Anthony McIntyre 🔖Anybody familiar with the literary output of John Crawley will have known before picking up this book just how good a writer he is. 


While modesty might cause him to resile from the description, how Richard English described Ernie O'Malley is appropriate for Crawley - an IRA intellectual. When he writes or speaks in either a formal or informal setting, the eyes focus or the ears prick up to catch what is being transmitted. 

When in the IRA he loathed being referred to as The Yank so it might seem odd that the title of his autobiography would be just that. But there is a purpose to it. Unlike an unwieldy title such as We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, it is the distillation of brevity. More than two decades on from reading Philip Gourevitch's stellar work on the Rwandan genocide, I still have to check if I have the title correct. That will not happen with The Yank. Moreover, the name John Crawley might not have resonated with every republican, the nom de guerre The Yank, if not the person, was known to all. His trajectory, commitment, prowess, gloves on philosophy and willingness to sustain deprivation and risk death conferred on him an iconic status within the republican activist community.

When along with my wife, I attended the launch in Monaghan in September of last year, the turnout was enormous. If I was ever part of a larger gathering for a book launch, I no longer remember it. Such was the seriousness with which the thinking of John Crawley was received. While I would not share his views on the centrality to republicanism of nationalism, he is no reactionary. I find myself hesitant to embrace the passion with which he articulates the case. Yet, from within the republican constituency - that which dissents from the joint constitutional nationalist-British conceived Good Friday Agreement - there is no finer advocate. Because John Crawley is a craftsman at work, it is either genuinely impossible or parsimoniously churlish to deny the dexterity with which he applies himself to the task. 

What makes this book such a seminal work is that for decades republicans were subject to self congratulatory leadership waffle, basically pissing down the scarred backs of those who were whipped mercilessly for the cause while fraudulently claiming they were administering a balm. The Yank does to the false narrative of a superlative military leadership what Blanketmen by Richard O'Rawe did to the self-serving leadership narrative of the hunger strike - upended it. Combined, both works have compelled perfidy and dissembling to walk the plank. Now, The Wank has been shunted offstage by The Yank, and public understanding is immeasurably enhanced as a result.

Unbeknown to ourselves, languishing on the blanket protest and bored out of our tree, at the end of May 1979 John Crawley had parted company with the US Marines, with whom his relationship was purely instrumental, and was travelling to Ireland to join the ranks of the IRA to whom he wanted to be genuinely betrothed. His marriage to the Marines was one of convenience. His love affair with the IRA was not some fleeting dalliance.  Expecting to find a jet engine powering the armed struggle he found Icarus. The engine was available but the chief pilots preferred wings made of wax. When things got too hot  . . . 

At almost three hundred pages in length, the book's central thesis is the leadership-led incompetence of the Provisional IRA. Crawley is unrelenting in his dissection of leadership. Martin McGuinness who was characterised by the British and republicans alike as some exalted military entity emerges from the book much in the manner once described by Warren Buffet: only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.

The careerist cartel, now firmly in control of Sinn Fein, is not spared the wrath of Crawley. The reader can detect an anguish born out of authentic sensitivity, not self pity, at how so much investment was siphoned off and into the deep career pockets of ambitious politicians who are now willing to see prosecuted in British no-jury courts activists of the Bobby Sands generation if career enhancement is the reward for doing so. 

Part of John Crawley's story is about travelling to Ireland in the Valhalla where he was subsequently captured close to the coastline, spending the following ten years in prison before going on to top up his incarceration with a few more years in English and Irish jails. While we can be certain that there is no such thing as an afterlife, if the Valhalla of the Vikings existed, this IRA warrior would feast at the banquet of the gods. 
 
John Crawley, 2022, The Yank: My Life as a Former US Marine in the IRA. Merrion Press. ISBN-13: ‎978-1785374234

Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

The Yank

Anthony McIntyre 🔖Anybody familiar with the literary output of John Crawley will have known before picking up this book just how good a writer he is. 


While modesty might cause him to resile from the description, how Richard English described Ernie O'Malley is appropriate for Crawley - an IRA intellectual. When he writes or speaks in either a formal or informal setting, the eyes focus or the ears prick up to catch what is being transmitted. 

When in the IRA he loathed being referred to as The Yank so it might seem odd that the title of his autobiography would be just that. But there is a purpose to it. Unlike an unwieldy title such as We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, it is the distillation of brevity. More than two decades on from reading Philip Gourevitch's stellar work on the Rwandan genocide, I still have to check if I have the title correct. That will not happen with The Yank. Moreover, the name John Crawley might not have resonated with every republican, the nom de guerre The Yank, if not the person, was known to all. His trajectory, commitment, prowess, gloves on philosophy and willingness to sustain deprivation and risk death conferred on him an iconic status within the republican activist community.

When along with my wife, I attended the launch in Monaghan in September of last year, the turnout was enormous. If I was ever part of a larger gathering for a book launch, I no longer remember it. Such was the seriousness with which the thinking of John Crawley was received. While I would not share his views on the centrality to republicanism of nationalism, he is no reactionary. I find myself hesitant to embrace the passion with which he articulates the case. Yet, from within the republican constituency - that which dissents from the joint constitutional nationalist-British conceived Good Friday Agreement - there is no finer advocate. Because John Crawley is a craftsman at work, it is either genuinely impossible or parsimoniously churlish to deny the dexterity with which he applies himself to the task. 

