REVIEW: PEACERUNNER by PENN RHODEEN

This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary event--the end of a centuries-old sectarian civil war that was so much a part of the fabric of the late twentieth century that it was woven in the world's wallpaper.  But even more extraordinary than the event was the agent who brought it about--a junior Connecticut Congressman who had resigned his seat to run an apocalyptically unsuccessful campaign for governor.

In prose journalistically clear and direct, Penn Rhodeen tells the story of Bruce Morrison, who rose from political catastrophe to assume a pivotal role in British, Irish, and American political history.  His electoral career in ruins, Morrison recognized the rich potential for American intervention in the perpetually stalled Anglo-Irish negotiations, which as our story opens was then so deep in the freezer that the Irish North was ruled directly from Westminster.  Morrison recognized that other Irish-American politicians  had taken themselves out of the peace game by focussing attention on the moderates and excluding extremists.  The extremists, Morrison knew, were the ones throwing bombs, and thus the ones who had to be brought to the table, which could only happen through the efforts of brokers unaffiliated with any of the combatants.

Morrison had a friend in high places who shared his views.  Though Yale Law School classmate Bill Clinton persisted in his pre-electoral enthusiasm for Morrison's project after he achieved the presidency, the expediencies of office kept him from issuing Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams a US visa.  Nevertheless Clinton endorsed an unbelievably politically risky US role in the brokering of a peace that had eluded generations.   To that end he committed as America's envoy former Senator George Mitchell, who on Good Friday 1998 ended years of negotiations with an accord that ended a war whose roots were in the twelfth century.

Rhodeen's narrative deftly navigates the numerous obstacles that get in the way of a clear story.  Every side of the conflict--British, loyalist, nationalist--was itself split into multiple factions, often designated with nearly identical acronyms.  Rhodeen never leaves the reader guessing as to who was who, or who wanted what.  More importantly, he makes us at home with the political and cultural contexts--Irish-American, fading British Imperial, simmering Irish Nationalist--that informed and impeded the politicians' efforts to get a deal done and stop the killing.

Bruce Morrison changed the world forever, and for good.  This is a story that deserves to be heard.