Welcome to Emporia(The names of any persons alluded to in this essay are fictitious and bear no relation to any actual person, living or dead – Paul Larkin)
Welcome to Emporia
There was once an island country which was forced to endure the ravages of a long and vicious war. A raging debilitating war which saw many many centuries come and go before subsiding very recently into an ambiguous, yet apparently permanent conclusion. There is no doubt that the apparent conclusion to this war was greeted with great relief and celebration not just by the antagonists involved but across the whole world. Now this war was fought between a huge and powerful Empire which occupied large swathes of the island and installed a garrison contingent in every major town and centre of population so as to enable a speedy response to any rebellious sortie carried out by the local populace. As one generation passed to the next generation, this garrison element was further strengthened by the awarding of lands and patronage to large numbers of farmers, artisans, merchants, and former soldiers who were fiercely loyal to the Empire and had often served valiantly on its behalf. The planting of this garrison element was a common tactic on the part of the Empire right across its worldly estates but was carried out with an unrelenting ferocity on this small island, partly because of the island’s close proximity to the mother country of the Empire, and partly because the plantation of this more than willing human shield was prosecuted as a religious crusade against the spiritual apostates who constituted the overwhelming majority of the indigenous people on the island.
In other words, the Empire’s “settlers” or “planters” viewed themselves as the blazing torch bearers of enlightenment who brought a cleansing fire into the heart of darkness around them. Yea verily they cried, t’was their heaven sent role in life to maintain the day to day military and cultural writ of the Empire and plant the seeds of hope in once barren Pagan soil. Empire soldier and planter alike, professed his or her religious faith in terms of undying fealty to the Empire’s reigning monarch as the one true earthly symbol of the divine church in Christ Jesus. The indigenous inhabitants of this island, meanwhile, were alleged to believe in multifarious spirits, to speak in tongues, engage in cannibalistic rituals and were generally seen to be in the thrall of superstition in all the various guises of its Devilment. This was to be seen in their unnaturally dark brow and thick necks which framed a deep and furtive countenance. No to mention their propensity for satanic plots and subterfuge, a phenomenon which meant the Empire’s guard might never be dropped. Truly, there was no rest for the wicked and given this situation, it was the duty of the Empire and its agents, nay a very obligation as the protector of the commonweal, to purge these ghouls from the life and body politik of this otherwise well appointed and beautiful island.
To the eyes of any outside observer, particularly those of your author good readers, there are a number of particular aspects to this war which excite the imagination and curiosity. It may be recalled that this writer has been an Empire watcher for some time and that he has produced various reports chronicling its global exploits. Yet one most surprising phenomenon can be seen to emerge from the wreckage of this particular conflict. This battle, if you like, between an island David with his slingshot and the emperor Goliath with his devastating power. And that phenomenon is that as time progressed a small, but increasingly influential, element of the higher echelons within the island community took the side of the Empire and agreed with the view that the indigenous superstitions, way of life and ancient tongue represented an embarrassment and an affront to all that was progressive, civilised and free-thinking.
It is this latter group which is the focus of our attention in this short account given its remarkable feat in achieving something the Empire could never do. Namely, the complete suppression, and eventual erasure, of any journalistic or artistic reference to the centuries old war referred to above. Indeed, the upper classes of the island eventually managed to conjure an atmosphere which viewed the historical presence of the Empire as having been purely benign and that it had been the voluntary choice of the island’s inhabitants to submit themselves to the Empire’s largesse, authority and majesty. The island’s intellectual classes, played their part in this process by issuing great twisting tomes of research which showed that the country had actually never been colonised. This produced a bizarre situation where in its books on strategy and warfare, the Empire’s own military elite referred to the island purely and simply as a colony, whilst the islands intellectual and financial elite were to be found insisting that it had never been any such thing.
The upshot of these developments in the island’s history was that by the time the new millennium arrived in the year 2000, the terrible war had become a taboo subject amongst the island’s post bellum elite and any reference to it in public documents or other media led to the immediate ostracism of the author of such drivel. This righteous response was swiftly followed by a withdrawal of any favours which said author may have enjoyed such as the right to publish further works, or the right to walk the streets unmolested. In truth, the war became a war that never was. It had never taken place. As an extra precaution, old manuals of war which had been written by the Empire’s colonial strategists were quietly removed from the country’s bookshelves and all reference to these in the national media was surreptitiously ‘quietened’. As a further strengthening device in this regard, commentators from the very large garrison or planter community and their supporters, were encouraged into positions of power within the island’s media and artistic industries. This latter measure was perhaps the master stroke. For it had the long term effect of inuring the people of the island to the idea that the garrison community was in fact the official custodian of the island’s history. The island’s own narrative of itself. Perhaps more than any other measure, this media manoeuvre cemented in place a concrete lid on the coffin of discourse about the Long War or its aftermath.