What makes this book such a seminal work is that for decades republicans were subject to self congratulatory leadership waffle, basically pissing down the scarred backs of those who were whipped mercilessly for the cause while fraudulently claiming they were administering a balm. The Yank does to the false narrative of a superlative military leadership what Blanketmen by Richard O'Rawe did to the self-serving leadership narrative of the hunger strike - upended it. Combined, both works have compelled perfidy and dissembling to walk the plank. Now, The Wank has been shunted offstage by The Yank, and public understanding is immeasurably enhanced as a result.

Unbeknown to ourselves, languishing on the blanket protest and bored out of our tree, at the end of May 1979 John Crawley had parted company with the US Marines, with whom his relationship was purely instrumental, and was travelling to Ireland to join the ranks of the IRA to whom he wanted to be genuinely betrothed. His marriage to the Marines was one of convenience. His love affair with the IRA was not some fleeting dalliance.  Expecting to find a jet engine powering the armed struggle he found Icarus. The engine was available but the chief pilots preferred wings made of wax. When things got too hot  . . . 

At almost three hundred pages in length, the book's central thesis is the leadership-led incompetence of the Provisional IRA. Crawley is unrelenting in his dissection of leadership. Martin McGuinness who was characterised by the British and republicans alike as some exalted military entity emerges from the book much in the manner once described by Warren Buffet: only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.

The careerist cartel, now firmly in control of Sinn Fein, is not spared the wrath of Crawley. The reader can detect an anguish born out of authentic sensitivity, not self pity, at how so much investment was siphoned off and into the deep career pockets of ambitious politicians who are now willing to see prosecuted in British no-jury courts activists of the Bobby Sands generation if career enhancement is the reward for doing so. 

Part of John Crawley's story is about travelling to Ireland in the Valhalla where he was subsequently captured close to the coastline, spending the following ten years in prison before going on to top up his incarceration with a few more years in English and Irish jails. While we can be certain that there is no such thing as an afterlife, if the Valhalla of the Vikings existed, this IRA warrior would feast at the banquet of the gods. 
 
John Crawley, 2022, The Yank: My Life as a Former US Marine in the IRA. Merrion Press. ISBN-13: ‎978-1785374234

Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

12 comments:

  1. The engine may have been available but if that plane took flight the sheer scale of the retaliation would have taken it clean out of the sky with nothing but a glowing shower of sparks to show for it. The fudge that came after was perhaps inevitable save fear the alternative.

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    Replies
    1. I don't think that would have been the determining factor - probably internment on both sides of border.

      Delete
    2. Really? Then why go the massive effort to bring such heavy gear in? One thing we never could work out was the insistence on DIY stuff when the gear brought in would have been way more effective, so the fear of being lifted stopped it's use? I remember Coalisland and the daft use of a DshK against the cop shop, they may have made several errors and met the hooligans from Hereford but they certainly didn't lack balls. I wouldn't have thought being lifted was a put off.

      Thinking about it if one of the strela's actually brought down a BA chopper then that would have strengthened Pheonix's pitch for gunship escorts. The border would have become saturated with troops thereafter.

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    3. The gear was used as leverage in negotiations and not in the field.

      The issue was not about balls. Volunteers were not lacking in that.

      My point is not that the threat of internment dissuaded the leadership. It is more that the type of response to the IRA upping the campaign suggested by you would not have been the tipping point. Internment in both states would have been more effective in curbing the threat from the weaponry than a retaliatory response from loyalists. Although that too would have fed into any decision to intern.

      Delete
  2. Steve R, if PIRA forced the British government to escalate the conflict with a "surge" of troops in the vein of Mr Bush in Iraq in 2007, surely that would be a significant political victory for the republican movement, in their eyes? The republican dream in the 1980s seemed to be provoking a British government over-reaction and winding the clock back to the early 1970s.

    As for the helicopters the PIRA did shoot down down a number following the Libyan shipments but evidently not enough to seriously endanger British Army aerial lines of communication to border bases. One was shot down in South Armagh in 1988, another along the Tyrone-Republic border in 1990, another near Crossmaglen in 1991. Two low-flying helicopters were also shot down in South Armagh by the IRA using mortars in 1994.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bleakley,

      "PIRA forced the British government to escalate the conflict with a "surge" of troops in the vein of Mr Bush in Iraq in 2007, surely that would be a significant political victory for the republican movement, in their eyes? "

      That's what I would have thought.

      As for the other bird shoot downs, I get that there were a couple of collateral strikes by mortars and at least one with concentrated small arms + DShK but nothing compared to what a propaganda coup being hit by a SAM would have been. Small arms could be avoided by simply flying at night, a SAM wouldn't have been inconvenienced by nightfall. Just surprising they went to the effort of getting the goods, having the balls to conduct very risky ops yet not use the proper tools.

