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Special Collection I:
Could I, Should I, Run Away

David F Williams, PhD, DSc, FREng, FLSW
Author, Scientist & Consultant

In an unstable world, perhaps more unstable than at any time in the last six or seven decades, it is a salutary experience to reflect on personal and community choices that are faced under extreme circumstances, and on reactions and responses to these choices. Globally, there are many causes of tension and violence. Often these are not simple issues, and several factors may coalesce at the point where the volcano erupts. In this quartet of poems, I reflect on the role of color in human conflict, but subsume other features such as race and religion, within the dialogue. I specifically look at conflicts that involve black on black, majority black on minority white, minority black on majority white, and white on white. Franschhoek, South Africa and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, 2021

Special Collection I:
Could I, Should I, Run Away


When violence pretends around all corners
Arms are borne to be right
Hospital staff, the new learners
Hide, then run away, only in extremis fight

Lambs to the slaughter
Or Rottweilers, to the death on the altar

Running away, one of life’s choices
Whether ad hominem or en masse
Perhaps from ourselves, our own voices
Or in terror, an unimaginable abyss

Shot in the back, a surer way out
Than the torture, rape, slow death, for those in doubt

We can revert to our neuroses
Some other time, debating
Here only where conflict imposes
On decisions of fleeing or fighting

Color, the flag of fatal contention
Ideas, doctrinal or tribal, seek attention

Rwanda black on black
Apartheid black majority on white
Slavery’s white majority on black
Irish white Protestant on Catholic white

No continental drift here
Just common emotions of fear
What decided Tutsis to flee Hutu’s knives
Or Mandela’s change from passivity to aggression
Could African born slaves escape with their lives
Would Belfast succumb to partisan passion

Common ground is hard to discern
A nexus that controls each turn

Hearts and minds fight each other
The winner explodes upon this earth
Is your sister or brother
Better than you, or worse

Collective arrogance, hubris for all
Perceptions of might so you stand tall

Equally, gender, orientation, race
Religion, wealth, intelligence, color
All of these put in place
By supremacy, the worst odor

Accompanied by vengeance of history
What happened centuries ago still the story

High religion embraces superiority
Scholars more laudable than clowns
Wealth gives power over the majority
Whiteness, ordained by God, the ultimate crown

So should the underdog run or fight
Can supremacy be challenged at its height?

The massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, where close to a million people were butchered, within three months, one of the world’s worst genocides as governments looked the other way, is an extreme exemplar of the violent black-on-black phenomena. An account of this tragedy “Season of Blood – A Rwandan Journey” by Fergal Keane, a BBC Correspondent provided factual and emotional material for his poem.

The Singular Power of the Machete

Physique may surrogate for dominion
Those wanting in body or brain
Rarely have primacy, perfusion
Over the commanding majestic strain
The British may remember John Cleese
A satirical joining of class and tallness
He, of seventy-five inches, towering with ease
Above two Ronnies of seventy and much less
An aristocrat with managerial disposition
Dwarfing a middle-class plodder
Himself looking down on worker’s Lilliputian
Small men, examples of top man’s fodder
Playing this out in Central Africa
Without satire, humor, just disaster
The evilness of evil, a massacre
Within blackness, who is the master

The vast hinterland of rivers and lakes
Peopled by San bushmen in the south
Nilo-Saharans sent to make
In-roads into the heart, from the north

Blackness settled in Ruandi-Urundu land
Carved out of Africa’s fear
By Belgians, their post-war hand
But blackness was not equal here
The Twa, pigmy-like bushmen were rare
Populous, middle-height Hutu had to work

Dominated by Tutsis, tall and aware
Treated with respect by the European clerk

Rwanda and Burundi separated
Influenced by Congo and Uganda around
Tension in Kigali suppurated
Hutu’s revenge, like a clock, fully wound

Democratic power-sharing between tribes
Denounced by majority Hutus and their President
Himself assassinated, the crowds transcribed
Peaceful protest into genocide without precedent
Anti-Tutsi brainwashing and hysteria took hold
Persuaded the masses to have no mercy
Belgium changed sides to support the increasingly bold
Hutu, with Tutsi fair game, for all to see

Machetes the main weapon of murder
Too numerous to count those butchered
Dispatched by aKagene river
Returned to Ethiopia, a dead floating herd

Ethnic cleansing this was not
Intermarriage already made distinction spurious
More Tutsi than Hutu, a frightening blot
Made-up like a Hutu, no-one curious?