For one writer on the island, Seosamh Ó Cadhain, who was of the view that the island’s literary worthies had sucked the final straw of obsequiousness, this was all too much and he wrote an angry tirade in his native language damning the island’s literati and glitterati for their “gaimbíneachas” (gombeenism) and “seoinínteacht” (shoneenism). All this was contained in a pamphlet called “An dara plandáil Thír na Laochra” or in English “The Second plantation of Tír na Laochra”. Unfortunately for Ó Cadhain, the use of those two words in particular, “gombeenism” and “shoneenism”, provoked a storm in the island’s daily paper of record. For whilst their usage was not illegal, no writer had deployed such depth charge terminology for many years and there had been a tacit and binding understanding within polite society that these two terms were completely proscribed. Ó Cadhain was arraigned in the stocks of public contempt. He became a pariah, a social outcast, and was subsequently forced into exile for his pains. It is perhaps instructive to compare the way the world of letters and arts on the island treated Ó Cadhain once in exile to that of their treatment of previous writers who had been forced to flee from the island because of artistic and social prejudice.. These were artists for whom, despite their brilliance or ‘avant gardism’ the island was just not ready, or sophisticated enough, to understand. Not so Ó Cadhain, whose disappearance was simply never mentioned in artistic circles. Like the Long War, he disappeared from view.
Ó Cadhain slipped sadly away from the island to take up residence in South America where his views were more kindly received, world famous author Gabriel Garcia Velasquez for example pointing out that he had said exactly the same thing as Ó Cadhain in his own books about colonialism. Other important things took place around the same time as Ó Cadhain’s departure, for when the state of general amnesia regarding the Long War was deemed by the authorities to be more or less the accepted dogma amongst the common people of the island, the country was renamed and its constitution amended. Perhaps “re-branded” would be a better term in reflecting the ideology behind the new name – Emporia. The island country’s rulers were rather proud of their new name as it carried with it echoes of its longstanding fraternal links to the Empire and was also a kind of front-of-store sign that the country’s primary role was now as a huge marketplace for the exchange of goods for profit. Profit that is for a small band of entrepreneurs, stock breeders and property speculators who with, it must be admitted, a beautiful circular logic were all enamoured of the Empire and it munificence. Money. The getting of money. The retention of money. The competition for money. This was now the yardstick for all social progress on the island now that it was a nation once again. At long last, the country’s rulers, with the full backing of the Empire, could look down from the seat of governance and observe with pride that free trade and commerce had become the country’s raison d'être.
In the land of Emporia in the new millennium, extensive and absentee property ownership was no longer seen as a some sort of crime, and exorbitant wealth was admired and aspired to by one and all. Well, this was not quite true as there was a small band of oppositionists in the country who ridiculed the country’s new name and pointed out that the place name “Emporia” rightly belonged to a small town in East Kansas in the Northern States of America. They also pointed out that an ancient culture of shared ownership and communal living had existed on the island where greed and avarice was counted as a great sin against the people. Stinginess being the greatest sin of all. This same opposition group, which mainly comprised of people who were relatives or descendants of those who had fought in the non existent war, was also vociferous in its exhortations to the people not to forget either its real history or the old language of the country which was on the verge of extinction. From his seat of exile in Venezuela, Seosamh Ó Cadhain, gave moral and philosophical advice to this group, much to the ire of the island’s rulers who frantically sought to block any contact between the ‘dissidents’ and their spiritual guru. More disturbingly and behind the heavy curtain of respectable politics, a secret group of intelligence officers was convened to plan the permanent silencing of Ó Cadhain’s withering critique. That story, however, is another day’s work and will follow in further reports from Emporia; assuming that this author’s health remains as rude as it is today.
This band of malcontents and their “guru” was the focus of constant ridicule by the Empire owned media which dubbed them the ‘Atavists’. The island’s cognoscenti and paparazzi, not to mention local and national constabularies, tracked down individual members of the group and exposed their shortcomings by whatever means possible. These shortcomings might be an unpaid tax bill, a drink problem, some strange sort of fetish, or the propensity for discussing deep political or philosophical issues in large groups. In the new Emporia, any gathering of more than three people where at least one person spoke in a loud voice constituted a riot and could be dealt with accordingly. Where no such shortcomings on the part of the oppositionists were immediately apparent, they were invented anyway and broadcast to the populace as fact via the daily papers and electronic media.
