Archives for posts with tag: war

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.

Let me just say something straight out. ISIS/Daesh are a gang of murderous, vicious thugs. They are part of a network of religious cults that would put the Moonies, Scientology and Jim Jones in the shade. Their poisonous ideology is reminiscent of the Blut und Stahl mindset of Nazi Germany, where ideology overrode basic humanity, allowing all manner of atrocities to occur. It’s the worst, most hermetically sealed, conspiracy laden, violent, misogynistic, racist, anti-human worldview of our time. ISIS/Daesh must be defeated.

The question is, how to defeat them.

There appears to be a small number of widely-held views, depending on which side of the political spectrum you lie on, that I call “placebo solutions”. The aim seems to be to address the feelings of those who espouse them, without actually dealing with the real problem.

On the political right, you have the “they are all the same” placebo solution. Under this idea, all Muslims are considered to be potential (or actual) terrorists, particularly the hapless refugees who have left their homes in Syria and Iraq in search of an uncertain future in foreign states. Right wingers want them scrutinised, vetted, isolated and thrown back to their own countries. In those lands, they want to bomb them into oblivion. All this in spite of overwhelming evidence that most Muslims and refugees are peace-loving ordinary people. Irish people should be well familiar with this mindset, given how we were viewed with suspicion during the murderous IRA campaigns of the 1970s and 80s.

Not only are these just salves for right-wing anger, they have the side-effect of further marginalising Muslims and pushing unemployed youths into the arms of the terrorists. It also creates local, reactionary terrorism – vigilante gangs whose lack of forethought is matched by their violence.

On the political left, you have the view that this terrorism is solely the creation of the West and that military action is never appropriate. the more conspiratorially minded would suggest that ISIS/Daesh is a creation of the West. That, instead of going to war against ISIS/Daesh, we need to understand the causes, maybe even pander to their views as if they had an equal place at the ideological table. This is to discount the fact that Salafism is a pretty hard-boiled system of thought at this stage. It is far more than a response to victimisation. The main focus of ISIS/Daesh wrath has not really been Westerners, but other Muslim sects and local groups, such as Yazidis and Kurds, with no record of imperialism and domination. In fact, local civilians have been, by far, the greatest victims of their outrages, thus the refugee crisis.

When threatened with war, countries have no choice but to use whatever means are at their disposal to protect their citizens and those who call their country home. War is an abomination, but what do you do when confronted by war from others? There is always a fine line to be tread between civil liberties and protection and in a peaceful society it should always veer towards personal liberty. But in times of war and evidence of real danger from an enemy force? What then? Just stand by and hold out flowers to them?


Placebo responses only help to sate pre-existing views. They do nothing to solve the problem. What we need are cool heads, better intelligence sharing, and intense co-ordination between multiple states. Strategies are needed to identify the ringleaders, destroy their ability to function and, ultimately, eliminate them. If ISIS/Daesh want to play war, then, for certain, our war professionals – generals and military experts – are more adept, more strategic, more networked and better resourced than any rag-tag bunch of terrorists could ever be. In situations such as what we are seeing, we need to let them get on with their jobs with a minimum of political interference.

Ultimately, the crucial objective is not really the elimination of ISIS/Daesh, although this is a necessary pre-condition. It’s the rebuilding afterwords and the creation of a long lasting peace that will allow people to return to their homelands. Hospitals, homes, schools, electricity, water – the basic services of life. Remove the threat, then rebuild. This is the big challenge for the civilised world if the peace is to be permanent.

"Gunman Mural" CC Licenced by Still Burning (Flickr)

“Gunman Mural” CC Licenced by Still Burning (Flickr)

Every second house was daubed with murals of gunmen, hidden by balaclavas, proudly holding their Armalites. Across the city, the murals changed. The only differences were the colours and the slogans.

This was Belfast of the early 1990’s. The men depicted on the walls were adored. Heroes to their communities. To the hard hit residents on both sides of the conflict, the men with guns were their protectors. For a teenager, to be a man with a gun was something to be admired. A career aspiration, as it were.

