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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
|Date: August, 2010
Not To Reason Why
|This is the season of Sommetry,when the mindless Great War slaughter on the Somme is glorified as heroic. The Irish Government has for many years been feeling its way towards full participation in the annual glorification of the slaughter without saying what the purpose of it all was. To glorify the Somme without showing that it was necessary to the achievement of some admirable political aim—and that is what the Irish Government has been doing—is to hold up abstract militarism as an ideal.
In recent years Martin McGuinness too has been praising the Somme. He has been praising the courage and bravery of the hundreds of thousands who took part in the blind assault on the prepared German defences. They kept it up in the course of a long Summer day, with each fresh wave from the British trenches walking over the bodies of the previous wave in No-Man's-Land.
By praising the Somme without reference to its purpose he debases the purposeful War in which he himself played an active part. The soldiers of the Provo IRA had some reason for what they did. If they saw no reason for doing it, they were under no necessity to do it. But for the soldiers in the British trenches at the Somme it was a matter of "Theirs not to reason why,/Theirs but to do and die". Even if they did not think it was a reasonable thing to do to walk slowly into German machine-gun fire all day long—and that is what they were ordered to do—the only alternative open to them was to refuse to leave the trenches and be shot by their own officers. The chances of survival were better in the walk into machine-gun fire. A decision to leave the trenches and take part in a futile assault on the enemy was reasonable to that extent.
But why on earth was the thing being done at all? That is not something which the nationalist Sommeteers—Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, and Sinn Fein—do not care to discuss. Since they do not discuss it, the evasive mode of their participation in the celebrations imply the view that war is a good thing in itself.
The German philosopher of the late 19th century, Nietzsche, was presented as the evil demon of Prussianism by Tom Kettle in his Redmondite war propaganda in August 1914. Nietzsche, who was praised by James Connolly in The Workers' Republic in 1915, aspired to tell the truth about the workings of human affairs. In his long poem in Biblical mode, Thus Spake Zarathustra, he has these verses:
"Do you say that a good cause hallows even war? I say to you a good war hallows any cause… You shall love peace as a means to new wars… Rebellion—it is the mark of the slave. Let your distinction be obedience…"
This passage was naturally singled out by the British war propaganda to show how evil Germany was. But what does the Sommetry of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein (and of everything in between) say if it is not that war is a good thing if it is really extreme and an awful lot of people are killed in it in mindless obedience to commands?
Although Nietzsche took part as a stretcher bearer in the 1870 war of defence against the French invasion, he did not admire the German Empire (ie, the united German state) that was formed as a consequence of that war. He much preferred the old Germany of poets, musicians and philosophers in petty states. His observations on war were applicable to England rather than Germany. And he was immensely popular in England during the generation before 1914.
Nietzsche did not admire the German Empire: he was not a Socialist. Connolly did admire the German Empire, and he made a strong socialist case in support of it in 1914-16.
Much of what Connolly wrote about has been superseded by the course of events, at least in Ireland and Britain. But what has been superseded is what the established order prefers to remember. Syndicalism did not develop in Ireland or Britain. Workers were not willing to make themselves the controllers of the industries they worked in. The line of development here was pressure on the Government for legislation to improve the condition of wage-labour in the capitalist system. But in the Dictionary of Irish Biography published recently by Cambridge University and the Royal Irish Academy, Connolly's advocacy of Syndicalism is what is mentioned.
The most important decision of Connolly's life, and the one which has the greatest relevance today is his decision to launch a bid for Irish independence, in alliance with Germany. His support of Germany was not an opportunist alliance with England's enemy.
Nietzsche did not admire the German Empire. Connolly did. In his writings of 1914-16 he looked to Germany as the state in which socialist development was taking place. And it was in Germany that a degree of Syndicalist development occurred—and continued until the EU under British inspiration made an assault on it as being incompatible with the freedom of capitalism.