In reality, however, this opposition group was a small irritation to the circles of power on the island and it could do nothing to prevent the complete transformation of the country from one which had been seen to wallow in its role as an allegedly oppressed and backward country to one which had embraced the Empire and its graces and favours. Only one question, therefore, remains for the impartial chronicler, albeit looking from the outside. How, exactly, did a war on this island in which each successive generation chose to resist the Empire by force of arms, civil disobedience and other forms of defiance, become a non event in the early days of the new millennium? Purely in terms of civic discourse, or the absence of it, it has to be recognised that this was a great feat of social manipulation whether one agrees with its intent, or heartily disagrees. The phrase mass censorship also comes to mind. This is a loaded term, it is true, but there is no other expression which adequately conveys what happened unless we choose the term used privately by the island authorities which was “silent assimilation”.
In order to truly digest this astounding achievement, the actual magnitude of the conflict may perhaps be worth stressing. In this way, the scale of the descending silence about the war might be better comprehended. For, throughout the centuries, multitudes had been killed on both sides of the military and religious divide. Thousands upon thousands were also maimed and seriously injured, either in their role as combatants, or by being caught up in actions carried out by both sides in the prosecution of the war. This war that never happened had left lasting physical and emotional scars on both sets of combatants; let us call them Natives and Empirists, along with their respective support bases. Let no one doubt for a moment, therefore, the severity of these long term hostilities, the one sided nature of the fight notwithstanding.
It is true that the intensity of the war would fluctuate over the centuries according to variable conditions. At some points in its history, the people of this small country became exhausted, due in some instances to deliberate mass starvations and clearances perpetrated by the Empirists. In other epochs, the Natives chose bad or sometimes even immoral tactics. In other periods, God and the weather seemed to conspire against them. There were times, however, when this small nation actually had the Empire on the backfoot, leaving its great leaders paranoid about assassination, its thoroughfares snarled up like so much spaghetti because of bomb warnings and the very name and reputation of the Empire sullied in the eyes of world because of its repressive policies on the island. It is no surprise, therefore, that the plain folk of both Empire and Native extraction were once in common agreement that this “Longest War” had been a never-ending nightmare. Here was a war, after all that, in terms of longevity and sheer bloody attrition, had outstripped any other conflict. The wars between England and France, for example, being an historical pup by comparison. How remarkable then that a situation could be contrived, or even conceived of, where all this was no longer discussed! Quite apart from the physical consequences on the people of the country and its edifices, the legacy of this war had left many people, both activists and civilians, seriously traumatised and displaying a range of psychological symptoms of sickness brought on by conflict related phenomena such as stress, constant tension arising from an often justified fear of death, fear of torture, fear of capture and also a general fear of having to carry on, and conversely and perversely, a fear of having to stop the activities in which they were involved.
Another striking aspect of the total disappearance of references to the war amongst this island people is that the struggle of the Natives actually gave them a huge status on the international stage. At one time, the defiance of this geographically isolated people against a world colossus had been a touchstone of hope for oppressed peoples the world over. The great philosopher Karl Marx devoted large amounts of quill and ink to his thoughts about the island and the oppression of its people; Vladimir Ilyich Lenin followed events on the island closely; Native American Indians sent tokens of support and great writers like William Shakespeare would make frequent reference to the war and the perils it held out for the Empire’s rulers. Witness, for example, the Great Bard’s Second Part of Henry the Fourth and its recruitment scene in a village in the Empire’s own backyard. A less flattering depiction you could not expect to encounter of the way that the Empire prepared for war against the island. In this brilliant and truthful play, ‘shadows’ are called up and fictitiously pressed into service and yet payments are made on the basis of real recruited flesh. In fact, this scene is so uncomplimentary to the Empire that if Shakespeare had written these lines only recently and were a citizen of Emporia, he would soon find himself bereft of plume, folio and wig, and would probably also be shorn of his Empire writers membership card which all scribes must carry on their person at all times and is issued from the capital of the Empire.
There is not space in this short essay to examine the full mechanics of the process which created this choking intellectual fog surrounding the war. But there is no doubt that it was the island’s indigenous scribes and journalists themselves who softly and succinctly blew that fog into the keyholes of every mind and home on the island. A short analysis of a recent policing scandal on the island suffices to illustrate exactly how all talk of the war was suppressed. This scandal concerned a very large number of police officers of all ranks, and from all parts of the island, who were found to have been involved in extensive forms of corrupt practices ranging from the wilful contamination of evidence all the way up to the dreadful pinnacle of arranging the murder of the very citizens they were supposed to be protecting. A fitting scenario perhaps for a grim Jacobean tragedy of which Shakespeare would have been proud. This, however, was cold modern day reality.
