But.. but..

In the Irish Times, Vincent Browne expresses his doubts about how inclusive, and how wise, the remembrance on Monday, of Easter 1916, actually was – “The city looked great, the GPO imposing, the Army drilled and disciplined, military music not too bad, fine weather, great crowds, no speeches and the rioters took a day off.”.. But.. but..He doesn’t provide his answers to the questions he raises.. but they are questions worth asking –

It may be true that had the Easter Rising not happened we might still be part of the United Kingdom with a very limited form of home rule.

Garret FitzGerald has argued persuasively that had the Rising not occurred, by the 1920s the scale of subsidy from the “Imperial” government would have been such as to deter any movement for full independence.

I am one of those who are glad we achieved independence and therefore glad of the consequences of the Rising.

But is that enough? Are actions to be judged by their consequences? Are there not side constraints on actions, side constraints to do with killing for instance? It is said we cannot impose our contemporary perspectives on past events, but by what other criteria do we have to judge past events for the purposes of commemorating those events? What would we say now to the widow of that poor policeman who walked up to the door of the GPO that Easter Monday morning in justification for the killing of her husband? Too bad, your husband had to be killed not for anything he did, but for the good of the Irish people as a whole? If so, how many people would it have been justifiable to kill for an outcome we approve? And what people would it have been justifiable to kill? Just policemen and members of the British military presence in Ireland, or would it have been okay to kill a few innocent bystanders as well?

Remember during the Northern Ireland conflict how it was said repeatedly nothing justifies the taking of a single human life? Was that all bilge or was it meant at the time? And even if meant at the time, was it still bilge because there are some things that justify the taking of human life, even the taking of innocent human life? Some things like national independence?

We would not have been too impressed with that argument, say, 20 or 30 years ago in the heat of the carnage, so why does it have any currency now? Okay, it might not matter to have had and enjoyed that one celebration on Monday, and since it went off so well is it churlish to be questioning? But why not celebrate it again next year and every year until the 100th anniversary and ever year afterwards?

Every year obliterating the memory of that poor RIC man who walked up to the door of the GPO to ask what was going on and having his head blown off? We will celebrate on the very steps on which his blood flowed, on the very scene where this poor man’s life ebbed away. Every year justifying actions on the basis of their consequences.

There was and is much to admire about those who acted as they did in Easter week 90 years ago and certainly they thought they were justified in doing what they did. Had they a chance to look back on everything that flowed from their actions, very probably they too would celebrate now. But, as with us, would they be right?

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  • Crataegus

    Once you move from the position that nothing justifies taking innocent human life you are in the land of the psychopath and in serious trouble.

    You murder or intimidate and it has consequences firstly life becomes cheap, whether you live or die to be decided by who? That someone should be able to make such decisions for some hypothetical greater good is conceited nonsense. Who next how many and after the first few dozen another 100, 1000, or million becomes so easy to decide, for the greater good.

    The are two basic reactions to the use of force fight or flight. People leave and are we really the stronger for that, because their not or ethnically pure group? If they fight more death and destruction and all for what exactly??

    Second problem is the victims and those who witnessed or are left behind their mental state is adversely affected. Some feel fear and keep their heads down, but do they forget? Of course not so the atrocity is passed from one generation to the next to surface again and again.

    Afraid I really don’t like violence, its wrong and it is that simple. To my mind violence, state or otherwise, is a heinous crime and we should all reject it. If we don’t and make up all sorts of excuses it is a sad insight into our own mental state.

  • Crataegus

    sorry

    Above obviously

    They’re not our ethically pure

    Streaming cold, back to bed best policy.

  • Henry94

    And even if meant at the time, was it still bilge because there are some things that justify the taking of human life, even the taking of innocent human life? Some things like national independence?

    National Independence should not involve the taking of a single life. You should get it when you vote for it like Home rule.

    Imagine if the FF/PD government lost the next election but used the army and the police to remain in power.

    Would the members of the Gardai then be simple civil servants doing a job or participants in the denial of our democratic rights.

    If one of them got shot as a result who would be to blame?

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Crataegus: “Afraid I really don’t like violence, its wrong and it is that simple. To my mind violence, state or otherwise, is a heinous crime and we should all reject it. If we don’t and make up all sorts of excuses it is a sad insight into our own mental state. ”

    Si vis pachem parabellum.

  • kensei

    The above is fine sentiment, usually lazily trotted out, but it just doesn’t tally with reality.

    There were huge numbers of bombs (and two A-bombs) dropped on civilians during WW2. There effectiveness could be debaed endlessly, but it is certain that the military commanders thought they were. Were they psychopaths? No. Perhaps we should also cancel VE Day celebrations. Similarly those involved in the Rising. There weren’t psychopaths, but they were prepared for an undesirable loss of civilian life. And if any of us were asked to exchange the life of a random innocent for our families, would be so sure we could say no?

    The problem when you realise that an absolutist position does not and cannot hold, is that you start getting all these terrible questions. What justifies the taking of a life? Who makes that decision? Are our enemies ever justified?
    And it could move the IRA or the loyalists from being evil animals to people with rational motivation, however misguided.

    All of the questions you can raise are difficult. None have absolute answers. So most people prefer cognitive dissonace. This isn’t to say that taking life, innocent or otherwise, is easily justifiable or should be done lightly, just the opinion displayed above does not apply to the real world.

  • David Michael

    Henry’s what-if scenario is chilling.

    I guess we rarely stop and think about our more stable democracies in such terms.

  • micktvd

    I think the questions Vincent Browne raises are good ones. I think he also could have mentioned the six thousand odd soldiers being killed every single day on the battlefields of Europe at the time, when he was doing his moral calculations. I don’t recall too many questions raised about the press when we commemorate these events.