Connolly is a historical icon because he was the military commander of the Rising. His relationship with Germany is dealt with by being deleted from the historical record. The main work of falsification of history in this matter has in the past generation been done by Ruth Dudley Edwards and Desmond Greaves, and it is continued in the DIB by Fergus D'Arcy. The Great War is still too live an issue to allow some things to be said.
It is too much to expect that Fianna Fail should deal with the reality of these things. After all, their big man today, Brian Lenihan, who has put the capitalist economy (the only one we've got) on life-support in NAMA to enable it to survive, is a product of Cambridge University. And Cambridge, since the days of T. Desmond Williams (MI6 Professor of History at UCD) and Nicholas Mansergh has specialised in getting the Irish elite to think only thoughts that are advantageous to Britain. (Lenihan seems to be an earnest Sommeteer who sees Irish history as ancillary to British, with any contretemps between the two being 'misunderstandings'.)
But will Sinn Fein, after making headway in difficult circumstances, through a war that had at least a conceivable purpose, lose itself in the vacuous ideology which sanctifies the carnage of a thoroughly bad war?
It was at least a bad war for the nationalist Irish who were lured into it by delusions spun to them by their leaders.
For the Unionist Irish it was a different matter. For them it was not something utterly exceptional, to be justified by a miraculous transformation that had come about in the British Empire. That is how it was for their Irish enemies. But for them it was just one more incident in the life of the Empire. They were a people of the Empire. Imperial war was a matter of course for them. They did not go to war to make a point against the Home Rule Irish. They went to war because they were an Imperial people.
In the conflict between Unionist Ulster and nationalist Ireland there is argy-bargy in which debating points are made. On the nationalist side it is sometimes taken that the division rests on these debating points, and will vanish if they are removed.
We concluded long ago that the ground of division was independent of the debating points. We described it as national, and can still think of no better way of putting it. And we thought a frank acceptance of national difference was a pre-condition of any kind of rapprochement. And we have not yet been proved wrong.
When a Unionist sees a nationalist working on the debating points, with a view to catching him, his hostility is reinforced. He will not be caught by new debating points any more than by the old.
The approach of Fianna Fail etc. is possibly not the same as that of Sinn Fein. There are signs that they are using the conciliation of Ulster Unionism as cover for breaking free of nationalist parameters which they have made increasingly intolerable to themselves by their own mode of development within them.
Why is the Department of Education attacking the Gaelscoils?
Some years ago on the radio Roy Foster—remember him?—was asked what Britain had ever done for Ireland. He said it had given it "the priceless gift of the English language".
Is that now the view of the Department of Education? and is it afraid that, if it does not curb the development of Irish language schools, that priceless gift will be lost?
But surely the insistence of the Government that English must be taught in Irish schools must be in breach of the Constitution, which still says that Irish is the first language of the state.
We can see that a tendency towards actual restoration of Irish, as manifested in the Gaelscoils, is in conflict with the tendency of dominant political ideology seen in recent times. It is unlikely that Irish speakers emerging from these schools will be recruitable as cannon-fodder into the British Army, in the way that Irish speakers were after Gaelic society had finally been broken by British pressure in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Michael MacDowell (grand-nephew is it of Eoin MacNeill of the Gaelic League and the Volunteers?) has proposed that July 12th be made a national holiday. Would an increase in the use of Irish be compatible with celebration of the event which led to the systematic destruction of the society in which Irish was the general language.
But MacDowell's proposals are no more than a development of what Bertie Ahern started. There has been a commemorative stamp of the Plantation. And it came to Bertie in a moment of revelation that the contemptuous Tipperary was a patriotic Irish song:
"Paddy wrote a letter to his Irish Molly O
Saying if you don't receive it, please write and let me know…
It's along way to Tipperary…"
Forty years ago, when we were roundly denounced for saying that the Ulster Protestants should be treated with respect as a distinct Irish nationality, we responded by saying that the nationalist configuration that was denouncing us was brittle and was likely to collapse first in the confrontation with Ulster Unionism that it was embarking upon. Were we wrong?
