24 Hours of Peace: A dramatic reading

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24 Hours of Peace

A dramatic reading of a real-life conversation between Jo Berry, daughter of Sir Anthony Berry, killed in the 1984 Grand Hotel Brighton bombing, and Pat McGee, a member of the IRA who was responsible for the attack. Since his release in 1999, Jo and Pat have met on more than 200 occasions. Although Pat carries the burden of knowing he had caused Jo profound hurt, they continue to explore their common humanity, recognising that war robs combatants of what it is to be human, of an essential capacity to empathise and to see the world through the eyes of others.

The podcast 

Introducers: Neil Bartlett (playwright, director of 24 Hours of Peace and IWM Associate) and Jonathan Cohen (Executive Director, Conciliation Resources and IWM Associate)

Cast: Miranda RichardsonBritish film, TV and theatre actor who has been nominated for two Academy Awards & Steffan Rhodri, known for his roles as Dave Coaches on Gavin & Stacey and as Reg Cattermole in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.

This podcast is an extract from "24 Hours of Peace" by Neil Bartlett, a Thomas Carter Projects production, staged live at the Royal Exchange Theatre  and broadcast live by Resonance FM on Remembrance Sunday 2019.

"I think I made the decision within two days ...I don’t want an enemy. ... I want to understand”. Jo Berry

“Hello, my name is Jonathan Cohen, and I'm the executive director of Conciliation resources and I'm absolutely delighted to be here with Neil Bartlett to introduce his extraordinary work, 24 Hours of Peace, as part of reimagining victory. Neil, it's great to see you and I'd really just love to ask you and I should just say I, I saw the the work performed live and I found it absolutely electric and very moving and profound. And so, I'd like to invite you to tell us what inspired you to produce 24 Hours of Peace?”

Neil Bartlett: “The core of the idea, it was the 100th anniversary of the two-minute silence that marked the first commemoration of the end of the First World War, the live event that you were at was on Remembrance Sunday 2019. And I started thinking about everything that was absent from the two minutes silence, all the voices of the voices of peace, the voices of conflict, resolution, the alternative narratives of conflict that we don't hear. And so with the extraordinary hubris with hindsight, I thought what I'll do is I'll spend a whole year travelling around UK talking to 100 different British peacemakers, I'll collect their testimonies of peace, I'll edit all of their words together and then, hey, I'll do a marathon 24 hour act of witness to the work of peace that will take that moment of the two-minute silence and allow it to expand and to become a space for alternative narrative. And we did that live in the theatre at the Royal Exchange of Manchester where you were there all through a lot of the day and a lot of the night, as were thousands of other people, and we also broadcasted live on the radio. And what we're going to hear today is a tiny fragment of what was actually a text that was 237,000 words long, 24 hours long.”

Jonathan Cohen: “So Neil, I mean I as you say, I was at the event and the fragment you're going to show us today I very much wanted to include in reimagining victory. When I watched it live, it sent a shiver down my spine as someone who's been involved in peace building work for 25 years, to see the raw emotion and to hear the experience that it depicted and to challenge us to think, what does peace mean? And so, I'd, and before you tell us about the fragment, can I just ask you after this extraordinary experience of 100 interviews, what does peace mean to you? And what does victory mean to you?”

Neil Bartlett: “Let me take the negative first, what victory means to me is a toxic word with a capital V that asserts the right of the victor to triumph over the loser. And I think victory is a way of installing the mere word victory, the concept of victory is a way of installing and maintaining the endless cycle of recurring violence. I, I think the British addiction to the idea of victory, the eternal return to 1945, as if that was a useful model for all other conflicts, I think is the great British disease. So, I'm afraid that's what victory means to me, much as I respect the need of my father's generation to mark that moment, and the colossal cost of that moment, I wish we could give up the habit of continually returning to it in our rhetoric. For me, peace means letting go of the idea of winning, letting go of the idea of losing. But saying peace is a constant living with conflict and acceptance of a degree of conflict and managing conflict. So that no one gets flipping hurt. I really, I really learned that from the people I was talking to. It's not about winning a war. You can't win a war, you can't achieve victory in a war. War is always a defeat. You can only say there is this conflict. How can we live through it with all the participants in such a way that no one gets hurt? That's my understanding.”

Jonathan Cohen: “And it's fascinating to hear you say that, and it very much builds on what a number of the speakers in this series Reimagining Victory have been saying that in fact, for victory to mean anything, victory has to mean peace. And it has to mean that it's not a win lose scenario, it's not about victors and vanquished. Victory has to be a win win for all those involved, so that you're creating a moment of transformation in relationships that have been broken and creating something new together. And I think what's fascinating about the fragment we're going to hear is about reimagining a, a transformed relationship in the aftermath of something quite appalling.”

