Ireland’s Story Is England’s Story
Just who was St Patrick? Everyone in America has heard his name. But just who was this guy? Well, he is Ireland’s direct link to its ancient past, to the beginning, to Irish roots. The patron saint of Catholic Ireland since around 500 AD, St Patrick was actually a British Isle Celt who lived around 387-493 AD under the fading Roman Empire – 1600 years ago. (The exact dates of his birth and death are unknown; this span is much longer than he could have lived at that time, but he is believed to have died on 17 March.) St Patrick’s Day is the only national holiday in Ireland. There are good reasons for this, not the least of which is that the story of Ireland has many very important lessons for today’s world. This includes the one single reason why our Constitution contains wording requiring a “separation of church and state“. It also begs the question, “Who, exactly, is really “Irish”?”
From the Roman Empire’s Britannia province, a young educated St Patrick returned west to the island of Ireland, first as a Roman-Christian missionary, then as the first bishop to Irish Christians in 431 AD. (Old Irish: Ériu; Irish: Éire; Ancient Greek: Ierne; Roman Latin: Iouernia or Iuverna; English, which added the Germanic “Land”: Ireland.) St. Patrick is best credited for bringing Roman Christianity, Roman organization, and the Latin language to the Irish Celts. (Despite the myth, there’s no evidence that the huge island ever had any snakes to be driven out.) He thus accomplished what the Roman legions did not. The legions had established the northern reaches of the empire in 122 AD with Hadrian’s Wall, a stone fortified line across the island of Britannia. The Romans never conquered the unruly Celtic tribes further north in Scotland or on Ireland to the west. They just ran out of time before their Empire gradually went into steady reverse.
“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” – Winston Churchill.
Filling The Vacuum
By 500 AD, a period referred to today as the early Middle Ages, the orderly Roman Empire was in deep decline, and both Barbarian tribes and Christianity were on the rise in Britannia. The Roman legions gradually faded away, leaving a vacuum behind in its former Britannia province. As the civil and military structure of the Empire receded, its religion remained. In those days there were not nearly as many people as there are today, and life was extremely difficult. People had to figure out how to eke out an existence off the land while also, in the absence of the Roman legions to maintain law and order, defending their families and their land from neighbors and roving bands of bandits called barbarians. Finding strength in numbers, they usually did so by coalescing into large extended families called clans. These clans were loosely linked by a common religion, history and language, and usually organized around a parish church. The church gradually replaced the structure previously provided by the Roman Empire, but was unable to stop conflict among clans or adequately hold off the barbarians. If you believe the Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult, concerning events that transpired around the time that St. Patrick came to Ireland, and the first known legend to be recorded centuries later around 1160, then the Britons were also under assault from Irish clans. (The story is of the tragic love between the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish princess Iseult.) So, for the next 400 years, as Britannia descended into tribal warfare, there was also a tendency for the clans to loosely unite in ever larger groups, holding greater regions of territory, until eventually they formed into a patchwork of regional Christian kingdoms. Most of these smaller kingdoms finally united under one “high king” (Athelstan) in 927. Scotland and Ireland were not originally part of this early kingdom, which was, as was the Roman Empire, very closely intertwined with the separate and largely independent Christian Church of Rome.
When St Patrick arrived in 431, Ireland was a rural society with no cities or towns, divided into five major loose kingdoms of its own. Unfortunately, the effect of St Patrick’s accomplishments in Ireland, with a unifying church structure organized around a common religion and a written language, but without well organized armed defenses, was to eventually create beacons inviting barbarians beyond Britannia, Scotland and Ireland – the marauding Viking slavers. For 200 years beginning in 800 AD, the ruthless Viking barbarians routinely plundered Ireland (as well as Britannia and Scotland) for riches believed held in scholarly monasteries, killed inhabitants by the many thousands just for sheer meanness, and captured many tens of thousands of slaves who could be sold wherever monarchs were willing to pay for them. (The slave trade was routine Multinational Big Business among monarchies all over Europe during the Middle Ages (400-1500 AD).) The continued external threat to Britannia led to ever larger and stronger internal kingdoms for defense, but not so much among the fiercely independent Scots and Irish, who had never experienced Roman civil and military rule. This eventually placed both Scotland and Ireland at a disadvantage to the barbarians and also to the gradually ever stronger Christian kingdom on Britannia.
Viking marauding notwithstanding, after St Patrick spread the word, the Christian Church of Rome flourished throughout the entire Irish island without controversy for a thousand years, a whole millennium – until Britain’s powerful Catholic King Henry VIII decided to dump his wife Catherine in 1530. (Catherine, then 45, was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, who had underwritten the voyages of Christopher Columbus, who died in Spain in 1506 at age 54.) Official recognition by the Church had always been considered as the essential element needed to bestow true legitimacy on any crown. (Without a spiritual authority bestowing legitimacy, anyone could come along and, with brute force or slick chicanery, simply claim the crown as their own – which would relegate all that birthright entitlement stuff to the dustbin of history.) Henry wanted to pass his kingdom down to a legitimately recognized male heir, which, after 24 years of marriage, he lacked. He also wanted a divorce, but the Church in Rome wouldn’t allow it, so Henry, with legal advice provided by Thomas Cromwell, decided that as king he could do whatever he wanted; he annulled his own marriage to Catherine. That one act dramatically changed the course of history. This singular man completely upset fundamentals that had characterized human life in Britannia for 1500 years.
Those who change the rules to better suit themselves inevitably set free forces that have unintended consequences, and the consequences of Henry’s action were profound indeed. Henry wanted a male heir to consolidate the future of his dynasty, but Catherine had been unable to deliver a male child. When Henry grew impatient, he grew ever more bold, including making overtures first to Mary Boleyn and then to her unfortunate bright sister Anne – who rejected him unless she became queen. (Just 70 years later Shakespeare would record these events with stark reality in very gripping drama.) As he knew it would, Henry’s secular annulment of a spiritually sanctified marriage led to the king’s expulsion from the Church of Rome. Having solved the “problem” of marriage, but still needing a spiritual authority to bestow legitimacy on the crown, the king then established in 1534 the Church of England, with King Henry as its head. Voila! Instant “legitimacy”. Church and state became one, both ruled by the same dictatorial tyrant – who had set up himself, and his crown, as singular secular and spiritual authority in all the land. There was now nothing on Earth that could present a legal case to oppose or restrain the authority of this one person to do whatever he and his heirs wanted to do, in any province. Henry could now sanctify not only his own marriage, but also his own crown, and anything else, too; it was the ultimate supremacy of unassailable birthright entitlement, of absolute despotism.
There’s an important philosophical concept involved here, a concept that is fundamental to all religions. That concept holds that certain state authority over others, such as the authority to deprive subjects or citizens of life or liberty, derives only from an authority higher than man, from a god. Such is the basis of the “ten commandments”, also fundamental to many religions. But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the concept. As the religion then dominant throughout western Europe, Christian Catholicism held that the pope was the officially ordained representative of god on Earth, and thus a conduit of authority from god. Without such concepts, concepts that were accepted by most humans, any tyrant who came along would feel completely unconstrained in executing any atrocity on others they wished. Human history is full of such examples, and the period of the Middle Ages was no exception. It was the perpetual warring and brutal atrocities among European groups and countries, long after the disappearance of the ancient Roman Empire, that the Church was attempting to stanch under one set of broad principles deriving from god as the Middle Ages transitioned to the period of Renaissance in Italy and spread to northern Europe. This concept is fundamental to the “unalienable rights” articulated in our Constitution. Those rights are “unalienable” because they do not derive from man, who could then also withdraw them, but from a god higher than man, and thus can only be withdrawn by that god. It’s important to note that the ten commandments apply to all humans, that they make no distinction among races, genders, social positions, nationalities, or any other artificial label. Once you start denying the existence of a god above man, of setting up a ruler as his own authority over all things, you are on a direct path to unrestrained tyranny (as became the case under a number of rulers of the ancient pre-Christian Roman Empire).
Since the pope in Rome, speaking through the Church, had considered all available evidence and authorized Catherine’s marriage to Henry, and sanctified it in god’s name, the Church could not withdraw that authority simply because she had not borne a male heir. There was no such small print in the original contract. Catherine had been crowned as Queen, the ordained wife of King Henry, and women have the same unalienable rights under god’s law as do men. But the concept is a belief structure, not backed up by any universal enforcing power. So Henry decided to reject it, and replace it with his own concept. Under that new concept, Catherine was divorced and Henry turned to Anne Boleyn.
So Anne’s demand was met when Henry made her his new queen. But Anne, now 34, as had long been clear, was not such a compliant queen, and she, too, failed to deliver a son to Henry. Clever Anne simply proved herself too adept at scheming for her, and England’s, own good. The principled mind of philosopher Sir Thomas More was extinguished, Catherine died, Anne was beheaded, and Henry moved on to Jane Seymour, 28. But the course of the next 400 years of history far beyond the king’s court was already set in motion by the forced union of church and state under one secular ruler – a ruler who could bestow his own legitimacy on his own crown and thus could do whatever he wanted to do with deference to no one or with no greater consideration. Henry now had an endless list of rights, and his only responsibility was to himself and his own crown. And this new concept of total power, of unearned birthright entitlement over both church and state, could be passed down through his heirs. (The martyr Thomas More, who almost alone among his contemporaries refused to betray his principles, was finally canonised by the Catholic Church 400 years later in 1935.)
