Thomas Kenny reviews Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism by Dean Godson. Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-257098-X, £35 hbk
IT MUST be frustrating to work for years on a massive biography only to have its protagonist lose center stage in Ulster politics on the eve of publication. Dean Godson worked on this book from 1999 to 2004 and Trimble lost out to Paisley in November 2003.
Readers in Britain and Ireland may not know that the biographer, Dean Godson, is scion of an American neocon dynasty. Godson is an American journalist who has morphed into a British Tory ideologue.
Dean Godson's late father, Joseph Godson, was for more than 30 years, the labor attaché at the United States embassy in London. Joseph aided SDP founder Shirley Williams and Alan Lee Williams MP, a former Labor defense expert. Dean's brother, Dr Roy Godson, director of the International Labor Program at Georgetown University in Washington DC., organized "educational visits" for British trade unionists to visit the U.S. during the Reagan administration "to broaden international education about Western democratic values."
In a previous life, Cambridge-educated Dean Godson, was an aide to John Lehman, Reagan's Navy chief. Godson championed Star Wars, the multi-billion dollar space-shield weapon, penning such works as SDI: has America told her story to the world? published by the Heritage Foundation.
His career has also included Tory party politics. Godson now serves as the chief editorial writer of the Daily Telegraph, and is associate editor of the Spectator magazine.
What is interesting to this Irish-American reviewer is that, before this book at least, the neocons , thank goodness, have taken little interest in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Since 1989-91 and the fading of the alleged threat of a general war in Europe, Ireland is not all that important to the US rulers who have counted on their British counterparts to keep matters in hand on the neighboring island.
Many will have read Robert Fisk's In Time of Warwhen the US Ambassador David Gray harassed deValera about Irish neutrality. The post-Cold War recalculation of the stakes partly explains Clinton's break with old policy by giving Gerry Adams a visa in 1994 and immersing the US in the negotiations under the partial influence of Irish-American nationalism. Thus far, Bush and Rove have listened more to vote counters such as Republican Congressmen Peter King and Jim Walsh than to the neocons.
Godson's American origins surface in his other writings on Ireland. One hard edge of US neocon ideology is its promotion of the US-Israeli connection. Godson reflects this. For example, he has pushed the British government for a tougher, Israeli-type anti-terrorism approach to Ireland. Godson wrote in Lessons from Northern Ireland for the Arab-Israeli Conflict, a publication of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
"However, the British government does not put Palestinian terrorism or Northern Irish terrorism into that category. The British state is well-nigh unique in advertising, quite openly, that it does not really mind if it is dismembered. To ensure the IRA's abandonment of violence, the British will maintain the pace of concessions, at least for as long as the Unionists are prepared to tolerate them. In recent years, PLO flags and large wall murals of Arafat can be seen in Catholic-Republican neighborhoods, while Unionist-Protestant zones are covered with Israeli flags. In fact, Northern Ireland is one of the very few parts of Europe where there is a very wide measure of popular support in the majority community for the State of Israel. "
Godson's main thesis is that Trimble has aggravated Irish unionism's ordeal. Godson admires Trimble the man. Working on this book has increased his sympathy for Trimble's woes.
Trimble proves a more complex character than his one-dimensional media image would suggest. But Godson trashes Trimble's unionism from the right. Anti-Good Friday Agreement, Godson regards the GFA as fundamentally a sell-out to Sinn Fein. He rejects the release of IRA prisoners and the reform/disbandment of the RUC.
Godson believes that Trimble has badly weakened the union between Britain and the North.
Thus, the book alternates between two competing outlooks: the case for pessimism as outlined by Godson, and a more sanguine self-defense by Trimble.
To this reviewer, the duality of the book reflects the differences between British unionism and Irish unionism. British unionism upholds as its supreme value the integrity, size, and power of the UK state and its role in the world. Irish unionism, growing weaker in relation to Irish nationalism, under the pressure of democratization and /or demographics, must maneuver with increasing desperation to stabilize a political position when the tides of history are ebbing.
From such differences, spring different evaluations of the GFA. Godson is a strategist for British unionism.
The author's research methods are a bit too reliant on off-the-record, private information, often juicy but by definition unsubstantiated It is full of interesting anecdotes, but its length makes it a penitential read. Trimble doesn't become likeable, but he becomes somewhat more interesting.
With Trimble is less important nowadays , why should Irish, British and other democrats care about this book? We are not quite yet into the post-unionist era. To get there, we must study how they think, the better to divide and defeat them. This book is not for the general reader, but activists -- with spare time - might read it.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2005 Thomas Kenny