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Truth or Drama: Blair at the Chilcot Enquiry

2010 January 26
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by Paul Vallely

It was a piece of serendipity that the week in which Tony Blair was to appear before the Chilcot Inquiry began with a repeat of the film Five Minutes of Heaven. This award-winning BBC drama creates a fiction around a real-life killing from Northern Ireland. The film centres around the long-term psychological legacy of the murder, for both the killer and the 11-year-old brother of the victim who witnesses the act.

But the most striking section came in the reconstruction of the preparation for the sectarian murder of a 19-year-old Catholic Jim Griffin by 17-year-old Alistair Little in 1975.

The killer is seen getting dressed, having decided not to squeeze a teenage facial spot, as if he is going to a disco. But then he pulls a gun and bullets from a hiding place at the bottom of, significantly, his childhood toy box. There is something banally juvenile too about the conversation the boy has with his friends in their stolen getaway car. The boy parrots grown-up talk about the disadvantage of an automatic weapon as his awestruck friends look at the gun. Can I hold it, one asks reverentially.

It was a chilling portrait of the inexorable logic of a group of people who have become trapped in a world in which obscenity has become perversely inverted into morality. Killing is now a fine and noble thing. The killer will be a big man in the disco afterwards.  The scene caught both the inexorability of the logic and its utter puerile inadequacy.

History has been catching up a lot of people this week. In Iraq the man known as Chemical Ali was hanged for killing 5,000 people by ordering Iraqi jets to swoop over the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 and for five hours spray it with a lethal cocktail of mustard gas and the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin and VX.

The day after that, the peace process in Northern Ireland threatened to unravel when Sinn Fein announced that, after making radical concessions in 2006 to pave the way to power sharing, it has now lost patience with Unionists failure to deliver their part of the bargain by devolving policing to the local community – a crisi which was exacerbated by the extraordinarily bungling of David Cameron which has cast real doubt over his wisdom and maturity in the process.

And today Tony  Blair is to give evidence at the Chilcot Inquiry. Previewing that on radio this week the former editor of The Times, Sir Peter Stothard, offered an uncanny parallel to the film scene of the four lads preparing for the 1975 murder in Ulster. The journalist had – with more serendipity – set up to follow the prime minister for 30 days in March and April 2003 to portray the day-to-day life of Mr Blair who was about to celebrate his 50th birthday. It turned out to be the period of the build-up to war.

The prime minister, he recalled, had been oddly animated by the approach of war. “The strange kind of ‘I’m a star, it’s the greatest moment of my life’ was extraordinary from  Blair,” the writer recalled. It was as if he was “serenely playing the leading man in a play which he knew had been scripted for months”. At one point, when the journalist asked how he would later justify the many deaths that would follow, the politician replied he would “answer to my maker”. There was an “absolute clarity” about Mr Blair. “He was operating on a completely different level. He wanted to be on the top table, with Bush, with God.”

That is, of course, just one man’s judgement. Did Tony Blair really take us to war out of the same kind of febrile delusion that seized the 17-year-old killers of Jim Griffin? We will never know. There are some truths history can never teach us so well as drama.


From the Church Times

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