One of Henry’s (1491-1547) equally famous Renaissance contemporaries was Michelangelo (1475-1564). While Henry was seeking a new wife in London, in Rome Michelangelo was painting for Pope Clement VII “The Last Judgement” (1534-41) on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, beneath the magnificent ceiling he had painted earlier (1508-12) for Pope Julius II. In 1503, Pope Julius had issued a dispensation allowing Henry VIII to marry Catherine of Aragon, who had previously been briefly married to Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur. Arthur had died, but she maintained that she had remained a virgin for the six months of the marriage, a claim accepted by Julius. When Henry later sought to have his marriage to Catherine annulled to free him to marry Anne Boleyn, claiming that the dispensation should never have been issued, it was the successor Pope Clement who refused to grant the annulment – and sent Henry on his own course. As Henry descended into ever greater tyrannical madness, Michelangelo was designing (1536-46), for Clement’s successor, Pope Paul III, Rome’s magnificent Capitoline Hill and the marble pedestal (1538) for the giant ancient bronze statue of the philosopher soldier, Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), unarmed astride his splendid war horse in the Piazza del Campidoglio. Michelangelo, devoted to his work, never married, and left no heirs; his glorious creations, however, still stand as those of one of the greatest artists of all time.
All of that story of Henry, of course, is “ancient history”, easily researched and masterfully told in greater and more intimate detail by Mr. Shakespeare. (From my perspective, Robert Bolt’s 1960 play “A Man For All Seasons”, which focuses on Sir Thomas More, is a better story.) What is not so well known, even by those directly descended from those who experienced it, is what followed Henry’s supreme arrogance – in Ireland.
“Every group in America has always demanded that I learn their story, but no one has ever shown interest in mine.” – Irish-American Soldier.
No longer needing, and having negated, the authority of the Church of Rome throughout his realm, this egotistical and ravenous tyrant then had to consolidate his shaky kingdom behind special deals with noble clans all over the land. He did this chiefly by allowing the aristocracy to seize economic and political power – and property – from the Church of Rome in Britannia. Henceforth any spiritual authority needed to legitimize anything would emanate from the Church of England, from Henry. (The new Church of England retained most of the Catholic teachings, was later altered by the Protestant Reformation, and remains today the officially established Christian Church in England – almost five centuries later.) This sudden dramatic change of official religions – by secular official decree – in the British Isles did not bode well for the future of Catholic Ireland. Probably due to both shock and fear, the British crown’s split with Rome was accomplished rather decisively in England, Wales and Scotland, but didn’t go down so well with the Irish, who doggedly clung to their own religion, the one established for them a millennium earlier by St Patrick, who himself had taken his authority from the Church in Rome, not from the King in Britannia. The actions of Henry foretold the beginning of over 400 years of British oppression of the Irish, first via the hand-picked British nobility installed in Ireland after Henry declared himself also Lord of Ireland in 1542. Essentially, they just moved in and took over. That aristocracy was determined to eradicate the Catholic Church from Ireland and install the official Church of England, and thus also the Crown of England, in its place – by any means necessary. But, thanks largely to the teachings handed down for a thousand years from St. Patrick, the Irish were not so compliant with such intentions. So it was an oppression that gradually became ever more ruthless and systematic, a steady tightening of the screws, literally ingrained over time into British culture. That oppression, executed without challenge over such a very long period, became the widely accepted “normal” course of supremely arrogant British aristocratic behavior, “the natural order of things”.
When the English tell their story, they always leave out the shameful parts.
It all began with “The Dissolution” of Catholic monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland (See Footnote #1) under Henry until he died in 1547, and went into overdrive under Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Beneath these tyrants were such infamous barbarians as Thomas Cromwell (1st Earl of Essex), Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother Humphrey Gilbert (Earl Of Essex), Baron Lord Grey de Wilton and chief torturer Richard Topcliffe. These people set the tone of British treatment of the Irish for the next 400 years, and their methods in Ireland were every bit as ruthlessly brutal, murderous and genocidal as those of today’s Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS. (Footnote #1 contains a few examples of the bloody British barbarity employed against the native Catholics in Ireland during the first 100 years from 1535 to 1635, which were nearly identical to those employed by ISIS today; until very recent times it was extremely rare to see such accounts authored by British citizens.) Most things that happen in the human universe are “new” only to those who don’t know history; that’s why they keep happening over and over.
While the Crown’s slaughters, beheadings and indiscriminate terror tactics were underway, the first century-long process also involved the importation of many non-Catholic Scottish, Welsh and English “settlers”, who forcibly displaced the native Irish, mainly in the Irish province of Ulster, but also elsewhere in Ireland wherever it was most advantageous for the British crown. This part of the process was not unlike that which accompanied the spread of colonies underwritten by European nobility throughout the New World; one underlining purpose was that “superior” Europeans who were “planted” in the New World would gradually proliferate and displace, by any means necessary, any native inhabitants who happened to be in the way of arrogant European aristocratic expansionism. The consequences of the process were then allowed to fester ever after. This whole strategy in Ireland was undertaken with considerable deliberation. The crown could not simply exterminate all those native Irish who refused to bend to its will because the British needed large numbers of people to grow and harvest the food and other natural resources, including timber, required by the steadily growing British power. Those who were directly killed in Ireland were usually those involved, or “believed to be involved”, in some act of “rebellion”. But the principles that the British aristocracy – a self-serving birthright entitled nobility answerable to no authority above itself – applied to the Irish have been adopted by despots in the modern world ever since. It was the British aristocracy’s “plantations” in Catholic Ireland, manned by native landless Irish serfs, that led directly to the British colony “plantations” in the American South, intended to supplant the native population, and manned by imported black African slaves.
The Irish thus have been fervently opposed to British crown rule since around 1540 when the crown began moving non-Catholic “settlers” (or “colonists”) in to strategically “plant” them in Ireland and thus supplant the Irish-Catholic natives. Ireland became an exploited colony, a local manifestation of the colonies then being developed in the New World. Humans were seeded crops. The intent was that these favored imported people, eventually assisted by powerful security forces and an elaborate system of discriminatory laws, would then flourish and proliferate and crowd out the impoverished natives, quickly turning a majority into a minority more easily controlled, exploited or extinguished, all while using Irish labor for their own purposes. The period eventually led, predictably, as do all such externally imposed discriminatory ethnic and economic dictates, to repeated rebellions and “troubles” – a very long era of deadly armed insurgency against an arrogant superior power incessantly imposing its will on an unwilling “different” population. And it was all executed in the interest of nothing more than a favored religion.
So, in 16th and 17th century Ireland, the summary confiscation of land by the government of England and the colonization of that land with imported settlers was a process known as “Plantations”. This systematic “ethnic cleansing” was primarily driven by religious differences – one officially-promoted religion of the crown in England, and another religion based in Rome to which the British crown was opposed. (America was colonized mostly by people seeking to achieve a distinct separation of church and state, so that all might follow their own religious faith of choice free of state dictate. By the mid-18th century, the case of Ireland figured prominently in the civic, secular, thinking that went into creating American democracy in the 1780s.) The “Plantations” were intended to “pacify” and “Anglicize” Catholic Ireland under British Anglican crown rule, a rule which recognized only its own Church of England. But they also had very important economic intentions beneficial to the aristocracy.
The “Plantations” were established throughout Ireland by the confiscation of lands owned and occupied by Gaelic clans, but principally in the provinces of Munster and Ulster (northern Ireland). The confiscated lands were then granted by Crown authority to colonists (“planters”), people who were often, but not always, forced to emigrate. (This was confiscation by the state of private lands to be transferred to other private entities for the benefit of both the new owners and the state – a despicable process that has in recent times been copied by various state interests in America – which has a Constitution that sanctifies the inviolable right of personal property.) (See Footnote #2.) Munster and Ulster are Irish provinces closest to Scotland and Wales, and the crown intended to establish population strongholds there from which they could move similarly against the remainder of the island. This century-long process began during the reign of Henry VIII in 1540 and continued, during Shakespeare’s life, under Mary I and Elizabeth I – ironically the daughters, respectively, of Catherine and the very same Anne Boleyn for whom Henry VIII had set everything in motion for want of a male heir. (See Footnote #3.) The human plantations were accelerated under James I, Charles I and Oliver Cromwell until 1658, a century later.
(As if the British and their forced plantations were not enough, there were also the Muslim Barbary pirates who plagued coastal Europe not only along the Mediterranean Sea but also on the Atlantic Ocean, peaking during the first half of the 17th century. In 1631, for example, the coastal market town of Baltimore in County Cork was sacked by pirates from Algeria and Morocco (under marginal control of the Turkish Ottoman Empire) and their small, long and lean but very fast galley- and sail-powered corsairs. (See Footnote #4.) A Calvinist member of the British aristocracy, with authority granted by King James I, had set up a British colony there in 1605 to use Irish labor to exploit the huge schools of lucrative sardines (pilchards) that populate the nearby waters. Over 100 of the small town’s inhabitants were kidnapped and taken back to northern Africa, where they, as was customary, were sold into slavery. Some lived out their lives as galley slaves while others spent years in the Sultan’s harem or as laborers in the Sultan’s palace; only two or three of them ever made their way back to Ireland. The town’s few survivors fled to towns further inland, and Baltimore for generations remained deserted. But for Ireland the worst was to commence just 18 years after the sacking of Baltimore – the beginning of the second century of British oppression of the native Irish.)
The early plantations in the 16th century tended to be based on small colonies. The later plantations were based on mass confiscations of land from Irish clans and landowners and the subsequent importation of large numbers of settlers from Scotland, England and Wales as members of the Church of England. (Those originally transplanted from Scotland to Ulster, who then immigrated to America, later specifically identified themselves in America as “Scotch-Irish” to purposefully and emphatically distinguish themselves from the huge wave of totally impoverished Catholic “Famine-Irish” “sub-humans” in the mid-19th century. The British-favored Scotch-Irish had arrived in America earlier, did not suffer concerted discrimination, and by mid-19th century had attained a level of economic standing in America similar to the immigrants who had come from England; these Scotch-Irish then joined in as participants in the concerted anti-Catholic-Irish bigotry in America. It all had become an integral part of the “superior” “mentality” emanating from the British aristocracy behind the Church of England vis à vis the “sub-human” Irish followers of Roman Catholicism. “Planters”, of course, originally imported from Scotland, Wales and Britannia, benefited greatly from this British aristocratic mind-set.)
Oliver Cromwell was a passionately anti-Catholic descendent of the Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII’s court who had profited so handsomely by confiscating Roman Catholic church property during the English “Reformation” – until Henry had him executed in 1540. His heirs, of course, retained his property. A century later, Oliver Cromwell overthrew the British monarchy and established the quite brief Commonwealth in 1649 (which lasted only until his death ten years later). Before his time ran out, however, Cromwell immediately seized the opportunity to end his impatience with the slow progress of “pacification” of the Irish. Shortly after the first black African slaves were introduced into British “plantation” colonies in the New World (Virginia, 1619), as one of his very first acts in 1649, Cromwell executed his “final solution” and led what amounted to a militant religious genocidal invasion of Ireland. In Britain, Cromwell is revered as a “Roundhead” champion of the rights of man over the oppressive excesses of monarchy. But Cromwell, interested only in the rights of British men, and under the same Puritan Reformation “In God We Trust” banner of his victory at Naseby against the crown, saw no irony or hypocrisy at all in imposing even far greater oppressive excesses on other men in the name of the Church of England, a state-church that was now a fundamentalist theocratic Puritan dictatorship.
The Brits were getting really good at using religion as the pretext to subjugate others to their ruthless will even as they championed the rights of their own. Whether ruling kings or “free men”, it was still the same old “me” tyranny of the self-anointed “special” people, as Cromwell’s troops “pacified and civilized” Ireland, where in his eyes existed only Gaelic “wild Irish”, “unreasonable beasts lived without any knowledge of God or good manners, in common of their goods, cattle, women, children and every other thing,” i.e., sub-human animals existing in squalor with filth and beast. It mattered not to people like Cromwell that the Irish matched such descriptions solely as a consequence of a century of ruthless British oppression and ethnic cleansing, i.e., this British jerk was ridiculing a condition other Brits had created. Cromwell capitalized on the fact that Ireland is an island and thus easily surrounded by a powerful naval force – a force largely built with Irish timber. His military forces quickly captured the “Irish army” and executed all 2,800 of its members. Three years later all of Ireland had been taken over by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. In less than ten years one-third of Ireland’s population had died in wars, plague and famine, and the Irish by 1660 were groveling in utter subjugation of the British invaders. Cromwell, the British champion of British rights, was to others the Hitler and Stalin of his day, literally steeped in Irish blood.
Cromwell then actually enforced illiteracy on the Irish population and sold many tens of thousands of Irish into slavery in the West Indies (Caribbean) colonies maintained by Spanish, French, Dutch and British monarchies. (See Footnote #5.) Most of the rest were forced to work as serfs on Irish land now owned by the British-installed nobility and their imported “colonists”. Thereafter the Irish subsisted mainly on a diet of potatoes because the plant was easy to cultivate, and a small plot rented from a noble landowner could feed a large family. Rent was paid in labor and produce, not currency, of which the serfs had none. A typical “tenant farmer” and his family lived in a windowless mud hut with a thatched roof and dirt floor, often shared with pigs and chickens, the miserable conditions causing diseases and very high infant mortality rates. Such conditions barely improved for the next 250 years – until the beginning of the 20th century – and there was very small likelihood of such humble abodes surviving for study by later archeologists.
The final official “plantations” took place under Oliver Cromwell’s English Commonwealth during the 1650s, when thousands of Parliamentarian soldiers were also settled in Ireland. In addition to the plantations, significant migration into Ireland continued well into the late-18th century, from both Britain and continental Europe, migration strongly encouraged and facilitated by the British nobility in which the native Catholic Irish had no say. The systematic plantations forcibly changed the demography of Ireland by creating large favored communities with a British Protestant identity – a strongly stratified caste system dividing the island into three very distinct groups of landowner British aristocracy and favored colonists lording over a permanent underclass of subjugated landless “sub-human” native serfs. These communities effectively opposed the interests of the native inhabitants, who had, and still have, despite everything, a strong Irish and Roman Catholic identity. Cromwell died in 1658, and two years later the crown and its church were restored in England (Charles II), but in Ireland the extreme excesses of Cromwell had taken on a life of their own. The more the British pushed, the more the Irish resisted, but where the plantations left off, the laws took over.
During a period of general economic hardship, removing large numbers of people from one area to populate another area can cause increased hardship in the area of origin. There are limits to how much such “plantation” tactics can be employed without unintended consequences among the losing population, especially if it’s accomplished too rapidly. Besides, some people are not too eager to migrate to a place frequently witness to violent strife, and the nobility needed people to be similarly planted in newly claimed lands elsewhere, especially in the “New World”. So, as slavery gradually grew in the British New World colonies, a different strategy was needed for Ireland, one that could achieve the desired results faster and without significant new plantations. In Ireland it wasn’t necessary to import slaves; all that was needed was to transform the plentiful natives into serfs – who had neither value or cost to the “planted” “special” people. Furthermore, when you seize land to give to others, it’s better if you can do it within a framework of “laws” that can be cited in titles and similar documents, even if the laws themselves are simply dictates and even if their application is retroactive.
After the “Plantations”, a series of oppressive “Penal Laws”, begun in 1695, was decreed as equal parts of the determined effort to bring all of Catholic Ireland under the Protestant English government politics, economy and religion. Though the laws also affected small numbers of imported Scotch adherents of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (concentrated in Ulster), their principal victims were the wealthier, landed Irish members of the Roman Catholic Church, who comprised over 75% of the people on the island in 1500 (before Henry). The main intended purpose of the Penal Laws was to facilitate the “conversion” or dispossession of the landed Catholic population. This anti-Catholic legislation had a pronounced effect for over two centuries, ultimately by 1728 disenfranchising the richer majority of the Irish population, who remained Roman Catholic, and most Scottish settlers in Ulster, who were Presbyterian, in favor of the members of the much smaller British-promoted official Protestant Church of Ireland, an imposed extension of the Church of England.
A penal law today takes its definition from this history: “A statute enacted (or proclaimed) to proscribe a certain offense against the public at large or against another person; imposing a penalty for violation.” The Penal Laws singled out a specific group for different treatment under penalty of fine or imprisonment, or worse. The full intent of the original British crown Penal Laws was to remove all political and social power and economic resources from the native Catholic Irish population – which would in turn reduce their funding of the Catholic churches, which would then result in the collapse of the Catholic religion in Ireland and place the whole country and its population under firm undisputed British ownership and control with a whole population of landless subservient labor. The laws, for example, barred Catholic Irish from carrying arms, inheriting or buying property, sending children abroad for education, or even teaching in a school. As many immigrants coming to America today know only so well, the first key to such ruthless despotism by self-anointed “elitists” is to criminalize the private ownership of arms; from there anything is possible. Once people no longer have a means to defend themselves, any atrocity can by imposed on them at will. (See Footnote #6.)
Upon death, a Catholic person’s land could not be passed down to his children, but could only be “purchased” by a non-Catholic. The Catch-22 here, of course, is that the Irish could not own money or property, so the “purchase price” was usually incredibly inventive (i.e., outright theft). The “sale price” was usually an ability to continue to reside on and work a parcel of land for a set period. Economic disenfranchisement was easily accomplished by prohibiting Catholic Irish from even possessing currency. Laws actually enforced Catholic illiteracy (which gave rise to the many verbal “histories”, songs, stories, myths and legends that came to characterize the culture, even though very many of them eventually lost their original meaning down through centuries of re-telling). Think about that for a moment: It was actually against the law for the Irish to educate their own children, even to teach them to read and write. While the Penal Laws did eventually make disenfranchised and uneducated paupers of over 95% of the Irish population, they had no effect on reducing the number of Irish who retained the Catholic faith and supported the Catholic churches. Conversion from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism occurred rarely and sporadically, almost always among the surviving gentry via marriage in order to keep the remaining family lands as intact as possible under the circumstances.
The Plantations had a profound impact on Ireland in many ways, but chiefly through the destruction of the native upper classes and their replacement with a British Protestant landowner aristocracy. The accompanying Penal Laws denied political representation and most land-owning rights to native Catholics, which automatically relegated Catholics to the very bottom rung of Irish society, in their own country. In 1641, near the end of the century of plantations, Catholics still owned half the land in Ireland (a decline from over 75% before Henry), but by 1776, when the American Declaration of Independence was signed 135 years later, the continuing Penal Laws had reduced Catholic land ownership in Ireland to less than 5%. The Penal Laws ensured that Irish serfs had no arms, no currency, no property, no education, no wealth, no power and no rights. Ireland had been transformed into something between serfdom and slavery, a calculated slavery without the responsibility of human “property ownership”, and all without Catholic Irish political representation. Nearly a whole country and its people had been “legally stolen” by official decree, by a state seeking to destroy the existing church and impose its own church on the people of Ireland under a British state. Ireland and almost all of its property had been systematically confiscated by a forced invasion of “planted” humans for their own political, religious and economic interests, and the Catholic Irish were reduced to groveling derelicts barely existing from hand to mouth. Ireland was one huge “plantation” of a small imported birthright entitled nobility class and their favored imported colonists ruling ruthlessly over a large population of native “sub-human” serfs.
This was Ireland when the United States of America was born.
And those shaping America and its Constitution were well aware of it.
Consider what American “terrorists” did when they got upset about British taxes.
After two centuries of British oppression, deprivation and slaughter in Ireland, the view in nascent 18th century fields of anthropology and paleoanthropology of Africans as “sub-human” grew directly out of the British view of the Irish as similarly “sub-human”, i.e., not sufficiently developed to be considered of “our species” — a view which made the traffic in other humans somehow more “palatable”. British “scientists” took their bigoted views of the Irish and transposed them on what they were then “learning” of fossils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is indeed pathetically ironic that this 18th century period (1715-90) is viewed as “The Enlightenment”. Without such ingrained, pervasive and officially sanctioned British bigotry there probably would have been no slavery in America.
In America, the surrender of British colonial administrator Charles Cornwallis to General George Washington at Yorktown Virginia in 1781 marked the end of British aristocratic rule of the American colonies and the birth of the free and independent United States of America. The French, especially with their navy, had assisted the Americans in defeating the British superpower, but Cornwallis was allowed to sail away with his remaining military forces and many American allies such as Benedict Arnold. Sailing away with Cornwallis were also 100,000 American colonial “loyalists” who had thrown their lot in with the wrong side of history. (For “northern” Ireland later, it was not as if there was no precedent for British “plantations” to depart from lands they no longer ruled.) The failure to put down the rebellion in America and the loss of the vast American colonies came as a great shock to the British nobility, but Cornwallis managed to survive and 17 years later seized an opportunity to avenge his humiliation in America. After successes as Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in the India colony, in 1798 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant and Commander-in-Chief in the Ireland colony. As had the American colonists, the Irish, using whatever weapons they could steal or construct, had gone into armed rebellion against their British rulers, and the French had also come to the aid of the Irish. (French assistance first to the Americans and then the Irish was always a smaller part of the greater wars waged between the two great powers, of French efforts to defeat the British monarchy.)
The United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group led by Wolfe Tone and influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions, were the main organizing force behind the 1798 rebellion. But Ireland is a small island, easily confined by a superior naval force, and the Americans, just ten years after a ratified US Constitution gave birth to a new nation still lacked a potent navy (and now also lacked a brilliant Benjamin Franklin), and did not join the Irish-French effort. (Such rebellions have always been significantly complicated and hampered by the existence of Scottish, Welsh and British “colonists” long planted in positions of power among and over the native Irish; since such rebellions threatened their favored position and power, they were unlikely to support the rebels, and in fact could be expected to undermine their efforts while supporting the crown’s campaigns against them.) Cornwallis, with a professional ground force of over 60,000, quickly defeated the French and Irish forces, and ordered the summary execution of many of the Irish rebels. Estimated Irish-French combatant and civilian deaths were 10,000-50,000, but small insurgency scrimmages continued for years afterward. Nevertheless, thanks to Cornwallis, at the beginning of the 1800s, when Thomas Jefferson was the American President, Britain was again in unchallenged oppressive rule over the Irish colony, and the Irish had been even further beaten down, their remaining able-bodied fighters nearly obliterated. Despite the history, the principles, and the affinity, America had not come to the aid of the Irish.
It all came together forty years later, in mid-19th century, when events in America were inexorably leading to civil war and an agricultural calamity struck the Emerald Isle. The “Famine-Irish” emigrants of the 1830s through 1870s were driven out of their homeland by ruthless British oppression, systematic property confiscation and disenfranchisement, purposefully deadly “work houses” and “poor houses” (euphemisms for poverty or paupers’ prisons), disease and poverty, and the devastating potato famine – that together were routinely killing the landless Irish by the tens of thousands. Many believed that the mass deaths were intentional. When people became unable to pay their debts, usually ‘produce rents’ owed to landowners, they got tossed in prison, where they were unable to earn what was needed to pay off their debts and gain their release; it was another Catch-22 of the day, when debts could not be paid with currency but only through labor. The best modern description for these work houses is concentration camp barracks, where 40 or 50 people occupied one room, slept on wooden shelves affixed to the walls, and shared a common open latrine. The barracks were filthy, dim, cool, damp and drafty. The prisons became disease-ridden forced labor camps. In the mid-1800s, during the great famine, many people became homeless when Irish serfs or “sharecroppers” defaulted on loans, usually when nobility lenders raised rental rates, usually paid with produce, even as crops failed. What was even worse is the fact that the Irish peasants still produced more than enough food for their country, but the nobles who owned the land, and thus also the crops, exported most of the produce to Britain for greater profit. The Irish farmers and their families quickly ended up in paupers’ prisons and work houses, where they died by the many thousands from disease and malnutrition. It was all the British precursor of ‘The Final Solution’ which others later in Russia and then Germany copied with greater efficiency for their own self-serving purposes – and which the sanctimonious British condemned with customary self-righteous vigor.
To avoid any costly responsibility for their Irish subjects, driven into permanent and ever worsening poverty and servitude, and now dying by the thousands, the British, and especially the aristocracy, along with the imported colonial landowners, kept reducing them in their own minds to ever lower levels of humanity. The American and French revolutions, and the American Constitution, long before the famine hit, had sent powerful warning shots across the bows of every monarch in Europe, and still the British crown didn’t get it. (It would take World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Irish War Of Independence during the early 20th century to finally drive the point home in Britain, but not without very strong British resistance – resistance that persisted through the end of the 20th century.) (See Footnote #7.) The Irish were rendered penniless uneducated sub-human serfs in their own country and very rapidly lost another quarter of their population.
In a little over two centuries, almost a whole nation had been systematically stolen through official fiat. The vast majority of the population, now poor “tenant farmers” or agricultural laborers, were further burdened by the tithing system in which a percentage of crops had to be paid to the local British Protestant clergyman. The tenant farmers did so even as they voluntarily also similarly supported their local Catholic priest and church. Gaelic Irish culture was sidelined, and English replaced Irish as the language of power and business. Ireland’s native woodland was decimated, having been intensively exploited by the new “settlers” (or “colonists” or “planters”) for lucrative commercial ventures such as shipbuilding. Almost all of Ireland was integrated into a market economy — although most of the native Irish had no access to money, still paying their rents in kind (produce or commodities labor) or in other forms of labor (such as making crates or barrels). The only thing the Irish owned was their marginal and rapidly declining ability to work. When the great famine began in 1845, the stage was set for catastrophe in which the people had no capability to help themselves and the ruling British and imported “planters” saw no responsibility toward the hated Irish “sub-human” peasants they had created.
This was Ireland when the American Civil War grew on the horizon and millions of starving Irish boarded slave ships to escape certain death in their homeland. The great Irish exodus had begun. With so many Americans today proudly claiming “Irish” heritage, the only relevant question is whether that heritage derives from native inhabitants, planted occupiers, or aristocratic rulers. There is a world of difference among the three, and most, but certainly not all, of those who came to America were those purposefully created “sub-human” native serfs deliberately driven out of their own homeland by the others in the name of British religion, greed and power. And all those from Ireland who immigrated to America definitely did not start on an equal footing or face the same path forward. It is the latter two groups who later had a vested interest in clouding over the true history involved, in burying the truth in vagueness, supposition and propaganda.
Ireland lost another quarter of her population. (See “Irish In America“, posted separately.) Conditions improved little over the next fifty years, well into the next century.
Irish War Of Independence (1919-22)
The Bolshevik Revolution (1917), which overthrew the Russian monarchy, had taken place while the senseless World War I (1914-1919) still raged (and while very many Irish soldiers filled the British ranks). The Russian Bolsheviks had experienced too much senseless slaughter of their own soldiers as a consequence of their incompetent aristocratic “leaders”, who cared nothing of either them or the people. They immediately withdrew from the war, so they were not included later in the armistice talks in Paris. People’s revolution, Marxism, rebellion, communist philosophy, independence and insurgency were all in the air, everywhere, including in America, for the next quarter of the century – right up to World War II. And nothing was more responsible for it than blind arrogant aristocracy, birthright entitlement rule by “elitists”. As the World War I aristocratic peace talks droned on in Paris, the fire was lit, too, in Ireland.
The Irish had mounted many “rebellions” in past centuries, including shortly after the American colonists had succeeded with their own rebellion in 1789, but aristocratic World War I, with its incredibly massive death and destruction, finally provided the impetus, hatred, weapons, training, philosophy and dedication needed for a full-scale revolution. The Irish during the first decades of the 20th century now had many of the necessary tools, including enough food to feed themselves, but they still lacked sufficient manpower, wealth and expertise for a credible conventional army. So they used their only option, the “great equalizer” against superior conventional forces – unconventional warfare. The heaviest of the fighting began in 1916 and continued for the next seven years. Still, native Irish “troubles” and “rebellions”, of course, had always been undermined from the start by the favored descendants of Scotch, Welsh and British colonists who had been “planted” in Ireland earlier and now had positions of privilege and wealth to protect and also by assorted cowards, traitors and informers seeking personal profit from collaboration with the British.
The Easter Rising (or Easter Rebellion), led by Patrick Pearse, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during April 1916. The Rising was launched in Dublin by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while England was heavily engaged in World War I. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the failed rebellion of 1798. But a critical problem with the Easter Rising was the inexperience of the rebels. Their thinking was entirely “conventional”. They seized ground and tried to hold it. Such thinking against superior conventional forces is doomed before it even begins. So it’s a better argument to theorize that those involved in the Easter Rising sacrificed themselves in order to galvanize far greater support for their cause among the native Irish. The rebels also suffered from inadequate intelligence before they acted. They could have taken Dublin castle, the seat of British governmental power in Ireland, but thought it was much more heavily defended at that moment than it actually was. So they opted to take the post office building instead. Still, in the end, it was irrelevant whether those in the Easter Rising took the castle or the post office (except that they probably could have learned more from files maintained in the castle before failing). They were occupying ground they had no hope of holding. But the Irish learned that lesson very well indeed. The subsequent IRA was an entirely unconventional, and very effective, force.
With much greater numbers (17,000) and heavier weapons, including artillery, plus a number of mass atrocities, the British Army inflicted heavy casualties and quickly suppressed the Rising. Over 54% of the deaths were innocent civilians (260), 26% were British forces (which, as always, included Irish soldiers), 16% were Irish rebel forces, and 7% were police. After the surrender the country remained under martial law, and about 3,500 Irish were taken prisoner, many of whom had played no part in the Rising. Over 1,800 of them were sent to internment camps or prisons in Britain. Fifteen of the leaders of the Rising were executed by the British under General John Maxwell following courts-martial in which the rebels, not recognizing British military authority, refused to defend themselves. The Easter Rising failed, but it did succeed in solidifying Irish opposition to continued ruthless rule and military occupation of their homeland. With continued sporadic fighting and various deadly “incidents”, three years later the Irish gave it another major try.
Conventional forces habitually err in the way they handle prisoners taken during insurrections. The natural tendency is to treat such prisoners in harsh or brutal ways that degrade and humiliate, in ways that foster the impression of “sub-humans” ruled over by powerful superiors, in ways that make any possible common ground between the two sides impossible. Most insurrections begin as disorganized mass uprisings by normal disparate citizens, most of whom don’t even know, much less trust, each other. Prison camps bring these people, already known to be predisposed to oppose the conventional forces, together in closed environments with a unifying identity (imprisoned enemies of the foreign power) – where leaders emerge, organization is formed, communications are shaped, strategy is crafted, and methods are taught and learned – right under the noses of their jailers and tormentors. This is what turns insurgency interment camps into full-fledged “universities of revolution“. Unless the conventional force is very sophisticated in the way it deals with its prisoners, often in intelligent ways that are counter-intuitive, these prison camps indeed will constitute basic and advanced training camps, graduating the core cadre of potent enemy unconventional armies upon their eventual release. (US Army military police, mostly state National Guard units, repeated this British error in Iraq 2003-07, when they ignored previously published Army doctrine on the handling of prisoners. The Regular Army assumed that the National Guard MPs knew what they were doing. That proved a false assumption; many were, in fact, hardly more professional than shopping mall rent-a-cops, with guns. Such mistakes always prove very costly later, not to the rear-area jailers, but to conventional combat ground forces.) Britain held those it regarded as second-tier leaders of the Easter Rising for two years; a year after their release their numbers had greatly swelled and they were ready to act as a military force.
The Irish War of Independence was a potent clandestine guerrilla war mounted by the unconventional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the British crown government and its conventional military occupation forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, two months after the end of World War I hostilities, following the Irish Republic’s declaration of independence. Guerrilla leader Michael Collins, who had been imprisoned for his role in the Easter Rising, was the main driving force behind the independence movement. Collins, a natural charismatic leader, had come out of two years in British prison with a rather sophisticated view of Ireland’s military realities, plus a solid foundation in methods, tactics and strategy for overcoming those realities. The British maintained their iron rule of the island with an overwhelming conventional military power, which itself was significantly supported by an extensive intelligence, surveillance and informer program maintained by police and security forces. In January 1919, British military forces were still at peak strength for World War I requirements, and could now divert those forces at will from France to Ireland.
Collins’ first step was to make it deadly costly for anyone cooperating with police as spies, collaborators or informants. His ruthless war against informants was a calculated effort to blind his enemy and sow fear of the unknown in the British forces and in any who would support their efforts. The Easter Rising had clearly demonstrated that it was useless to challenge that military, with its abundant equipment, firepower and reinforcements, conventionally. But a blinded superior conventional military was a much easier opponent for an inferior force fighting unconventionally, and could be goaded and tricked into using its strengths against itself, mainly by overusing its power. Collins and his irregular guerrilla forces employed mostly small unit hit-and-run tactics that inflicted maximum damage before effective retaliation could be mounted. An IRA irregular force of about 15,000 faced about 20,000 British Regulars plus another 15,000 British auxiliary forces. (See Footnote #8.) So in manpower alone the British military machine out-numbered the Irish irregular revolutionaries by more than two-to-one, and that machine could be readily replenished. But the more damage the IRA inflicted on the British, the more the British responded with excessive power – which steadily eroded support for the British locally and internationally, while also steadily increasing support for the IRA. As whole city blocks were reduced to rubble, well over half of the casualties inflicted by the British were innocent civilians. This, in turn, steadily eroded support for British military efforts even among British voters. The Irish were obviously willing to pay very high prices for their freedom, and British tactics were steadily increasing their opponents’ resolve, support and strength. As usually happens in such situations, the superior conventional forces were steadily becoming their own worst enemy.
(There is only one way possible to realistically challenge a single military superpower, and that way is unconventionally. In fact, logic dictates that the mere existence of a single superpower guarantees that the only types of wars that will challenge it will be unconventional wars. This logic dictates, in turn, that the conventional superpower be fully capable of also waging inevitable unconventional warfare. History is full of errors in logic on both counts, usually due to unwarranted arrogance on the part of the conventional power.)
Unconventional warfare has available a very wide range of methods limited only by the imagination. Among such methods are systematic sabotage, insurgency, communications co-option, terror, propaganda, disinformation, supply train interdiction, espionage, document manipulation, guerrilla warfare, disease, infrastructure disruption, munitions appropriation, false flag baiting, booby traps, fear, goading, infiltration, etc.. If successful, such methods turn the conventional force into an ineffective flailing instrument of terror and destruction, the object of hatred, working hard against itself. It is even possible to get different elements of the same conventional force to battle against each other. A critical target is always the conventional force’s weaker rear-area supply trains for either destruction or confiscation. Conventional powers always respond to unconventional tactics by labeling those engaged in them as “terrorists”, “murderers”, etc., but in truth this is usually just an admission that the conventional power had remained far too married to conventional thinking, had failed to think “outside the box”, had neglected to prepare itself adequately to effectively engage and counter inevitable unconventional forces and methods. (Just as there are a wide range of methods available to wage unconventional warfare, there are also a range of methods available to counter them. Such methods fall under the heading of “counter-insurgency” or “stability” operations, usually associated with “occupation” missions (often also called “nation-building”), and generally are constructive, rather than destructive, in nature. They involve such specialties as civil affairs, reconstruction engineering, policing and law enforcement, human intelligence collection, economics, counter-intelligence, currency and trade, public health and safety, medical care, counter-propaganda, infrastructure maintenance, linguistics, diplomacy, political negotiation, third party arbitration, etc., but also covert activities such as special operations, false flag operations, etc..) Unconventional warfare, and unconventional counters to it, are heavily manpower-intensive, requiring far more expert people than potent machines.