In Nyarubuge, a church sanctuary
Christian home for all people
Encouraged to assemble, do not be wary
All believers betrayed under the steeple
Children, mothers, old men
Hacked to death, with apparent glee
Some resemblance of Tutsi, eyes, lips, arms
They had to go, sisters, brothers, nowhere to flee

At the exact time of the Rwanda genocide, a world-shattering event of a totally different kind took place at the southern tip of the African continent. In June 1994, Nelson Mandela, known to his family as the Troublemaker and then to the whole world as Madiba, was elected President of the Republic of South Africa, marking the end of the decades of struggle to bring an end to Apartheid and white minority rule. The heartbreak of this fight for freedom was epitomized by Alan Paton’s novel “Cry The Beloved Country” and Madiba’s own internal struggles were analyzed by David James Smith in “Young Mandela”. I have leant heavily on these books and have borrowed a few phrases from Paton in the following poem. Paton, a white South African, spoke on behalf of Mandela at the Rivonia trial at which Mandela was sentenced to prison on Robben Island, where he remained for 22 years.

Fight The Beloved Country

Supremacy and power intermingle
In this beautiful country, the Boers
White Afrikaners, believed God’s single
Gift to them was power o’er
All others, entrenched for eternity
Their goal, to break the black tribes
Never allow them to mend, show no pity
Make them work, for nothing, worthless lives

Do you fight, or fly, or just cry
Xhosa, Zulu, from Transkei, Swaziland
No options, when anything you need is denied
Taken from families, pushed down, down, in gold lands
Black men find and mine the precious metal
Stocks rise, Kaffirs fall
White men with big houses, all in fine fettle
Proud chiefs in shanty towns, cardboard for their walls

Defiant against unjust laws, and find
The Troublemaker entering the fray
Opening eyes of black men who are blind
To the loss of Ubuntu and their friendship way
For Gandhi non-violence was a way of life
But knocking patiently on a barred door
Was futile, all pretext of goodwill lost in strife
The fear of bondage and the bondage of fear sped war

The suppressed but disunited masses have no accord
Black, Indian, communists, some enraged whites
Needed a leader, Madiba now aboard
Freedom fighter becomes a terrorist in flight

If fear is the inheritance of the child unborn
Can a Freedom Charter breach the gates
When naked force destroys non-violence scorn
A pacific man has to break, cannot wait
Any longer to kill the embodiment of white dominion
Sharpeville quenches all native hearts
Embers inexpertly alight across the nation
Fantasy was finished, but the reality of violence hurts

He ran, he hid, he fought
Sowing seeds of victory, but was prepared to die
Over twenty long prison years once caught
Now for his beloved country, no-one has to cry

Ever since Celtic peoples were driven west from continental Europe, dividing as they did into Brythonic Celts settling in Wales and Gaelic Celts in Ireland, the Irish have appeared to be separated from the rest of Europe. They occupy an island on the far north-west fringe and have to look over England and Wales to see the continent. This geographical and cultural separation transitioned into a religious divide, between the Irish Catholics and the Protestants who affiliated with England (and, therefore, the United Kingdom). This has been the basis of conflict for centuries, culminating in ‘The Troubles’ of the late twentieth century. The historical aspects leading up to the violence of these Troubles are contained in Kevin Kelley’s “The Longest War – Northern Ireland and the IRA”. The search for solutions is represented by a collection of papers edited by my former colleague Marianne Elliott in Liverpool: “The Long Road to Peace in Northern Ireland”. One of the most renowned fighters, who died on hunger strike in Belfast jail, Bobby Sands produced a very remarkable anthology of poems: ”Prison Poems”- Sinn Fein Publicity, Dublin, 1981. I have used these three sources in compiling the following poem. It will be noted that the title is reminiscent of the first line of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” (All my troubles seemed so far away). Liverpool, home of the Beatles, is just over the Irish Sea from Belfast, but the IRA rarely took their violence there, preferring London and Manchester.

All The Troubles Seemed So Far Away

Seeds were sown a millennium ago
Strongbow, Norman Earl of Pembroke, smashed Gaelic defenders
Who created guerilla warfare to force English to forego
The wild geese country in the west, focusing as settlers
In Dublin’s Pale, beyond which the Irish had to cow
The foundation of strife for centuries of death and tears

English and Gaelic antipathy abruptly transformed
As the Irish Catholics refused Elizabethan decree
That the whole country would be Protestant led
O’Neills and O’Donnells fought to be free
The English embedded Protestants in Ulster’s bed
While the Pope urged contempt from the likes of Tralee

For centuries the Protestants of Cromwell,
William of Orange and the penal laws
Forced Catholics into the byways of Connaught’s dells
As leaders Connolly and Wolfe Tone could not lessen the sores
Of famine, so many did run away from this hell
One religion, two churches, created venomous spores

Nationalism re-entered the equation
Intermingling acts of union and treachery
Home Rule movements, no conciliation
Absentee landlords profiting, bishops wary
Easter Rising deflated as a detumescent erection
More seeds sown among the Irish faeries

Yeats’ Terrible Beauty, scarred and scared
Prophecies of inimical factions across the Isle
Wings and splinters formed, Fianna and Sinn dared
Shades of white, of tongue, of guile
Generational attribution, souls bared
The words of beauty just yield bile

The in utero diet of hate
Raised infants raising guns to neighbors
Bombings over the Sea sealed their fate
Bogside, Armagh, Block H, the cause
Of language not understood, but too late
To change minds of impressionable martyrs

Brave leaders on both sides decided
They could not hide or run away
Fighting ephemeral victories and defeats denied
Progress, so they chose to stay
As too many Bloody Sundays collided
Yielding, eventually, almighty Good Friday

The last poem of this quartet, which deals with the suppression of all that is blackness in the USA, was completed during the week of the January 2021 insurrection in Washington DC. For most people, this was not concerned with the putative ‘stealing of votes’ in the presidential election, but the maintenance of white conservative privilege, a position sustained by the majority for centuries. Two books, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or Life Among the Lowly”, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron, helped me understand the events of the 19 th Century. The poem’s structure has some similarity to Dylan Thomas’ “And Death Shall have No Dominion”.

View From Jim Crow’s Nest

Around 1620, Mayflower brought white Saints to New England
And White Lion landed black slaves in Virginia
Four centuries later white and black clans
Still cannot equilibrate in the disunited States of America
Blackness shall have no deliverance

Blackness shall have no deliverance
Whites chased native Indians out, the Trail of Tears
Welcomed slave trade captives from the Middle Passage
Cotton the master, plantation owners without any fear
Tyranny over men, rape of women, blacks only savage
Antebellum villainy, against Uncle Tom’s lowly life
Few places to hide, run to, or chances to fight
Nat Turner struck but couldn’t see his strife
Would make worse the lives of those not white
Blackness shall have no deliverance

Blackness shall have no deliverance
Northern abolitionists, underground railroads
Southern blacks escape, try running away
But no evasion of war, no civil codes
As John Brown sealed the fate of USA
Emancipation, reconstruction, no citizen’s rights
Postbellum no different for free impoverished niggers
Saving the Union was achieved alright
Yet Lincoln saw each side’s rigors
Blackness shall have no deliverance

Blackness shall have no deliverance
Hatred of the black more than hatred of slavery
White supremacy flourishes, Jump Jim Crow
KKK nooses, lynching without bravery
MLK’s Gandhi-like non-violence stamped on his brow
Tulsa, Montgomery, Selma, false pivots
Voting Rights Act did not repeal
Violence, assassinations, the power of bigots
Suppression even at the nadir of life, no new deal
Blackness shall have no deliverance

Blackness shall have no deliverance
Robeson, Belafonte, Lewis and Young, defiant
Angelou, Jackson fought with truth, words and oratory
Clenched fists, bent knees and the shoulders of giants
So difficult to impress the pious with lethal armory
The crow’s nests of Mayflower and White Lion
Looked forward, a focus on future homesteads
Too many of us look backwards, cannot see the horizon
Jim Crow’s nest still ignorant of icebergs ahead
Blackness shall have no deliverance

Blackness still has no deliverance
In a new century, thousands of blacks still killed
A millennium of millions deprived of rights
Black Lives Matter has to be more than thoughts filled
With revenge, for memories of Floyd and Taylor to ascend the heights
Tutu was right, truth before reconciliation
If Rwandans and the Irish can heal
And South Africa holds onto the one nation
Surely American convergence of ideals
Can give blackness a hope of deliverance

This Epilogue was written on the 20th January, 2021, the day of Joseph Biden’s Inauguration as the 46 th President of the USA, and of the recital of her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’, by the Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman.


When violence pretends around the corners
Should the underdog run or fight

If subtleties of blackness in Rwanda can diffuse
So the nation becomes a crown of freedom in Africa
If apartheid crumbles and truth appear through the cracks
So South Africa’s white supremacy peacefully dissolves
If the Irish cease knee-capping each other
And move towards their own reconciliation and unity
Why is Jim Crow still rendered blind within poverty?
Where the skinny black girl descended from those slaves
Has to shout to the world that forces are still trying
To shatter her nation rather than share it?
Why cannot their own black, bloody, Sundays and Mondays
Be resolved by our own Maundy Thursday’s
Commandment to love one another
Followed by an Irish-style Good Friday

Then violence recedes around the corners
No need to run, or hide, nor even fight

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