(first published in the Spring 2000 Response)

Making Peace

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Maiking Peace by George Mitchell

In the beginning of Making Peace, his book on the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell opens with a poem written by a 14-year-old Irish girl. The poem speaks about her fear and sorrow, and the violence she's witnessed. It ends with these words: "I have never known peace."


This sort of grinding, chronic war is extraordinarily difficult for the average American to comprehend, says Mitchell. To that end, he decided to chronicle his historic role in bringing about the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement.


The book is meant to educate. "I think most Americans have a good feeling toward Ireland, but they don't have much understanding of the conflict there. I'm not a historian, but I could give my personal account of the same information."


He does so in a book that gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the negotiations that took more than two years of Mitchell's life.


The wrenching difficulties of bringing together warring groups are often unexpectedly funny. "Even when I got them together they wouldn't speak to each other," he recalls. He describes how "silly" he felt when one Irish politician would tell him to say something to another leader who sat just one chair away.


The book also offers insight into the people behind the headlines, the main players in the Irish Troubles: the fiery orator Ian Paisley, who represents unionists, and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams.


Exhausted, elated, Mitchell left Ireland in 1998, convinced that peace could endure, in part because the people want it so much.


By Connie McDougall