Steven McLaughlin: What Survivors for Peace means to me
February 23, 2014 | admin
Steven McLaughlin is an author and former soldier who’s been involved with the Foundation’s Survivors for Peace programme since 2010. He was a graduate of our Leadership for Peace course in 2012 and has participated in numerous events at the centre with fellow military veterans of past and present wars.
It’s quite a strange story how I came to be involved with the Peace Centre and I sometimes ponder that it was fate driven and simply meant to be. In 2001 I lost my soldier brother to a horrendous car crash that literally tore the heart out of my family. Damian had been an infantry soldier in the Royal Green Jackets and spent over 2yrs on the ground in Bosnia and Kosovo, at the very height of the brutal Balkan Wars in the 1990s. He saw some dreadful things during his service and I know that they troubled him greatly. So when he died I felt compelled and honour bound to follow in his footsteps, and I ended up serving in the exact same regiment, completing two operational tours in Iraq and Northern Ireland. It was a busy and stressful time, to say the least.
I left the army in 2005 and wrote my first book a year later; that book, Squaddie: A Soldier’s Story, became a bestseller and literally propelled me onto the front pages of newspapers and television screens. A whole new world opened up to me – and a big part of that world was the Warrington Peace Centre. Of course, I knew all about the horrific 1993 IRA bomb attack that so cruelly took the lives of young Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball, but to my eternal shame, I had no idea whatsoever that this amazing peace centre had been built in their names. That is until a most welcome and unexpected invitation popped up in my inbox in 2010; the centre had heard about my writings on war and peace in the wider media: would I be interested in attending a peace-building residential examining military conflict with a group of soldiers from ‘across the generations’?
The answer, of course, was a resounding yes.
Well that was four years ago now, and since then I’ve lost count of the many humbling and life changing experiences I’ve been privileged to participate in and witness at the centre. I’ve attended intensive residentials, challenging workshops, fraught one-dayers and reflective memorials. And they’ve all been special beyond words in their own unique ways. To see former sworn enemies coming together in a mutual spirit of respect and reconciliation, and ultimately friendship and forgiveness, is a sweet thing to savour indeed. The road to understanding and acceptance is a rocky and treacherous one, but at the Peace Centre, we get there in the end no matter how hard the going, and that’s an incredible legacy to achieve.
Quite simply put, if the Survivors for Peace programme is forced to close it will be an absolute travesty of justice and an incalculable loss to the peacebuilding community, both in Great Britain and the wider world. This cannot be allowed to happen – and for once – I would urge all of the peaceful souls who’re drawn to the centre, to take up vocal arms and ‘re-join the fight’, and do all they can to keep this wonderful facility open and thriving for years to come.
Former Royal Green Jacket,
Northern Ireland and Iraq veteran,
Author of Squaddie: A Soldier’s Story