Neil Bartlett: “Absolutely. Let me tell people about the fragment that we're going to hear. One of the reasons why I chose it is because it gives us an alternative talking point. One of the things we never return to and that we never talk about is the great intractable armed conflict of my childhood, the so-called Troubles of Northern Ireland ended in a peace process, they provided us with an entirely alternative way of dealing with and living through conflict right here in Britain, it it wasn't solved by prolonging the killing, it was solved by moving beyond killing into an active peace process. The fragment that you're going to hear is spoken to by two performers, Stephan Rodri and Miranda Richardson but the words are not theirs, the words belong to the two original speakers, and the two original speakers are Joe and Pat, and they were actually talking at the dining table in my flat. Jo is Jo Berry. She's a peace worker who works mostly in schools in east London at the moment, although she does public speaking gigs wherever she can. And Pat is Pat McGee, who an ex-member of the IRA and Pat served 15 years for his role in the 1984 IRA bombing in Brighton of the Grand Hotel. One of the people that he killed with that bomb was Jo's father. And in this conversation they talk about how they first came together to begin the process of resolving conflict, to begin a conversation that could move beyond victory, beyond defeat and into peace. So, let's listen to their extraordinary conversation.”

Jonathan Cohen: “Thanks so much, Neil. Let's do that. Thank you.”

Pat: “I killed Joe's father. It's difficult for me to say that it's difficult for Jo. I'm sure to hear it.”

Jo: “My father was Sir Anthony Berry, a conservative member of parliament. And in 1984, he was attending the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, staying at the Grand Hotel. He changed hotels just the day before to have a very special room at the ground, and he was killed by that bomb. I was in London when it happened and it was a very long wait before we had news about whether he'd been found or not. And when I heard the news. It wasn't just my dad I lost. I felt straight away that I was part of a violent conflict. My heart was suddenly opened to the reality of war and violence. To me, this was now the real world. The old world had no relevance. I think I made the decision within two days. If I don't want an enemy or of I want to understand, but it was very hard to get any answers about the IRA at the time because they were all so demonised and this was obviously way before the Internet. You couldn't find the answers anywhere. And anyway, I'm more a person who learns through meeting people. So, this journey of mine started really early on. In a way, I think it gave me a purpose of what to do with the grief. The appalling grief and shock and pain.”

Pat: “What happened first about this meeting was somebody in the summer of 2000 told me that somebody wanted to meet me. Somebody connected with Brighton. And then there was never another word about it. And then out of the blue I get a phone call. Somebody contacted me to say you can meet her tomorrow night. I don't think the enormity of it really struck home until I was there on the threshold about to go in and meet Jo. And I was assailed by all these doubts, as you can imagine and fears, thinking, God, if this situation was reversed, to see somebody who would hurt somebody who belonged to me, how would I react in that moment? Tough. I actually thought it'd be just a one-off meeting. I, I think Jo would say the same. I, I thought I'll try and explain, explain the decision to do what we did, the thinking behind it. I'll try and do it with some sensitivity. It's going to be hard for sure. But but that then will be the end of it because nobody would want to sit through that again. But it might do some good. I thought, I kept on thinking if you lose somebody in a chaotic act of violence, somebody something's ripped from you, maybe. If you can put it in some sort of context, it might help you a bit, that's all. So anyway, I'm there and I'm trying to explain, trying to explain my motivation that. And this was a political action, and that's the way I was thinking about it. And somewhere in the middle, it just struck me. The whole human dimension of it. To hear somebody who you've caused them enormous hurt and loss to be in the room and hear them, that cut through a lot of layers. Suddenly I got this expanded view of the human hurt of human loss. When you hear when, when you hear someone put in words to that. It's something that strikes you in a very physical way.”

Jo: “I was prepared for the idea that he would come in and give me a political justification. I knew he'd do that because that's what I've been told and that didn't matter to me. I didn't meet him to change him. You see, I met him to, to, I wanted to be able to look into his eyes and see him as a human being outside of all the labels, I wanted to humanise him. I wanted to be able to look into his eyes. But I remember being terrified. Even thoughts like would he turn up? And ridiculous thought, what's going to happen the day after? I remember shaking his hand and thanking him for coming, and then we started talking. I did a lot of listening. I did a lot of listening.”

Pat: “I think that was my first experience of that, of somebody listening. We're so used to demonisation, misinformation, all of that. Very difficult to be heard adequately. It was always an uphill struggle to get our side of the story across and then suddenly, I'd killed this woman's father. And now she's really listening, not cutting in, not showing annoyance at what I'm saying, just, she's just listening and trying to understand it. She's not rushing a judgement. That was what I felt. I think that changed things for me. It was a new experience.”

Jo: “I remember you said I disarmed you.”