  • micktvd

    that should of course read, ‘by the press’

  • elfinto

    Au contraire Mick,

    The pointless slaughter on the Western Front is almost always viewed by the press – north and south of the border – in laudable terms.

    Can anyone remember what the ‘Great’ War was about? The Triple Alliance against the Triple Entente. Exactly what was noble about it?

    Millions of lives shed for the British Empire in the trenches of France and Belgium are portrayed as heroic losses while a few thousand shed in the name of an Irish Republic are an abomination.

    Is it just me or does it not stack up?

    elfinto

  • Dread Cthulhu

    elfinito: “Millions of lives shed for the British Empire in the trenches of France and Belgium are portrayed as heroic losses while a few thousand shed in the name of an Irish Republic are an abomination. ”

    Half of history is making sure what doesn’t get remembered…

  • Shore Road Resident

    No, it just stacks up upside-down from the other stack. Tiresome, Elfinto. Very tiresome.

  • elfinto

    OK, Shore Roader, over to you.

    What was glorious about the ‘Great War’? Why was it such a noble cause?

    I await your response with interest.

  • Crataegus

    Elfinto

    I don’t believe that most English celebrate the loss in WW1 as glorious or victorious or anything of the sort. Indeed the appalling loss did much to change the social structure of Britain. In middle England there is a very healthy cynicism about war. Even the view of WW2 is much more mature, and is simply a feeling of deep and pointless loss.

    There is an important difference between commemorating those that died and the futile loss and celebrating an event. I don’t particularly like commemorating the slaughter of fellow citizens of this island as in the 12th celebrations and I have real reservations about military parades. Perhaps a lot less pomp and a recognition of regret for the wrongs done would be more appropriate and mature. These things are important as they help set the tone and morale standards of the country.

    Henry94

    The proposition you outline is interesting and the democratic wish should be maintained, but if not is it sufficiently serious to warrant killing someone, is there other ways that would make a place ungovernable, or other ways to move forward? I think we rush too readily for the club.

    Kensel

    I would define a psychopath as someone who, without regret, will use whatever means to get their way. If such a person decides he wants your television and enters your house with a club you, of course, have every right to defend yourself. The psychopath is the initial aggressor, but you have been forced into action that you dislike and the experience you suffer is traumatic. Because of the state of your mind at the time you may even inflict injuries that would be quite out of keeping with your character. Standards drop because of aggression and once in a war all humanity goes. In war it has to be the initial aggressor who carries blame. What saddens me is that those responsible always seem to be the last to suffer. Most wars are started because of personal ambition and greed.

    There is a big difference between a state of all out war and the denial of rights in the context of Ireland turn of the last century, and like most revolutions of that era, I just don’t buy the justification.

  • elfinto

    Cr.

    WW1 is certainly portrayed in most of the press as being a noble cause.

    Just to remind you SSR,

    Serbian military intelligence arranged the terrorist assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne and his pregnant wife.

  • Crataegus

    Elfinto

    I must widen my reading, because most I read are about the utter, pointless futility, the lies, deceit, poor leadership, daft analysis, poor foreign policy. Young men were being sent out in their millions to be slaughtered, often pointlessly.

    Yes people do recognise the bravery of many but within the overall context of the unbridled hell that they were sent into. It is the individuals that are the heroes not the country and certainly not the government or the generals. Its more about commemorating loss than celebrating achievement for what was achieved?

  • Brian Boru

    I am sorry that anyone died in Easter Week but you can’t create an omelette without breaking some eggs. War is never a pleasant thing.

  • red hugh

    In 1916 it was 40 years since the house of Lords blocked the first home rule bill. That was the quality of British “democracy”. The parliament act of 1912 had removed their veto but nationalist sentiment in Ireland was still very dubious as to whether Asquith’s act would be fully enacted when the war was over. Not everyone supported Redmond’s position and not without good reason. Asquith was shafted by Lloyd-George and he gave Carson his blank cheque on the 6 counties being exempted from any future home rule arrangement. The UVF had been formed and were threatening open revolt before the war. In 1912 Carson’s loyalists ran in guns from the Kaiser’s Germany. The very same Kaiser against whose army they were locked in mortal combat with in the Somme some two years later. Confusion reigned everywhere and Pearse decided to strike. What if he hadn’t ? What if McNeill’s countermanding order had been effective ? Who knows ? Would it just have postponed the rising until after it became apparent the Lloyd-George had unilaterally granted partition to Carson ? Conjecture. We are where we are, and the men of 1916 and their motivation deserve to be commemorated and honoured.

  • elfinto

    I must widen my reading, because most I read are about the utter, pointless futility, the lies, deceit, poor leadership, daft analysis, poor foreign policy. Young men were being sent out in their millions to be slaughtered, often pointlessly.

    This seldoms gets a mention in the press – north or south – unless it is being applied to republicans (with the millions reduced to hundreds).

  • Crataegus

    I know exactly how long it takes to build something and just how quickly some nutter can take to blow it up. Man hours and materials wasted, opportunities lost. I also know far to many innocent people who have been murdered by one depraved bunch or the other and for what????

    Now I suppose 1916 is times past, but I can’t help thinking it was much the same then, a few murders here an ambush there. What’s the life of someone’s father or son when there is the greater cause. I suppose in 90 years people will look on the last 30 years and think just how great the present lads are, well are they? Sorry if I disagree for me they are simply murderers and that includes the actions of the state and all its sleazy double dealings.

    Events like this should not be celebrated, but the loss respectable remembered. Don’t debase life by glorifying its loss.