I’m not sure if the same murals still adorn the gables of Dee Street, the Falls and the Shankill, but no matter. Similar images can be seen today in the Ukraine. In Syria. In Iraq. In Libya. In the Central African Republic. In Israel. In Gaza. Across the world, people are still in thrall to the men with the guns.
Even in more peaceful places, we still honour our gunmen. We commemorate their bravery. We thank our lucky stars we were not born in their time, in their place, when they had little choice but to do or die. We try to forget the horror of what they experienced.
In doing so, we often forget what violence they may have wrought on others, how many lives were lost or destroyed at their hands. As a generation, we pride ourselves on minimising violence, yet we seem to treat the destructive bloodshed of war as some kind of noble exception.

Many studies have pointed to a decline in our long-term love affair with violence. The likelihood of us being killed through violence has greatly diminished in the last thousand years, great wars notwithstanding. Whereas witch burnings, scalpings, torture and beheadings were once commonplace, for most of us they have passed into dim folklore. Today, most countries, there are strong proscriptions against murder, assault, abuse, cruelty and rape. Our moral perspective compels us to be repulsed by such outrages.

And yet war, perhaps the greatest outrage of them all, is still lionised. The martial ceremonies, the pomp, the glamour. TV programmes portray war as the most noble of causes. Movies glamourise it. How quickly we forget the mass-graves, the orphaned children, the torture and unimaginable suffering, the maimings and preventable losses that last lifetimes. War’s legacy is always one of sorrow, hurt and hatred.

We need to grow up as a species and put the war-mongers in their rightful place. In a civilised society, sporting weapons should be as shameful as pedophilia, human trafficking and genital mutilation. When a man picks up a gun to resolve differences, we should see it not as a badge of honour, but as a mark of shame.

I am not so naive as to think this easy to do. Just one gun-toting idiot in a peaceful society is enough to have us all rushing for armed protection. Armies are a necessary evil in the world we live in. Nevertheless, to look at gunmen as glorious, and not as a sign of failure and last resort – that attitude needs to go. We need to end our love affair with the men with the guns. They symbolise nothing more than throw-backs to our brutal, bloodstained origins.

“If people only knew how hard it is to be wounded, to die, they would all be meek and gentle, would not split into parties, would not incite mobs to attack one another, and would not kill. But when they are in good health they know nothing of this. When they are wounded, no-one believes them. When they are dead, they can no longer speak.”

Mihajlo Lalic

(from the German graveyard in La Cambe, Normandy)

This was meant to be the last entry in my 2019 time capsule series, looking at current world issues and how they might develop over the next 10 years, but I think I will add an extra posting tomorrow, and then I’m done. Today I look at some of the after-effects from the Bush era wars.


iraq-warIn 2003, George Bush and Tony Blair marched into Iraq on a wing and a prayer. It was arguably one of the greatest and most avoidable foreign policy blunders in decades. Iraq was a tinder box under the rule of Saddam Hussein, and the first year of occupation was an object lesson in how not to invade a country. By 2005, the “coalition of the willing” were stuck in the middle of a vicious civil war between Sunnis and Shias. Now in 2009, the US is starting to think about pulling its troops out and leaving the region for good. The big question is whether Iraq will manage on its own once the Americans have left, or whether the warring tribes will pick up where they left off. My bet is that it will do just fine. Ten years should tell a lot.


talibanIn 2009, Afghanistan is as close as you will get to witnessing hell on Earth. Afghanistan is the archetypal failed state. Divided up by tribal leaders, it resembles the world as it was back in the 14th Century. It took a bunch of religious madmen – the Taliban – to create a semblance of order in the place until they backed the wrong horse and got ousted by NATO after the 9/11 attacks. Now they are on the resurgence, fed by hordes of uneducated boys crossing over from Pakistan, and whole areas are now back under Taliban control. It is likely that a very large troop increase will be required to establish any sort of security in the country. My guess is that Afghanistan, like Somalia and the Sudan, is a generational problem, and that the militaries of many nations will be based there for decades to come. Reinvigorating failed states could well be one of the most important political and economic challenges of the century.

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