Today marks the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising, when a small group of Irish people occupied prominent locations across Dublin; declaring Ireland a free country, independent of Britain. Within days, the centre of Dublin was bombed to smithereens, hundreds were dead and many of the leaders of the Rising were executed by firing squad. Militarily, it was a disaster; but it set in motion a chain of events that lead to de facto independence for most of the country within six years, and actual independence somewhat later. It is credited with being the spark that lighted the torch of Irish freedom.
It’s a big day, worthy of commemoration, but I’m conflicted about it. It happened in the middle of World War I, when thousands of Irishmen were fighting and dying in Gallipoli and the Western Front; when Ireland had already won Home Rule from Britain: its implementation delayed until the war was over. It’s hard to see the Rising as anything less than a deliberate act of treason; given its declared overtures to Imperial Germany and its opportunism while the British government’s energies were focused elsewhere.
There’s clear evidence that some of the leaders of the Rising saw it in romantic terms: a futile struggle that would inspire future Irish people. I’m conflicted because what I see here is the glorification of violence; the idea that violence is noble and beautiful. Patrick Pearce never fought in the trenches, so he never experienced the horror of war: the death, the screaming, the suffering and terror. I wonder would he have been so wrapped up in noble ideas seeing his comrades while shitting in his trousers as his comrades were pulped by artillery shells? The glorification of war is still here today, as if it was all worthwhile. It may have lead to the Irish Republic, but it also inspired the Troubles and the IRA.
War is an obscenity. It should never be glorified. It destroys lives, creates unacceptable pain and suffering, leaves a legacy of hatred, fear and damage that can take generations to undo. We lose a part of our humanity when we think of it as a viable option to be used on non-combatants. After the Brussels bombings this week, we had people talking about bombing Muslims. I honestly despair when I hear this. People who say this are deliberately ignorant of what such actions might mean. I make no apologies when I say that warmongers should be treated like child abusers.
But I’m conflicted because, so long as there are people willing to resort to war to achieve their political ends, we need men and women to stand up to them. We need soldiers and police and armed forces. These are people who put themselves in harm’s way so that our hard won freedoms can be maintained, so that peace can be enforced and bloodshed stopped. They have my undying respect.
So on the day where we commemorate 1916, I have little thought for the instigators of the Rebellion. To me, they were fanatics who fetishised violence and set Ireland down the path of militarism – the effects of which we have yet to fully dispel. However, I also see men and women in uniform, who have opted to face danger and death in Lebanon and other parts of the world. I am thankful that they exist. I wish they didn’t have to do what they do, but I recognise their necessity; their importance in an unstable world.