Past stoicism meant Belfast Blitz never got attention it deserved

News Letter editorial of Friday April 16 2021:

Friday, 16th April 2021, 8:45 am
News Letter editorial

To get a sense of how society has improved the way it cares for people who have suffered in conflict of violence, compare the Blitz to the Troubles.

The German raids on Belfast over four nights, the worst of which was on April 15 and 16 1941, exactly 80 years ago, left more than 1,000 people dead if military casualties are included.

Most of the dead were civilians, often meeting barely imaginable ends in firestorms.

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Belfast suffered the worst casualties in a single night outside London yet to this day there is no major memorial to the Blitz dead. The council has, however, approved plans for one.

Anyone who was severely injured or left penniless because the main earner in a home had been killed did not in 1941 get the sort of benefits or compensation that many victims of the Troubles got (soon to be complemented by a Victim Pension).

It was a much tougher, poorer society in which people often just had to come to terms with their appalling fate.

No-one would want to return to such days.

A problem with the stoical approach of the past is that the Blitz has never really had the attention that it deserves. It was a massive trauma inflicted on Belfast that cut across the religious divide. Our supplement today lists the dead, and makes for haunting reading — names such as William Curran aged one, Andrew Ferguson aged three, Bridget Power aged seven.

What happened in 1941 is, like the sinking of the Titanic, a tragic chapter in the long history of Belfast.

We remember the dead, and can at the same time give thanks for human progress in terms of reduction of violence.

The Canadian academic Steven Pinker has explained in his works how there have been long-term declines in the use of war globally over the centuries.

But the fact that so many people are alive, aged in their late 80s or older, who remember the Belfast Blitz and the war shows that disastrous conflict happened in recent history. We cannot be complacent and assume it will never return.

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Alistair Bushe

Editor