Conventional warfare is very heavily dependent on machines to deliver massive death and destruction from a distance, minimizing the risk to its own. It also employs soldiers in identifiable uniforms arrayed in disciplined, and often predictable, organized units supported by a range of powerful machines and heavily dependent on supply trains. An example of “stand-off” conventional warfare is the use of supersonic jets with high explosive missiles to bomb populations on the ground who are armed with nothing more than rifles. (This is using incredibly expensive flying computers in roles previously filled by enormously cheaper, but more vulnerable, artillery pieces.) The epitome of such warfare is the use of armed drones operated by people 8,000 miles away from any risk to themselves to kill people and destroy things at will, with “acceptable levels of collateral damage”. These are the type of myopic and unimaginative conventional warfare people who will most readily apply the labels “terrorist” or “murderer” to the other side. (Hint: Truth depends on who is on the receiving end.) But a rational mind would conclude that those inflicting the greatest terror, doing the most murder, are actually the “conventional” machine operators. At least unconventional fighters operate on the ground, up close and personal, usually exposed and vulnerable, and can see the people around them who might become “collateral damage”, and can (if it’s not in their best interests) adjust accordingly, can make what they do enormously less indiscriminate and far more precise and effective. War is never pretty, and if you’re a little guy being brutalized by a really big bully, it’s just stupid to fight according to Marquess of Queensberry rules, far smarter to remember how David beat Goliath. Anyone responsible for directing a superpower military should never forget that same lesson, repeated throughout human history. In the end, all wars are actually won on the land where humans live by very brave ground soldiers acting with greater knowledge, discipline, intelligence and wisdom. And, once victory is achieved, it must be maintained by other smart ground soldiers with different expertise operating among and with those humans.
Unconventional warfare, however, is very deadly dangerous work for those engaged in it. But it most definitely does have a tremendous “equalizer” aspect to it. While it can be a coordinated adjunct to conventional forces engaged against a common enemy, unconventional warfare is probably most effective when employed by populations seeking to overcome an oppressive power ruling over their own homes and lives, in their own lands. The population of Ireland in 1920 was about 3,000,000 (less than half of what it was a century earlier), and well over a third of those people, especially in “northern” Ireland, were not native Irish. This means that about 2,000,000 Irish, over a third of whom were children and elderly, were trying to wrest freedom from all those around them. The population of England (including Scotland and Wales) in 1920, on the other hand, was about 43,000,000 – over 14 times greater that Ireland’s 3,000,000. Since Ireland could never have won a war of attrition against the British, she had to seek other routes to her objectives, including making any war too costly for the British voter to continue supporting, especially coming as it did on the heels of the enormously stupid and extremely costly World War I.
The unconventional insurgency in Ireland has always been greatly hindered by simple geography; Ireland is an island, and an opposing conventional force with a credible navy can rather easily strangle a major insurgency by cutting off external support and safe haven. (In a land-locked country like Afghanistan, and even in partially land-locked Vietnam, the advantage shifts to the local forces.) This fact required the IRA to make maximum use of weapons and munitions seized from British forces and to manufacture their own weapons, including explosives and bombs. As the war raged, Seán O’Kelly in May 1920 wrote that the Penal Laws, begun 225 years earlier and partially withdrawn during the 1800s, still had not been abolished in full. By IRA design, the British habitually over-estimated the size, strength and strategic position of the unconventional enemy forces, but it was clear that Collins’ army, operating on its own turf, incredibly had so far managed to fight the British superpower to a stalemate and might eventually actually prevail. In the third year of fighting, as the death toll continued to spiral upward, both sides agreed to a truce in July 1921, though violence continued in the northeast “plantations” between “republicans” and “loyalists” (those who supported an independent Irish republic and those who remained loyal to the British crown occupation – generally natives versus colonists). The fighting had so far resulted in 2015 deaths – 750 (37%) civilians, 714 (35%) British (261 Regulars plus 453 auxiliary), and 550 (27%) IRA – despite truly enormous strength imbalances.
The declared “Irish Republic’s” president then sent Collins, over his objections, to negotiate with the British in London. Despite his two years in British prison and three years as their most wanted enemy leader, the British still could not identify him until he showed up at the negotiating table and introduced himself. (Collins’ practice had been to “hide in plain sight,” and no one had betrayed him, so this unfamiliar role forced him to reveal himself to his enemy on a global stage.) The post-ceasefire talks eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which ended British rule in most of Ireland and established the Irish Free State in January 1922. However, six northern counties, including Ulster, previously ethnically “seeded” with large non-Irish Protestant “plantings”, remained within the United Kingdom as “Northern Ireland”; this was one really huge chunk of “planted” and stolen Ireland which the Brits, at the insistence of “Orangemen”, were not willing to return to their rightful owners.
And, despite the history, the principles, and the affinity, America, once again, had not come to the aid of the Irish.
But the treaty, ratified by a slim majority in the Irish parliament, was not well received by many of the Irish, including the Republic’s president, who publicly turned on Collins, the very man he had sent to negotiate in London. (Many believe that this had been a calculated move planned all along, based on knowledge even before the peace talks began that the British would never cede “northern” Ireland, that Collins was deliberately offered up by a duplicitous president to take the fall. It’s a sad fact throughout history that those who do the hard stuff, the warriors, are not especially adept at rear area politics.) The result was the year-long Irish Civil War (1922-23), waged between Irish republicans and Irish nationalists, between those who supported the republican treaty and those who wanted complete national freedom – a brutal internal war among the Irish that probably took more lives than had the War Of Independence against the British. Collins, who felt that the treaty offered Ireland “the freedom to achieve freedom”, tragically found himself leading the Irish Free State in a war against half of his own countrymen, and, worse, supported by the British in that terrible endeavor. He was betrayed, ambushed, shot and killed, in Ireland, by an Irishman, one of many who felt that Ireland was still not free, that the revolutionary leader had betrayed the revolution by settling for less than full freedom. The civil war came to a temporary halt as the nation mourned the shocking loss of their great hero, the man who led the Irish in war that achieved enough of a victory to force their superpower oppressors to finally listen and to sit down and talk about Irish freedom. Michael Collins was only 31 when he died, and he had never married. The lessons learned from Collins were among those studied thirty years later by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in their successful struggle against first the French and then the American superpowers. He was a strategic inspiration to Irish-American Bill Donovan, who ran the OSS during World War II, and remains well known to members of the US Army’s Special Forces (“green berets”), today the world’s best unconventional fighters. In the end, though, Collins was a better general than he was a politician. Politics, too, is a part of all wars, both conventional and unconventional, and modern politicians, with nothing of their own invested, seem to have little compunction about giving away so much of what their own soldiers have purchased with their blood, of simply telling those who survive, “Never mind.”
In hindsight perhaps it would have been better if Collins had walked out of the London talks and continued to lead the IRA against the British until its objectives had been achieved in full, until the Brits had pulled its forces out of the entire island in defeat, even if the costs to both sides would have been much higher than they already were. The descendants of those who had been planted in Ireland then could have been offered the opportunity to leave with the British forces if they so wished, just as had been offered those in America who, along with Benedict Arnold, left with Cornwallis. The subsequent civil war claimed only Irish lives, and the British mostly watched from the sidelines. The Irish Civil War was eventually won by those supporting the treaty (the Free State forces), who were heavily armed with weapons provided by the British, and it left Irish society divided and embittered for generations. The Irish Republic did not include the entire island. The fighting against the British in “Northern” Ireland, and between Irish who wanted to accept the existent status quo and those who did not, continued through the 20th century. Repairing the damage done to Ireland by four centuries of ruthless British oppression, ethnic cleansing and population seeding seemed an impossible dream. Worse, Irish hatred of their oppressors and British entitlement over “sub-humans” were now deeply ingrained aspects of each people and their respective societies.
Forty-seven years later, at the direction of an Irish-American President also killed in his prime, America sent its own Michael Collins on mankind’s first mission to the Moon; he was a US Air Force colonel from a family of Irish-American generals whose Irish immigrant grandfather had served as a teenaged bugle boy in the American Civil War. Kennedy was five years old when Collins was killed.
If you know history and fight unconventionally with whatever is available to right history’s wrongs for your own people, are you a freedom fighter or a terrorist? How would we Americans classify those who committed treason against the British crown and eventually prevailed during the American colonial Revolutionary War? How would the British crown classify them? Labels take sides.
(Labels always reveal much more about those assigning the labels than about those they label.)
