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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Street Fighting Man


Fred A. Wilcox • 14 April 2005

I was waiting for the bus one chilly morning when a kid challenged me (I can't remember why) and I punched him in the nose, he bled, he cried, I felt happy. I was five years old, maybe six, and had taken my first steps on the road to becoming a street fighter, brawling my way through elementary and junior high school, winning fame in high school when a gang of black men seeking revenge for one of their friends who'd been stomped by white boys, beat, stabbed, and nearly killed me. This attack left me with a serious brain concussion, several smashed teeth, and a lip torn open by an attacker's screwdriver.

I fought because that's what boys who wanted to become real men had to do. I wanted people to step aside when I walked down the hallways of my high school, and they did. I wanted people to whisper, "There goes fearless Freddy," when my girlfriend and I strolled across the dance floor at a sock hop. For a while, I carried a .25 caliber pistol on the seat of my car, and a switchblade in my pocket. When a kid attacked one of my friends with brass knuckles, I knocked the attacker down and gave him a couple of good hard kicks. After a fierce brawl, my friends and I would joke about our bleeding lips and loosened teeth. After all, we boasted, our opponents looked far worse.

No one ever warned me that I might wind up killing someone, an act I would regret for the rest of my life. No one-my father, clergy, teachers-ever suggested that there might be other ways to prove my masculinity, and that men didn't need to carry weapons or pound someone's face to a bloody pulp in order to prove they are tough. Looking back on my youth, I marvel that I managed to fight so long, so hard, and so often without seriously injuring another human being.

I am well aware that thousands of young men and women in the North of Ireland suffered through the Troubles, fighting for what they believed to be a noble cause, risking their lives to free Ireland from 800 years of British colonialism, dying on hunger strikes and in fire fights with British soldiers and the RUC. The first time I walked the streets of Belfast, in 1970, a British solider stuck his gun in my face and shouted insults and threats, warning me to get the f… out of that war-torn city. I left, but never forgot that frightening encounter, or the mean-eyed boys racing through Belfast's streets, swiveling their guns at my wife and I, daring us to make their day.

I respected, and still respect, the men and women who took up arms against these invaders. I am a great admirer of Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers, and I use Sands' writings classes I teach at Ithaca College. Had I grown up in N. Ireland, I'm quite certain that I would have joined the struggle to defeat the British and reunite Ireland.

But now, reading the North's daily papers I feel sad and confused. Could it be true that some of the people I supported and admired have turned their backs on the principles for which so many fought, went to prison, and died? As the father of a recovering drug addict, I feel disgust and anger when I read stories about former freedom fighters that seem to have given in to the lure of get-rich-quick cash by selling drugs or protecting those who peddle death to children. I try to think of a cause worth supporting with drug money, and all I can feel is a deep anger, a rage, at people who would dishonor their own heritage and Republicans like Bobby Sands in order to drive an expensive car or live in a large house or act like a big bad man.

Having spent more than six years on the mean streets of New York City, I know a lot about drug use and drug dealers. I've seen what happens to people who get hooked on heroin. I've seen them slobber and scratch and nod, I've watched them turn into skeletons who would steal their own mother's crucifix in order to cop a bag of smack. I've watched them turn a decent neighborhood in a living hell, I've watched junkies die, and I spent ten long years trying to shake the monkey off one of my own children's back.

I'm not accusing any individual or group in Ireland of dealing drugs, but I've visited Dublin enough times to know that someone is importing drugs into Ireland, someone is pushing junk on the streets of that city, and someone, some people, are getting rich from the scourge of drugs. Greed makes people deaf, dumb, and dangerous. And I truly hope that those who point the finger at people who were once Celtic warriors are wrong. I hope that those who think they need to prove their masculinity by carrying guns and intimidating good Irish people will reconsider what it really means to be a man.

All of my friends are combat Vietnam veterans who grew up, as I did, believing they had to act tough in order to be real men. Now, they eschew violence. They do not carry weapons. They do not attack their neighbors. They would never poison anyone's children for profit. They are real men not because they are bona fide warriors, but because they have learned that kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, compassion, and honesty are necessary if we hope to survive as a species on this planet.

I hope that the drug barons in Ireland who use their feet and fists and weapons to enforce their will and assure their profits will take hard look at what it really means to be a man. Once upon a time, some of these death dealers might have acted in the steed of generations of great freedom fighters. Now, they are little more than punks and thugs who sully the name of all that their proud ancestors, who were hung and shot and cut to pieces, really stood for.

I hope that the news media has vastly overestimated the number of avaricious vandals who roam the streets of Belfast and Dublin, and I pray that one day Ireland will be free not only of the British, but of any and all who profit from destroying the lives of their brothers and sisters. People who sell death for a living might walk and talk like men, but they are a disgrace to the memory of Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, John Stuart Parnell, and so many brave men and women who sacrificed their lives so that Irish children might one day live free of violence, oppression, hunger, and early death.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

19 April 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Another Historic Statement, Again
Anthony McIntyre

Two Heads Better Than One?
Brian Mór

Hope for A Democractic Avenue, Not a Dead End Street
Mick Hall

Irish American Support
Niall Fennessy

Street Fighting Man
Fred A Wilcox

Revolutionaries Have Set Up Dictatorship
Margaret Quinn

The Murder of Robert McCartney
Conor Horan

The Missing Ingredient
Ruairi O’Driscoll

Re-orienting perspectives: Bob Quinn's The Atlantean Irish
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Politics of Peace at an Impasse
David Adams

* Election Coverage *

Independent Irish Republicans Standing in All 6 Counties
Sean Mc Aughey

John Coulter

Gary Donnelly, Cityside Ward, Derry City Council

Aine Gribbon, Antrim Town Council

Patricia (Trish) Murray, Antrim Town Council

The Letters page has been updated.

6 April 2005

Criminality and Public Relations
Eamon Sweeney

Truth Better than Spin
Mick Hall

The Central Issue is Justice
Catherine McCartney

Not Out of Nationalist Woods Yet
David Adams

South Down Election Play
John Coulter

Are We on the Verge of a New Political Ice Age?
Anthony McIntyre



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