforms (he is generally credited with laying the basis for conquering the scourge of tuberculosis in Ireland). One such reform was the Mother and Child Act, providing a sort of NHS for pregnant women and young children. The rich hated the plan, and the church provided them with the ideological armoury to conquer it.

The state interfering with the family (as opposed to clerics interfering with young children, apparently) was against Christ's teaching. The scheme was scuppered and Brown effectively sacked. He was in no mood to forgive, and on the night of McQuaid's death he ripped into him as a bully, misogynist, enemy of the poor and religious bigot. It was a joy to behold, and caused much outrage.

The second incident that stays with me was the death of Spain's fascist dictator General Franco. Franco somewhat lingered in his last days, and as the left grew more and more impatient the factory workers of Waterford Glass decided it was time to urge things along. So they sent a telegram for him to the Spanish embassy, saying, 'Die you bastard, die.'

Finally, and much more recently, I wrote a column about princess Margaret after her death, and received a communication from someone who had been at a football match when a minute's silence was called for. This guy had pointedly, but politely, refused to observe the minute's silence. He and his father were ejected from the ground, and had their season tickets removed. Very brave, and on reading the correspondence it was clear that the guy, quite rightly, had no regrets.

All this seems to me entirely appropriate. I loathed the parasitic princess Margaret, and her equally parasitic mother, and resent being asked to respect them at a football ground. Yet it seems ever since the death of the princess and the playboy we have to have minute's silences, and enough ostentatious shrubbery on show to prove our grief for everyone and anyone the tabloids decide was a goody.

Therefore it is not just those I loathe that make me uneasy about minute's silences. I also feel that they have become on the one hand commonplace, yet on the other are highly selective. I have nothing against Glenn Hoddle's father--never met the man, know nothing about him--yet I fail to see why I should pay any more tribute to him than anybody else's father.

On a more serious note, obviously nobody could feel anything but horror or grief over the deaths of the two young girls in Soham. The agony of not knowing what has happened to your children, or imagining the horror of their end must be truly unbearable. Therefore without wishing to take anything away from the awfulness of Soham, it is a fact that during the same period many parents will have lost their children. Some will have died in traffic accidents, others in accidents in the home, some the victims of domestic violence, some from illness. Some parents will have watched as their children die in excruciating pain. Weren't their deaths also heartbreaking? Didn't their loved ones also feel grief? Tabloids' though, are not interested in deaths that don't feed their own agendas, so they singled the Soham tragedy out.

Which brings us of course to 11 September. Here we had a worldwide minute's silence, days of saturation coverage, and moving accounts from the relatives of the dead. There is no way that you could not feel the deepest sympathy for these people.

Yet what of Bhopal, where corporate murder killed far more than Bin Laden's assassins? Where are the days of TV coverage, the pictures of human tragedy, the national minute's silence? They don't exist. The victims were not white, the perpetrators were not bearded Arabs but corporate suits, there was no sexy TV footage, and no one or nothing to declare war on.

That last point is of particular importance. For, despite the genuine grief that many felt, the anniversary was used by the burning Bush and the poodweiler Blair to gear us up for war. That is, to inflict death on countless numbers of innocent civilians, who will have no name or profile, but will merely be statistics.

Just as in Afghanistan, the only response of Bush and his hawkish maniacs will be to challenge the headcount. Anybody remember the minute's silence for dead Afghans?

Nor will there be one for dead Iraqis. After all, who in their right mind would observe a minute's silence for nameless, faceless bits of collateral damage?


Anybody remember the minute's silence for dead Afghans?


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