Even after the Great Famine, and its inevitably resultant massive deaths and forced diaspora, registering in the millions, some semblance of peace and humanity would not come to the small island of Ireland for another 75 years. But most of the damage done was now insoluble. Notice how the “Scotch-Irish” conveniently overlook just how they became “Scotch-Irish” – by forcibly displacing natives in their own land, by exercising state-sanctioned unearned privilege and entitlement over “sub-human” animals and depriving them of almost everything that was theirs, in very many cases even their very lives. The same applies to all other non-Irish who over centuries, protected by a foreign occupation power, invaded an enslaved Ireland and set up shop, laid down roots, and took over. After centuries, how do you ever make such things “right”? You can’t, of course, “make it right”; you can only try to make the best of a truly deplorable situation. (See Footnote #9.) The Irish understand well the native American “Indians”, even as contemporary Brits absurdly wag a typically sanctimonious finger at the Americans.
“Don’t look for a happy ending, Tom. It’s not an American story. It’s an Irish story.” (“The Devil’s Own”, USA-1997)
The first thing the Europeans did in the Americas after Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Caribbean was to kill 95% of all the native populations of North, Central and South America, while robbing them all of whatever had worth, leaving in their wake little more than totally destroyed civilizations whose slowly decaying ruins alone testify to their past greatness. The Europeans didn’t even bother to pause long enough to learn something.
British Lessons Learned
“What we have learned from history is that we haven’t learned from history.” – Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), British novelist and Prime Minister who led the Conservatives to become the political party most identified with the power and glory of the British Empire.
In the early twentieth century, Japan showed where such beliefs could lead through its Shinto religion and its practice of emperor worship – a doctrine that the emperor was the direct descendent of the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu) and therefore the center of the phenomenal world, lending powerful religious impetus to Japanese territorial expansionism, the same type of religious impetus that had led Henry VIII to begin the British military and plantation crusade into Ireland.
Four hundred years after Henry, Hitler-wannabe Saddam Hussein would copy this same systematic British tactic in Iraq by importing tens of thousands of favored Arabs into Kurdish lands in the north (1986-1989), coupled with the mass gas murder of over 185,000 Kurds, in an effort to deny the Kurds ownership of rich oil deposits in their ancestral home by dramatically altering the ethnic and religious composition of the local population. The Brits were among the first to condemn the Iraqi practice – even as they still brutalized the Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland who were still struggling to deal with a similar artificial brutality purposefully imposed on them by the Brits for the previous 400 years. But soon those actually assisting the Kurds on the ground included Irish-American “green berets” in the US Army’s Special Forces, who later coordinated a US military “no-fly” zone barring Saddam’s forces from the region, while holding off Turkish military efforts to exploit the situation for their own century-old anti-Kurd purposes.
(After 1949 US military intervention in Ireland was very effectively precluded by membership in “NATO” – which bars uninvited intervention in member states by other member states; as politicians and diplomats know, members of “NATO”, like Turkey, Britain, France and Spain, can do whatever they want inside their own territories against others without fear of American soldiers – as long as the US remains a “NATO” member state. The US should have ceased being a member in 1990 when “NATO’s” mission ended.)
Both Stalin in Communist Russia and Hitler in Nazi Germany had earlier also borrowed heavily on 17th century British “thinking” about ethnic cleansing and discriminatory exploitive laws in seeking to exterminate millions and re-engineer and relocate whole populations as if they were insects or weeds — the former for extreme left, the latter for extreme right, dictatorial political rationalizations. The same can be said of mass atrocities by Muslim Ottoman Turkey, for example, committed against the Christian Armenians and Kurds (1914-18) during and after World War I; fascist Japan’s atrocities against many millions of Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, Indochinese and POWs (1937-45) before and during World War II; Mao Zedong’s Communist People’s Republic of China atrocities against millions of Chinese from 1949 to 1975; communist atrocities under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 1975 to 1979 immediately after the Americans ended their involvement in the Vietnam War; etc.. The British crown colonists for centuries used minority Muslims to help them control the majority Hindu population in their exploited India colony, and then quickly cut and ran at the birth of independence in 1947 just as the two groups began the largest mass migration in recorded history to their separate corners of geography amid enormous bloodshed on both sides.
There are also other despotic examples of British aristocratic thinking on “purifying” populations on smaller scales: For example, today’s Turkey, with American weapons, bombs and kills Kurds inside its borders and just over the border in Iraq and Iran and Syria in a region that has been Kurdish ancestral homeland for over a thousand years; most Muslim Arab ruling clans oppress and exploit minority clans in their own countries; France and Spain war against the Basques in their ancestral homeland along the two nations’ common borders, etc.. The Brits would join American ground soldiers in the 1990s who went into the former Yugoslavia to end ethnic cleansing also modeled by Serbian ruler Milošević after the British example in Ireland – a systematic ethnic cleansing which the fully complicit continental Old Europeans next door had stood by and cowardly watched for years. Ethnic cleansing, usually accompanied by various forms of forced diaspora and discriminatory laws, of course, is just another form of genocide, and despots who use it today along with mass murder or mass rape can expect eventually to be charged with “crimes against humanity”, with the sanctimonious Brits participating in judgment.
But a different version of this practice of superior powers imposing their will on smaller or weaker populations was the way the “elitist” aristocracies gathered in Paris in 1919 redrew maps of much of the world during a multi-power armistice seeking an end to World War I. They rarely took the wishes of those affected by their lines drawn on maps into account when deciding how to divide up geography, ancestral homeland. By this time, of course, over 46,000,000 humans had died in a global war run by completely incompetent and stupid rulers and minions routinely destroying really huge numbers of people for whom they had no regard – a world-wide war that itself amounted to mass genocide led by aristocracies, by self-anointed “special” people. Any military “leader” whose sole “tactics” consist of repeatedly, week after week, month after month, sending his soldiers across the same open field straight into batteries of machines guns until they are eviscerated should be immediately relieved for incompetence, tried and subsequently shot for mass murder. But in those days all it took to attain military “expertise” was aristocratic position, birthright entitlement – which enabled them to regard their soldiers and any civilians in the way as “expendable”. Tragically, even America, under “elitist Progressive” (and racist) Woodrow Wilson, was part of such blindly arrogant atrocities. It is relatively easy for superior powers to forcibly alter populations; it is next to impossible to undo the damage without violent ethnic warfare later, often continuing for centuries. And, in the modern world, it all began with England’s supremely arrogant Henry VIII, who at the dawn of the Renaissance wanted to dump his wife and, as he claimed, pass his birthright entitled power on to a male heir. (He accomplished literally everything, and so much more, except his sole original intention. God’s revenge?)
Where Is “Truth”?
There are many who say that, in a Western world so greatly ruled by self-interested lobbies and propaganda, all previous victim groups of such atrocities would do themselves and their ancestors’ memory, as well as the best interests of all mankind today, well indeed if they followed the example of the Jews in Europe. Far better than any other such oppressed group, the survivors of the Holocaust and their children admirably have been most effective at keeping the truth alive in the West. They’ve been so effective, in fact, that those incessantly vilifying right-wing Nazism for the past 75 years naturally have always been reluctant to find equal fault with left-wing Soviet communism (not to mention their own aristocracies who committed similar mass atrocities for centuries earlier). It’s always a lot easier to wag your finger at others than it is to see the ugliness staring back at you in the mirror. The “inconvenient truth” is that massive communist atrocities in Russia (1917-53) under Stalin preceded comparable atrocities committed by Nazis (1935-45) under Hitler, so both extreme left and extreme right were equally evil. Further, both evils incorporated despicable lessons taught much earlier by the British in Ireland. A critical difference is that victims in China, Russia, Japanese-occupied Asia, Yugoslavia, Armenia, Ireland, Kurdistan, etc., have not had a educational force in the West comparable to the Jews to keep their truth alive.
The British never did use outright systematic “mass murder” against the Irish, but they definitely did periodically kill large numbers of them, and they were fully complicit in the consequences of the Great Famine and the millions of Irish who did not survive that calamity and the millions of others who fled for their lives. Still, British actions in Ireland fall just short of the legal definition of “genocide”, which includes “extermination”, probably because the British crown needed Irish human workhorses, serfs, slaves with no property value. The word “genocide” is almost never used in “diplomatic” circles, of course, even in the undeniable face of it in places like Rwanda, because the very charter of the United Nations states as its reason d’être the requirement to deter genocide wherever it occurs. (The United Nations was born in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and all 192 members of the UN have adopted its charter.) So, if you don’t actually label it genocide, then it isn’t genocide, is it? But if you say it’s genocide, then theoretically you have no option but to act. “So, for God’s sake, don’t utter the word!” Instead, sit there and watch until it’s all over; then you can puff yourself up with self-righteousness and charge the perpetrators in your sanctimonious courts with “crimes against humanity”. “Crimes against humanity” is a label considered in “diplomatic” circles a lesser offense than “genocide”; it’s used solely to get sideline sitters off the hook ex post facto. Since you are the one making judgments, you never have to charge yourself for your full complicity in the genocidal atrocities by your cowardly failure to act. No one excels at this type of cowardly hypocrisy better than the Europeans. They all learned well the lessons of the British nobility in Ireland; has anyone ever heard any suggestion of a South Africa-style “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” for the centuries of British atrocities in Ireland?
