South Belfast Unionist John Hiddleston reflects on a number of historical precidents for where he believes the political process now to be. He draws parallels with the concept of “perpetual war for perpetual peace” coined in 1947 by the American historian Charles Beard. And, “Orwell’s reflection of the idea in “1984”. Constant war but with peace just around the corner…” And he finds a strange parallel with Bush logic for the justification of the war on terror.By John Hiddleston
“As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H.L. Mencken (1880 – 1956)
“The truth is more important than the facts.” – Frank Lloyd Wright (1868-1959)
“He was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them” – Joseph Heller in Catch 22
When Sinn Fein / IRA first declared its involvement in a “peace process” which would lead to exclusively peaceful methods of pursuing its goals, many of us were deeply sceptical. Surely they must realise that their support would fall away as normality descended, we reasoned.
In peaceful circumstances, radicalism gives way to comfortable liberalism, the (unionist) status quo becomes acceptable to moderate Catholics as prosperity increases, and Catholics feel free to join the dreaded police without the fear of IRA intimidation. Nationalist voters would surely prefer peaceful parties in a time of peace.
Well, we never got peace. What we did get was a constant tension, a promise of peace just around the corner, if only we continued to reward the gangsters of the paramilitaries with more concessions. The promise of decommissioning has been offered to us countless times in the last decade without really materialising. This strategy of tension is the answer to the normalisation dilemma of Sinn Fein/IRA.
Anthony McIntyre wrote recently:
Central to maintaining that peace process as a “work in progress”, and consequently the profile of Mr Adams, is the continued existence of the IRA. With the IRA off the scene, the peace process comes to the end of its shelf life and beds down as a solution.
But to be of benefit to Sinn Fein’s strategic designs the IRA has to do more than merely exist. It must – employing plausible deniability – continue to disturb the peace, upset the unionists, and allow Sinn Fein to promote the need for a process through which “peace” can be pursued against the wishes of agenda-setting “securocrats and recalcitrant unionists”.
The phrase “perpetual war for perpetual peace” sprang immediately to my mind. The phrase has recently been adopted by writer Gore Vidal, but was first coined by American historian Charles Austin Beard (possible Ulster-Scot origins?) in 1947 and is largely echoed in George Orwell’s seminal work “1984”, where Oceania is engaged in an eternal on-off war with Eurasia, or possibly allied with Eurasia against Eastasia. No sooner has a cease-fire been signed than it is broken, and Big Brother in either case exhorts the citizens, known as proles, to make ever greater sacrifices, especially their liberty.
In George Bush’s America the same principle applies. The “war on terror” became an imperialistic invasion of an oil-rich dictatorship. Whatever the pretext, the country’s citizens are expected to back their “war president” and accept the sacrifices entailed. And our Prime Minister obediently follows, just as he prepares to welcome Adams and McGuinness (after a few weeks of posturing) back to Downing Street.
Actually, the idea of uniting a nation, or a political movement, by fear is as ancient as the first caveman who discovered that his family would stay more obedient if frightened by the prospect of attack by the tribe on the other side of the river. With our current political leadership we are doomed to live in a state of tension where peace is just around the corner but can never arrive.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty