New York — "What do you fight for, what do you fight for?" is the mournful refrain that accompanies the final scenes of one of the most disturbing documentaries of recent years: "ABC Closeup: To Die For Ireland" (Thursday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings). Marianne Faithfull's rock dirge probably comes as close as anything else in the documentary to summing up what the fighting in Northern Ireland is all about. Does anybody know any more?
Produced for ABC by award-winning independent filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond ("The Police Tapes" and "Bad Boys"), this documentary utilizes a non-narrative technique made up of a college of street interviews, official statements, sounds of radio and TV, scenes of street action, direct questions and answers, overheard conversations, and lots of faces. The faces of Northern Ireland, whether IRA or "Brit," are filled with grim determination, indignation, fury, all with a touch of defensiveness and a kind of overall bewilderment. And bewilderment can be the only reaction of the viewer.
We see weeping women attending funerals for men and boys, all uncertain as to the reasons for their deaths. We see soldiers and civilians, terrorist leaders and politicians, all determined to "win." We see the results of petty nationalism, allowed to fester for years as poverty and ignorance keep the resentment alive. We see how ordinary, rational men turn into irrational creatures of blood and fury, determined to have their way, even if that way results in nothing but more blood and fury. Even if that way is only a route to more blood and tears.
Says one partisan observer: "Politicians have let them down; they must turn to violence. If you want something, you've got to fight for it." This kind of talk is countered by probably the most shocking moment in a documentary filled with quietly shocking episodes: a young and seemingly innocent British soldier calmly says, "If we catch people red-handed in acts of violence, we shoot to kill. . . ." He smiles unknowingly as he makes this statement, justifying the taking of life in the act of protecting life.
Says one TV panelist: "Are we obeying the very laws we are enforcing?" It is a question many Ulstermen as well as Britonsare thinking about these days, one hopes a bit more often than in the past.
The iron hand of military occupation is apparent throughout this film; even the ABC cameras are questioned at one point by British troops who obviously resent the intrusion of outside reason into their affairs.
"A revolution is not sewing or embroidery," an IRA battler shouts during a eulogy to a fallen comrade. "A revolution is an act of violence where one class overthrows another. . . ."
"You don't want to be here," insists a young angry Irishman to a British soldier about his own age. "Go home; leave us alone."
"I'd love to!" responds the soldier, sadly, longingly.
Filled with misty montages of Belfast as well as more rural areas in what could be beautiful countryside if the green were not so steeped in blood red, "To Die For Ireland" is a case history of "civilized" terrorism. It once more proves that decent civilization and terrorism cannot really co-exist, whether it be in Northern Ireland or the Middle East.
Produced under the aegis of the aggressively innovative Pamela Hill, this timely and timeless ABC News Close-up makes it apparent that there is an important place for independent filmmakers in network documentary programming. Miss Hill should be congratulated for giving the Raymonds the opportunity to take this fresh look at a hauntingly recurrent subject.
"To Die For Ireland" offers no new solutions . . . only the vague possibility that still another observation with still another perspective will somehow force all those involved to recognize that seemingly nationalistic squabbles are no longer local but truly international in scope.