Would the whole history of the world have been different over the last 50 years if Bobby Kennedy had not been shot dead? We’ll never know, I suppose, but fate and destiny certainly took a hand on June 5, 1968 when a young Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy after a rally in his campaign to become president of the United States of America.
That year, half a century ago, saw remarkable social and political change across the world; almost revolutionary protest in Europe, racial turmoil in Britain with Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech and in the United States the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
This had followed the slaying five years earlier of the older Kennedy, JFK, and while Bobby’s death is often regarded as being not as significant as the other two, commentators have speculated that it had a more profound change in the course of history.
Many thought that Bobby, who had a liberal reforming zeal, would surely have become president, and a certain Richard Nixon would never have made the White House. So, no Watergate and no strict Conservative regime?
How different would things have been? We will never know. 
Indeed, if it’s impossible to predict what might have been, it’s almost as difficult across centuries to analyse the implications of what did actually happen. Especially, as the cliché goes, that the winners write history.
Nowhere is this more difficult than in our own country. At the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising a couple of years ago, intellectuals mused over what might have been if the Rising never happened; would all of Ireland gained its independence sooner, or would indeed Britain have continued to rule and use bases in the south during World War Two?
Well, again, who knows? And who knows what would have happened if Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness hadn’t taken the decision to work together; or what will be the ramifications of the present impasse? Time will tell.
It is when we consider our more recent history, since 1968 actually, that we find things so raw and contentious. Far from wondering “what if”, there is considerable friction over allegations of the “re-writing of history” and there is a resultant clash of identities.
This arose again this week, when banners depicting IRA attacks such as Enniskillen, the Shankill Road bomb, Bloody Friday and so on were erected on lampposts in two housing areas in Belfast; mixed housing areas it should be said.
The banners bore pictures of these and other atrocities and the slogan “Stand Up Against Sectarianism”. But the fact that they featured only Republican attacks and not loyalists prompted one public representative to ironically claim that this had “sectarianised anti-sectarianism.”
For some years now, flags and identity have caused quarrel and dispute, and a body was set up by Stormont to consider all this. But it’s been revealed that the 15-strong Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition has so far cost £647,094, half of it on members expenses, without yet having reported. Its critics are on the case, but with no Stormont sitting at the moment and this being a sensitive area, one should ask if work is going on behind the scenes that may yet bear fruit?
As well as flag protests, of course, we have the annual bonfire disputes and this, too, doesn’t seem to be any nearer resolution.
Now, with the development of banners depicting IRA attacks, the varying narratives of history are not only becoming points of dissension, but those differences are being displayed on banners.
It is with some irony that writers are highlighting the fact that the banners are dividing families who were bereaved by the very atrocities that are being featured. In one radio programme, Gina Murray, who lost her 13-year-old daughter Leanne in the Shankill bomb, supported the banners and said she’d been consulted.
But Alan McBride, who lost his wife and father-in-law in the same Shankill attack, said he hadn’t been consulted and found the banners “grotesque whataboutery” and one-side because there were none commemorating loyalists attacks such as Greysteel.
In fact, Mr. McBride went on radio to accuse loyalist Jamie Bryson of “using victims.”
He has a very valid point, in my opinion. Bryson, of course, has his own agenda but it was surely disrespectful to say the least to use family grief to push it in this way. 
There are many, many thousands of bereaved relatives and many more still living with physical and mental anguish as a result of their injuries and trauma. Every week, we are reminded of the anniversary of a violent death in very dark times. I have written before that they all must be allowed the space to deal with their pain in their own way; and how could it possibly be that all of them feel the same way?
Some remain angry, some can forgive, some never could, some try to get on with their lives as best they can. All different,  but people such as Jamie Bryson and many others ride roughshod over the victims who don’t fit in with his particular agenda. Disrespectful yes, and intimidatory of some victims.
One caller to a radio station said this week that we should be reminded about what the IRA did. But then went on to say that we should move on. I think that’s what is known as “cognitive dissonance.” Or a puzzling inconsistency, if you like.
One of the most contentious issues the political parties in Northern Ireland face is the legacy of the conflict, and just last month the former Director  of Public Prosecutions,  Barra McGrory QC expressed his belief that “the vast majority of cases taken on by the Historical Inquiries Unit will not end in successful convictions”. This dismayed many victims.
But whether the parties come to some agreement or not on this very sensitive issue, the writing of history will continue to be extremely contentious. And I fail to see how a one-sided display of using victims’ pain on lampposts helps anybody.