We can appreciate that Sinn Fein—a product of the atrocious 'Northern Ireland State', whose insoluble contradictions made it viable—should be feeling impatient and rstricted by the situation resulting from their success. But the way out of it is not to take part in Sommetry gimmicks in the hope of undermining Unionism.
Why should Unionists be impressed by these gimmicks when they see nationalist Ireland intent on making nonsense of itself?
One thing which we established through twenty years of persistent political activity is that Unionist Ulster is not British in any politically viable way. We brought it to the point, around 1990, of being confronted with the decision whether to be British in a functional way or not. It decided not. But that decision did not make it Irish in any way that can be got at by nationalist propaganda.
To be British is to participate in the political life of the British state. British 'identity' detached from British politics is a will-o'-the-wisp. There are many thousands of people who dress like nuns who are British, and there are increasing numbers who wear burkas and who tell off critics, who want to ban them, for being un-British.
Britain, because of the Empire and the way it handled the ending of Empire, lives off the world to an extent that no other state does. Because of this, and of the effect of imperialism on its internal life, it is supplied with people and food from all parts of the world. It is above all else a State. And, as alien peoples come into it, its political system actively draws them into its functioning. So, if you go up to the wearer of a burka and remonstrate with her because of her alien appearance, she's likely to look you straight in the eye and give you a lesson on the British Constitution.
She is part of the Constitution and she knows it. She votes in the election of the Government. Northern Ireland is not part of the Constitution. It is an Annex. And that is what it chose to be twenty years ago when, by pressing for it, it might have become functionally British.
Protestant Ulster has now been cut off from British political life for a century and a quarter. British politics stopped there in 1886, when an all-party alliance was formed against the first Home rule Bill. Party-political life within the state might have been restored in 1921, but Britain preferred, for reasons of its own, to cut the Six Counties off from Britain as well as Ireland, and the Protestants put up with it. As a result Northern Ireland is something left behind by Britain—and there are those in Britain who appreciate it as a reminder of the good old days: a kind of essential Britain, proof against the ravages of time, in which old-time values are preserved in aspic.
A letter has recently been put in the British Public Record Office which,among other things, demonstrates the Constitutional absurdity of Northern Ireland. It is an Ambassadorial report by the British Ambassador in Northern Ireland, Oliver Wright, at the end of his posting, written on 6th March 1970.
A British Ambassador to a region of the British state!! Well, it isn't actually called that, but Wright is aware that that is what he is:
"Today I leave Belfast after rather more than six months as the representative of the United Kingdom Government in Northern Ireland. The appointment was the first of its kind; it followed the rioting and mayhem which characterised the province from October 1968 to August 1969… In nature rather more than ambassadorial and rather less than gubernatorial, it represented the increased concern which the UK Government had necessarily acquired in Northern Ireland through the commitment of the Armed Forces…"
Paragraph 3 begins:
"Ulster is a land inhabited by two minorities each with the defensive attitude of a minority. It is a tribal society and the two tribes, the colonists who did not want to be absorbed by the natives and the natives stranded by partition on the wrong side of the border, like and trust each other about as well as dog and cat, Arab and Jew…"
When Britain denied the possibility of Irish independence, the argument was that those who wanted it were a very small minority of the electorate of the unitary British state. The Ulster Unionists were part of the vast majority in the state. Part of Ireland was let go in 1922. The Six Counties remained within the UK, in accordance with the will of the Protestant majority in them who were part of the vast majority in the UK state which desired its continuation.
But, two generations later, the Ulster Protestants have somehow become a tribal minority.
