January 30, 1972, brought bereavement that left a lifetime of scars on military and civilians in Northern Ireland. This historic day has since become known as Bloody Sunday, leaving 14 civilians dead at the hands of the military. Six of those killed were only 17 years old. Eyewitness accounts of several of the shootings said that victims were unarmed, and that two were even shot while surrendering.
As the story goes, it is set in Derry, Northern Ireland, during an illegal civil rights march that encompassed an estimated 5,000 to 20,000 people. As the people marched through the roadways, the British army set up barricades to intercept its path. Some of the civilians detoured, while others continued to march through to the barricades and reportedly threw stones at the soldiers there. This is where the discrepancy has been, as the soldiers claim to have then been shot at and bombed, thus returning fire upon the civilians, hence resulting in 14 deaths and another 13 injuries. Investigations have since shown no physical evidence of gunfire by any civilians, nor the “nail bombings” that had been suggested, with the only apparent evidence of this being the testimony of soldiers.
As though the whole incident wasn’t gruesome enough, its investigation was still more gruesome. Instead of the military admitting it was mistaken to shoot at unarmed civilians to begin with, it began to get to work with attempts to justify its mistake (resulting in a “whitewash” report). Instead of getting to work with helping a grieving and horrified community, it horrified these families even more with what it commenced to do. Who could ever even feel safe with such a thing happening right in your own community?
The initial reports by the military stated that only those civilians with guns or bombs had been shot at, again with civilian eye witnesses stating that soldiers were actually shooting indiscriminately. Without the weight of any physical evidence at all showing that civilians had used weapons, the local populace – and the world – found the whole thing hard to swallow.
The grief of the surrounding community did not end with Bloody Sunday. In fact, it was only heightened with more violence and uprisings than before. One bloody thing led to another. Now, there is hope that at least some things can be laid to rest.
Finally, after a number of years, the justice system has what it needs to step up to the plate and make a new report finalized. The initial (whitewash) report upholding the military stance was done by Lord Widgery, with the new report done by Lord Saville. Still, this was not something taken lightly. The 5,000 pages of the Saville report took 12 years to complete. With this, the Saville report has determined, in part, that the military (infantry) was out of control with this incident, and did not follow its training. Thus, families who have suffered for so long can finally be relieved of carrying the burden of a guilt that didn’t belong to them.
UK Guardian – Bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday in Photographs
Bloody Sunday: Interactive Map
Bloody Sunday report: 38 years on, justice at last