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The silencing of Jadotville.


Colette NiReamonn Ioannidou

We learn our histories in school at an age when a lot of our past is not of much interest to the young. We take it in under the impression it is unassailably true because it's in a book and teacher tells us about it. If we're lucky, it bears no threat to our present lives, so eventually it sinks into the lower regions of memory unheeded and unneeded. It's unsettling, however, to learn as an adult that your country has secrets those in power or authority felt were best clamped under the tombstone of time, hopefully never to be exhumed. But, the old saying goes -- truth will out and this case proves it. It's an odd sensation when a name and the person who owns it leap out unexpectedly at you from a movie, someone you knew as a child because the man lived where you did. You knew he was an important person but nothing much about his life. I recently experienced a film The Siege of Jadotville that riveted me, encouraged by the comments of Florian, a Romanian friend, who had watched it and found it to be a fine story. I took him at his word; he's a man who works long hours and will not waste screen time on something unless it's worth it.

'There's action,' he began, 'but not Hollywood type action. It's real, it actually happened.' He was telling me because it involved a unit of Irish United Nations peacekeepers in Africa who found themselves under siege in a compound near Jadotville, led by Jamie Dornan (in a green uniform as opposed to his shades of grey non-clothes!) as Commandant Pat Quinlan leading 150 Irish soldiers sent to Africa when Congolese President Patrice Lemumba was usurped by General Moise Tshombe and later assassinated. United Nations Secretary General Dag HammarskjE[micro]ld, worried that the upheaval might cause World War III, assigned Conor Cruise O'Brien (the leaper) to lead a peacekeeping mission to the area. The Irish were posted near Jadotville which contained the world's richest uranium deposits eagerly sought after by foreign companies. General Tshombe wanted to turn Katanga into an independent state with him at its head and recognised by the UN, using blackmail if needed. Quinlan immediately realised that the compound was practically undefendable, its rundown buildings open on all sides, and set his men to doing their, under the circumstances, limited best to arrange defensive fortifications.

He headed for the nearest supply store and met Rene Faulques, a French mercenary hired by the mining interests, who goaded the quiet Quinlan with comparisons of Ireland's and Quinlan's lack of war experience and the great prowess of the French when it came to fighting. Quinlan calmly but cuttingly mentioned how little time it took the Nazis to overrun France. Ohh la la! Bristles rise on the Frenchman's ego and we know things will soon get very rough. So confident is this battle-hardened warrior, he thinks the toy-soldier Irish don't stand a chance. O'Brien meantime, orders UN forces to launch an attack on a government building held by Katanganese near Elizabethville. It's a botched mess, innocent civilians are killed and O'Brien orders a cover up. Retaliation falls on the hapless Irish pawns.

The Secretary General takes a plane to try and persuade Tshombe to talk peace but he never reaches his destination. Thousands of Congolese troops led by French and Belgian mercenaries then march on the post intending to make short work of the Irish. Quinlan's appeal to both his superior and O'Brien for reinforcements is a prayer to empty air, reinforcements can't get through and they are left to do or die. To say more would be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen the movie and perhaps would like to. The grossly outnumbered, resilient soldiers had to rely on wits, courage and intelligence to survive and were, to Ireland's shame, branded as cowards. The battle for that isolated piece of earth was buried, however, Declan Power's book The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle led to the film of 2016. The men who had been so shamefully treated finally gained the recognition they hugely deserved.

If you want more information it's on Google. Unbelievable to think, for the Irish chain of command, that Faulques came out of the tale with more honour than O'Brien, as a soldier who respected a worthy enemy. O'Brien, meantime, went on to become a political entity. As Faulques might shrug and say, C'est la vie!

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Aug 28, 2019
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