Wright does not explain this miracle. But he comments:
"…ironically enough, it has been the existence of British-style democracy based on universal adult franchise which has guaranteed and perpetuated a most un-British-style injustice towards the Catholic minority…"
So the Partition that let most of the nationalists in Ireland go their own way while allowing most of those who declared they were British to remain in Britain, somehow excluded the latter from British democracy and allowed them only a "British-style" democracy.
But did not Edmund Burke, the greatest influence on British political philosophy, show that functional representative government is not a "style", but a combination of particulars? The Six Counties were excluded from the particulars and allowed only the empty style.
Paragraph 4 tells how the two tribes enjoyed provoking each other in this British-style democracy.
Paragraph 5 tells how this mutual tribal provocation got out of hand in August 1969, and how "Protestant blood is still simmering under the humiliation of seeing a government of the Protestant ascendancy dispensing justice to Catholics at Westminster's insistence in the name of equality of citizenship"—the equal citizenship of British democracy and British-style democracy!
Paragraph 6 says: "When the Army moved in, Ulster was on the brink of civil war", but it is now settling down.
Paragraph 7 says that street politics is "giving way to the politics of the ballot box"—the ballot box of British-style democracy. But the ballot-box is being supplemented (subdued?) by "Nominated bodies… representative of the whole community", which are "being set up to redress the built-in injustice of undiluted democracy as it works out in practice in this province".
The "nominated bodies representative of the whole community" are of course entirely unrepresentative bodies imposed in British-style democracy by the actual British democracy which had excluded the Six Counties from its sphere of operation two generations earlier.
The over-riding of British-style democracy by British democracy is cooling down the Civil Rights agitation. Its recent demonstrations were flops. "The Opposition has returned to Stormont. But in winning its cause it has lost its former purpose and now seeks a new role". It is trying "to form a united opposition", from various groupings, which is encouraging though the prospects are slim. A
"…non-nationalist opposition… could give a lead in breaking down the sectarian divisions in Ulster politics. It deserves support. The decision of the Northern Ireland Labour Party to seek affiliation to the British Labour Party is rather at variance with this trend…"
The NILP was trying to get into the actual British democracy. Wright does not indicate why that was wrong. He only indicates that British-style democracy must continue.
In Paragraph 8 he says that, with the abolition of the B Specials and changes to the police: "Physical power will have shifted from the Ulster Police to the British Army, political power from Stormont to Westminster." But he does not see this as a real for moving from British-style democracy to actual British democracy.
Paragraphs 10 to 14 have to do with the shepherding of British-style democracy by actual British democracy, and are sheer fantasy.
The final Paragraph, No. 15, breaks new ground:
"Since the partition of Ireland has produced a border and not a frontier… no report from Northern Ireland would be complete without reference with the South. I agree with Sir Andrew Gilchrist [Ambassador in Dublin] that to-day the North acts: the South re-acts. So long as we keep the North quiet, the South will give us no trouble, for Mr. Lynch also went to the edge of disaster last August—and stepped back in time. His courageous speech at his Party Conference in January marked a change from fantasy to realism about the Irish question. If he recognises, as he now does, that force cannot be used to solve the problem of partition, he must come to realise that the only prospect of Irish unity lies in the seduction of the North. The South will, I suspect, be a long time a-wooing, if they ever start: the Irish tend to marry late, I believe…"
It is pleasant to find something to agree with after all that criticism. The Ambassador agrees with us that Lynch changed course in 1970—and who was better placed to know?
This view is completely at variance with the view worked up retrospectively by Lyncholators like Professors Keogh and Murphy.
We do not agree that the course of action set in motion by Lynch in August 1969 was necessarily disastrous. The way he changed course in 1970—with groundless prosecutions in a show trial—was certainly disastrous, and contributed to the emergence of the Provisional IRA as a force for the Northern Catholic community to rely on under the trauma of Dublin betrayal of what it had been encouraging for eight or nine months. But that was not the Ambassador's business. It happened two months after he left his colonial posting in the North. And Lynch's change of course was still cryptic in March 1970.