Pat: “It, it did disarm me. Suddenly, there's this obligation to hear the other story. I wanted to hear more and, and understand more. You see what conflict does is it closes you down. I think you can't be involved in physical force in physical conflict if you're thinking in terms of people and their stories, if you're seeing them at that human level you just can't do it. I think armies train their guys, usually young guys, historically anyway to beat that out of them. Break them down so they'll obey orders unflinchingly, unthinkingly. Without even not training. Just being involved in conflict, they'll achieve it, you know. It'll do the same thing. That was my experience. That was my experience.”

Jo: “I remember when Pat walked in. I was so relieved he turned up. I thought maybe he wouldn't even come, might have changed his mind. We started talking about why I heard he didn't want to meet me when actually he always said yes. And I call that now our icebreaker. We both wanted to have a private conversation and, and this is not a prepared room. People coming in and going, social activists, their phones going as chaotic. So, we went into our own little room and I remember that it was rather a little room. Yes, we went into our own little room. Somebody gave us a cup of tea, then left us to it. And it was three hours just the two of us. I wanted him to feel heard, you see. I also wanted him to feel safe. And I remember the point when I looked into his eyes and that was when Pat said it, he said, “I'm really sorry I killed your father.” And though I didn't want or need an apology, what I got from that was the beginning of him seeing my dad as a human being and, I said, which I know you found a very old thing for me to say, but I did say it, I said, “I'm so glad it's you.” That just came out of me. What I meant by that was his preparedness to open up and engage with me. I really acknowledged that. And then just as I was about to end it and thank him, that's when Pat stopped talking. And I hope I'm quoting your words right, but how I remember it was at the end, Pat said, “I don't know any more who I am. I can hear your anger and your pain. And now what can I do for you?” I knew he'd taken off his political hat. He stopped using the word we and started using the word I. It became his own personal response. And that was actually quite scary for me too. I could see it was another journey starting. It was a journey starting. Little did I know that it would take us to here. To now what, 18-19 years later.”

Pat: “When I said that, I said, “I'm sorry I killed your dad,” I couldn't have said anything else. Couldn't have said anything else if I ever said what I felt and put it into words it was at that moment. It's exactly what I thought at that moment. So anyway, then it was over we hugged very briefly, and then that was it. We went out. There was all these people, and there was this incredible intensity. You knew as you went away you've done all that, but no way could you just leave it there. You know, this has to continue because suddenly, suddenly you were seeing a lot of new things. I was seeing a lot of things new.”

Jo: “What did I take away? I took the understanding that if I'd lived Pat’s life, or if I'd lived a British soldier’s life, or if I'd lived a loyalist paramilitary life, I might have made their same choices. Of course, I might not have, I don't know. I might have made a different choice, but it's the willingness to say I might have made the same choices that matters. This is not about forgiveness, it's about understanding. And it's not about condoning if that makes sense. It's about the idea that there is no other in the world. That's what I take into the room with my work with young people now. The stuff I'm doing at Tower Hamlets now. The idea that there is not other in the world. Listen, I believe that it's only when we see people with their stories, with their humanity, that we can let go of our need for judgement and blame, and it's an active thing this, yes, active. Only empathy will get us to take action to make sure people are safe, that people have their needs met, that people can practise their religion or none that people can love in the way they want to love. All that can only happen if I can see you. Really see you and see that you're more than what you've done. That's all I did in that meeting, I said to myself, “Can I hear your story? Can I listen? Can I listen?” It's hard work. It's hard work.”

Pat: “And it's never enough. Never. At the end, when the conversation is over, you're always left thinking this has ended prematurely, that there's more to be said. Some great things have been said, some things that really touched you, but the conversation has to continue. You know as well as talking to Jo in recent years, I I sat down with a lot of ex squaddies, talked with a lot of ex squaddies and when you talked to those guys and you talk to the women too, they're, they're just the same as you. That's the big lesson. They're just the same as you. You talk and you cannot think of them as my enemy anymore. You can't do it. For myself now, I can't think well of any project to do with remembering conflict that still has a sense of the other side. As your foe. I don't think it's about that. I can't go along with it. At least acknowledge the hurt done to the other side. At least take that step forward. You know, I'm someone who's been active in a struggle, and I want to say that if we don't do something to change this pattern at some point we're going to be remembering loss and the question is, how do we not get to that moment? Thank you. Thank you.”

2020 marks the 75th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day when the Allied nations celebrated victory over Nazi Germany and Japan. Today, as on-going conflicts descend into drawn out endgames, what does it really mean to ‘win’ a war and what challenges are faced when it comes to peacebuilding, and post-conflict healing? These are the questions central to Reimagining Victory, a new digital series that explores the state of war and peace in relation to twenty-first century conflict.

Created by the IWM Institute in partnership with Conciliation Resources.

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