Now it is a fact that none of this skulduggery, nor the nefarious collusion on the part of the police with shadowy Empire groups, would have come to light but for the investigative efforts of the citizens themselves who were able to use independently minded members of the judiciary to call the offending officers and their superiors to court and to public scrutiny. In this regard, the integrity of individual lawyers on the island stands in marked contrast to the unprincipled and clearly propagandistic role played by journalists there who failed abjectly to subject the police to any kind of meaningful public enquiry. In fact, the truth seems to be far worse because victims of police corruption claim that many journalists conspired against them rather than searching for and publishing the truth as they found it. Independent lawyers stood by their Hippocratic Oath to represent their profession without fear or favour. The bloated ranks of columnists on the island meanwhile observed the call of their sphincters when they were called upon to challenge the status quo. And therein lies the rotten heart of the matter. As a group, and a very privileged and powerful group, journalists and writers on the island chose to ignore the clear links between police corruption and the Long War and concentrate instead on individual cases of malpractice which fell within the remit of civilian responsibilities. Nor was there any need, for secret conspiracies and clandestine meetings in dark halls in order to put this parody of reportage into effect. All the journalists concerned share the same class background and are of the same mind politically. So whilst police corruption was lamentable, any linkage of this to a fictitious war was simply “BTP”, their shorthand for ‘beyond the pale’.
For historical reasons, the police force on the island had always been split into two different jurisdictions but both forces were the subject of scandals and judicial investigations and both police forces had always had a policy of mutual cooperation, not to say admiration. Both forces, then, were seriously implicated beyond any reasonable doubt in widespread misconduct. This misconduct related to the gathering and manipulation of evidence, the ill treatment of detainees, the fabrication and planting of false evidence and the reliance on the information of large numbers of paid informers. These investigations also showed that these informers had been encouraged to invent stories aimed at individuals who had incurred the displeasure of the police force. Here was meat and drink, indeed a perpetual feast, for any investigative journalist worthy of the name, because not only had these serious misdemeanours on the part of the police been catalogued and written down by the judiciary, they also gave a compelling indication that the allegations made by families of people killed in the non existent age old conflict were actually true. These allegations essentially held that the indiscipline of the islands’ two police forces also included war crimes in as much that units and individual members of the police had conspired with others to murder their loved ones during the Long War. The families of these victims provided large amounts of material to substantiate their claims but not one journalist was happy to raise their case in the public domain. They were ignored to death.
The most famous journalist on the island, Pierce Beaumont, spent several months sifting through the evidence against the police in court cases and in tribunals. He then wrote a series of articles in the island’s paper of record excoriating the police for its “culture of corruption” and “wilful indiscipline”. The extract below from Beaumont’s concluding article in the series, for which he won a BAFTA, is a fairly representative sample of the tablets of wisdom which this famous scribe handed down from the mount as the crisis developed.
TIME FOR CLEAR THINKING
BY PIERCE BEAUMONT – EDITOR IN CHIEF [LARGE PICTURE HERE]
All right thinking people can only stand aghast when observing the behaviour of certain police officers in this state as revealed in the various tribunals following the McBrierly scandal. It is quite clear that a culture of indiscipline amongst a small but significant number of officers has sullied the good name of the guardians of our peace. It is not good enough that certain officers saw fit to tamper with evidence or to make use of informers in order to target individuals who, for whatever reason, had incurred the wrath of the constabulary. And yet, and yet, all responsible people must eventually, despite their discomfort, take a measured view of what has taken place. The enemies of progress, though small in number, are waiting in the wings to exploit any discord in our country in the wake of these scandals in order to discredit our magnificent police forces which have perennially formed the thin blue line between social order and anarchy. Let us not forget that the very people who gleefully wish to exploit this moment of policing discomfiture by making wildly generalised, indeed wicked, claims about the police are the very same people who have always sought to fan the flames of hatred in our country. When doubts begin to assail the ordinary reader, let them turn again to this special series of essays by Pierce Beaumont and be reassured that it is not the police which is the “canker in our midst” as Seosamh Ó Cadhan has opined from his lair across the seas, but rather those who could never reconcile themselves to harmony and tolerance.
To be fair to Beaumont, the same rhetoric was used by almost all journalists who wrote or talked about the policing scandal. To an outsider, the homogeneity of argument and analysis used by the Fourth Estate in its coverage of the issue has the effect of ‘shock and awe’. The role of the Forth Estate after all was always to question and investigate the great powers in society. And yet in Emporia, the discussion always returns to the alleged recalcitrance and vindictiveness of a small group of citizens who actually have very little power. It is, in relative terms, the paupers who continually become the focus of investigation and not the role of the police in the Long War. A war which both police forces had ‘policed’. A war in which there had been constant allegations of police collusion with Empirist assassins who quite clearly received internal state surveillance information and logistical support so that they could carry out their operations. Is the assumption on the part of Beaumont and his cohorts, that the police had just been corrupt when carrying out civilian policing matters and that this same police force became incorruptible when policing the war? But then as an outsider I forget - the war never happened.
All that remains for us as outside of observers is to thank God and the many stars above that the same travesty of justice and journalism could not happen in our own country.