      If internment was the deterrence then that makes sense, and as I said perhaps that's why the fudge became inevitable.

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  3. Although I cannot vouch for the veracity, I once read that SAMs weren't used because they came with dead batteries and I also read that the instructions were indecipherable. I'm not an expert so don't know if these claims are obvious nonsense and although one or both of them may be pure speculation maybe the truth was that they couldn't rather than wouldn't use them. That's the only obvious reason why they weren't used- because they couldn't be.

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    Replies
    1. The Strela-2 were fired only once at a helicopter in Fermanagh in 1991. The missile failed to hit the target and landed harmlessly on the ground.

      That the IRA only used the SAM once, several years after it arrived in Ireland, and that one time it seemingly malfunctioned, would give credence to the notion that the devices were defective.

      Although that said, the IRA seemed to take their time employing the infamous .50 calibre sniper rifles too. According to John Crawley he first floated the idea in 1984; in 1986 a rifle of the type was intercepted in transit in Dublin, in 1990 the South Armagh IRA attempted at least one attack with a .50 rifle, but not until Autumn 1992 would the sniper campaign begin in earnest, continuing intermittently up until the 1994 ceasefire.

      Delete
    2. And that's another thing, the .50 is more than capable of inflicting huge damage on a helicopter...why didn't they use it so? I'm not convinced the border sniper used the barrett, the weapon has a very long barrell which would have stuck out of car. I suspect a 7.62 rifle was used and was more than up to the job. This is a bit sore to bring up..a family member was friends with the family of one of cops who was a victim. Young guy. Totally destroyed his mum. Some bullets don't stop travelling indeed.

      Delete
  4. I've read that the SAMs weren't used for that reason also, I think it was in either Bandit Country, or possibly Secret History of the IRA.

    This is from Wikipedia but relevant to the discussion:

    In July 2007, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Ministry of Defence published Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland, which reflected on the Army's role in the conflict and the strategic and operational lessons drawn from their involvement.[2][13] The paper divides the IRA activity and tactics into two main periods: The "insurgency" phase (1971–1972), and the "terrorist" phase (1972–1997).[104] The British Army claims to have curbed the IRA insurgency by 1972, after Operation Motorman. The IRA then reemerged as a cell-structured organisation.[104] The report also asserts that the government efforts by the 1980s were aimed at destroying the IRA, rather than negotiating a political solution.[105] One of the findings of the document is the failure of the British Army to tackle the IRA at strategic level and the lack of a single campaign authority and plan.[106] The paper stops short of claiming that "Northern Ireland has achieved a state of lasting peace" and acknowledges that, as late as 2006, there were still "areas of Northern Ireland out of bounds to soldiers".[107]

    For the IRA to have used the heavy gear effectively, it would have needed the momentum it had in the "insurgency phase" - I suspect some within the IRA believed that forcing UKG to adopt draconian measures might well have caused that momentum. But other, more powerful, people in the IRA didn't believe that, or didn't want it.

    Regarding loyalist retaliation, there are state papers suggesting that UKG believed such was the British public's abhorrence of unionist behaviour and loyalist violence that a tipping point could be reached when a desire to withdraw from Ireland was irresistible. From memory, the memo said that if the IRA could kill a member of the British royal family, they thought that could force a political movement towards political and disengagement in Ireland.

    The Corporals killings also seemed to sap political will for the British to stay in Ireland: https://uk.sports.yahoo.com/news/mps-wanted-troops-withdrawn-killings-two-soldiers-belfast-000600091.html

    Personally, I don't think that UKG could ever have handled leaving Ireland in what seemed like a defeat, but IRA actions probably contributed more to the internal political debate than the Army Council realised.

    Again, to the prospect of loyalist retaliation, the IRA post Anglo-Irish Agreement killed numerous loyalist paramilitaries and intensified the campaign against security force contractors, fully cognizant of how those killings would be received and responded to by loyalists.

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  5. Brandon I have a few articles on the backburner waiting to be finished and submitted (and hopefully accepted!) to TPQ and one would touch on the murmurings of British withdrawal in 1988.

    Irish state papers released in 2019 revealed that after the IRA killed eight British soldiers in the Ballygawley bus massacre, there was "panic" in the British government:

    "[Sir John] spoke in terms of the 'panic reaction' there was in the wake of Ballygawley and how he resented one particular utterance of the PM that she was not going to 'send her boys over in waves to be killed'.

    "The neo-colonial connotations of that remark and its World War I overtones upset him and he saw it also as amounting to a distancing of herself and her Government from Northern Ireland."

    I think increasingly there's a popular belief that the British government with cool determination was steering the trajectory of the entire conflict from the late '70s and everything fell into place as part of a masterplan dreamed by British deep state mandarins. I'm not so convinced.

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  6. @ Bleakley

    I eagerly await those articles. I always enjoy your comments.

    Of course, Alan Clark MP opined that Britain should get out but should arm the "Orangemen" first. That was after the Brighton bomb, about which he said "but what a coup for the Paddies. The ehole thing had the smell of the Tet offensive about it."

    I think alongside the murmurings of withdrawal, there was also discussion about Internment.

    It's a fascinating topic.

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