State Violence, Empire and the Figure of the "Soldier-Victim" in Northern Ireland

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    This article examines some of the deeper meanings of the denial of accountability in killings perpetrated by British soldiers during the conflict in Northern Ireland, as part of the debate on how to deal with the legacy of the past. It investigates the ways in which such ‘soldier-perpetrators’ are turned, instead, into ‘soldier-victims’ and asks what this tells us about the political culture that shapes such a response. In part, it will be argued, this is the product of a longer term Manichean distinction, deeply embedded in the history of empire and its wars, between ‘civilians’ and barbarians’. Here lawfulness, as a mark of ‘civility’, is identified with the self-image of the (post-) imperial state, contrasted with the unlawful chaos of the barbarian ‘Other’. In the context of both the counterinsurgency wars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, and amid a presiding mood of ‘post-imperial melancholia’ and ‘heroic failure’, the figure of the ‘soldier-victim’ therefore becomes a means to turn the wrongs of state violence into an ideological potent imaginary of empire, the state (and its agents) as themselves those who have been wronged.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)441-460
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Labor and Society
    Issue number2
    Early online date23 Apr 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


    • State Violence
    • Northern Ireland
    • Afghanistan
    • Soldier Victim


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