Has anyone seen the Americans chastising themselves over their incredibly shameful and monumentally stupid unauthorized “humanitarian” “regime-change” war against Libya in 2011? Of course not; best to keep everyone instead focused on Russia’s subsequent re-taking of her Crimea. Nevertheless, “at the length truth will out.” As always, eventually, “Truth will come to light.” (Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, 1596).
So, in the end, it’s all altruistic theory, signifying nothing. Less than six months after the UN finally apologized profusely for taking no action to stop the very public 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Secretary of State General Powell, a career professional American soldier, actually labeled 2004 atrocities in Sudan as “genocide”. Once again, the UN and Europe, cursing Powell in private, took no action. Everyone waits for the United States to send in her ground soldiers – the only actually brave people left in the West. Everyone waits for the US military to take the blame, do the hard stuff and pick up the bills – and most especially with its infantry soldiers. It’s all about rights; responsibility is for “someone else”. It’s all phony, self-interested, cowardly politics and propaganda – on a global scale. (If women ran the show, would they so willingly waste as many of their own female soldiers in stupid wars – or would they immediately set themselves up as a new birthright entitled nobility class in the very safe rear ordering others to do so in their name for their causes? What you say vanishes behind what you do. There is no “special” in equal, no nobility in a democracy, no birthright entitlement in a meritocracy.)
Just when does a state acquire a responsibility to act? Just when does abject cowardice become a crime? In the world of self-serving political nonsense, you can rationalize ANYTHING. (See “Human Rights, The Moral Imperative, and Just Wars“.) How difficult is it for the British to pontificate from their soapbox about ethnic cleansing elsewhere while pretending not to see their own shameful conduct in Ireland, their role in introducing slavery in America? And the French certainly are not innocent of such atrocities throughout the world with their own many exploited colonies. Ditto for the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch of yesteryear; just consider the ruin and dysfunction they left behind in Latin and South America, in Africa. Most of the world’s trouble spots addressed by US soldiers during the 20th century had their roots in self-interested French colonialism, including Vietnam. The greatest advantage of that silly “NATO” anachronism is its ability to ensure that members of the organization are prohibited from entering another member’s country or territories to right grievous wrongs; “NATO” thus ensures every member’s safety to commit any crimes within their own borders they wish, and no one, not even the American “world cops”, can stop them. This, of course, includes Turkey, which now possesses one of the world’s largest military forces, mostly supplied by the US and Europe, to employ as it wishes against the Kurds while hiding behind the “NATO” cover. It was just Yugoslavia’s great misfortune that that country was not a member of the insider “NATO” club – and thus vulnerable to American soldiers (followed eventually by “NATO’ and UN “peacekeepers”) trying to stop the atrocities in Bosnia, in Kosovo. Everyone sits around sucking their thumbs until Washington sends in its soldiers, and then condemns the US for not playing their despicable self-serving “International Court” dodge game.
Few things are more absurd than sanctimonious Europeans, and especially the British, wagging their fingers at the tragic American experience with slavery and Native Americans without ever acknowledging their own very crucial role in such despicable practices, a role that was actively pursued for 400 years, long before the first colony was established in the New World. For it was these Europeans who bought to America not only the twisted mindset that certain groups were inferior to others and could therefore be ruled over and exploited as some sub-human species, but they also bought those very slaves to American shores and allowed the ownership of humans to flourish in colonies originally established by the Church of England throughout the American South. It was the British crown that came up with the practice of “plantations”, the seeding of privileged humans in foreign lands with the purpose of ruling over, crowding out, and killing off the “sub-human” natives – so as to steal and exploit whatever they wished. It was that church-state dictatorship, with its centuries-long imposition of serfdom on the Emerald Isle, an oppressive slavery without even the inconvenient responsibility of ownership, that was fundamental to a “superior” religious belief emanating from birthright entitlement that was also planted in America. And it should never be forgotten that the British had also routinely sold Irish slaves to European plantation colonies in the “West Indies” (Caribbean) long before the first black slave was brought to Virginia. John Locke’s constitution for South Carolina may have enabled indentured servants to eventually secure their freedom and gain ownership of a parcel of land, but it also ratified the British concept of birthright entitlement rule over both serfs and slaves – backed up by religious beliefs imposed by the state. It was Locke’s concepts of private ownership of property coupled with elected representation that made America great, but it was also the concepts of birthright entitlement and people as property that planted a debilitating cancer in America that still has not been fully excised. How much “soul-searching” has anyone ever witnessed in England over their treatment of the Irish since the days of Henry VIII? Slavery deriving from birthright entitlement was Big Business in Europe long before it was exported to America, and it definitely did not involve only black Africans.
“I don’t care which religious belief you as preacher or government follow; just don’t ever try to impose it on me and mine against our will.”
– fundamental to the creation of America.
Today the Europeans, egged on by “The Four Sisters” (arrogant American birthright entitled “aristocrats” Clinton, Rice, Power and Albright) could easily engineer the bombing of Libya from a very safe distance for eight months using American money and technology, but remain impotent in the face of far worse atrocities in Syria, where intervention might involve actual danger on the ground. (They could also simply and easily walk away from accountability for the consequences of their actions. All eagerly gloating over the potential to take credit for its success, they are glaringly among the missing after its failure.) And, of course, the Europeans, like The Four Sisters, in all their enlightened wisdom, are definitely NOT interested in going in to pick up the pieces and put such destroyed countries back together afterward. European hypocrisy is so great that they don’t even want to accept the hundreds of thousands of refugees their cowardly imperial actions create. As always, it’s all about getting “someone else” to take the blame, pay the bills and do the hard stuff. Talk is the cheapest thing there is. (The smartest thing for everyone would have been, after events and free elections in Iraq finally led inevitably to the “Arab Spring”, to just let events in the region unfold on their own, to allow the Arab Muslim people to sort out their own affairs without the Europeans and Americans arrogantly trying to intrude, to play God. After all, it is their future at stake. All that was needed after 2010 was a potent US military presence to keep the Iraqi government honest and on track with the principles for which its citizens had voted – three times.) Those shooting off their big mouths should always be the first in – on the ground; any twit can scream orders from the very safe rear.
History has no end to its absurd ironies, its phony hypocrisies. They are everywhere around us even today. Every perpetrator always seeks various ways to rationalize it, but forced ethnic cleansing is still a gross atrocity based on bigotry committed by one more powerful group against another in order to achieve some political advantage and economic profit. I’m both a professional soldier and a professional intelligence officer; I don’t do hypocrisy, or rationalization. I examine things the Jesuit Way: wade through all the self-serving nonsense until you arrive at unvarnished Truth, and then see if it still stands up. Humans have a remarkable capacity to rationalize almost anything — cowardice, lying, bigotry, greed, propaganda, cheating, favoritism, even murder and genocide, and some of them can even do it in the hallowed halls of government, from the Sunday pulpit. Only those who know accurate unembellished history can see the similarities, can see through all the self-serving propaganda, to arrive at the essential inhumane truth. And then judge.
What is the difference between the IRA and the PKK? Between the Basque and Syrian rebels? Between Irish rebels and American revolutionaries? The answers depend on whether you know history and actually believe the principles you profess – and are adult enough to apply those principles equitably. How hypocritical is it to say that you support the principle of “self-determination” – but only when the self-determination goes in the direction you want?
No one ever seriously suggested that America send its famous soldiers, very many of Irish-American heritage, into Ireland to end or correct centuries of injustices in that long-troubled country. In fact, many Americans, drawing on past bigotry and deferring to the island’s British masters, preferred to ignore the problem or blame Irish “terrorists”.
Jack Kennedy astutely observed that, “History is made by those who write it.” Those who write it get to put their own “spin” on things, decide what to include and what to exclude. Shakespeare’s superb drama doesn’t include an Irishman, who was not yet a factor. If only one side writes the story, and refuses to allow challenge, it’s a safe bet that most of it is just self-serving propaganda. (See Footnote #10 re Bloody Sunday.) The history of the Irish was written by the British, since very few Irish were either educated well enough or enjoyed such an accessible world-wide audience, and those few who did were usually in bed with the British aristocracy. (See Footnote #11.) The thing that burns brightest in all true Irish hearts is a never-ending craving for Truth and Justice. The search for both is the affirmation of one’s humanity, in every sense of the word.
When you watch and hear the very talented “Celtic Woman” in concert, especially when they do Gaelic pieces with the Bodhran drums over the orchestra in the castle courtyard, resplendent in colorful evening gowns, just try to remember where they came from, how they got here, what it took, and why. How great is the distance between a mud hut and a castle courtyard, between filthy fraying rags and glorious evening gowns? The same people are behind both.
Just what does St. Patrick’s Day mean to you? At the least, it reminds us of where we got our best values as a nation, and why.
Footnote #1: Tudor Brutality.
Historical parallels of religious self-righteousness and nascent nationalism.
The New Statesman (UK), published 20 March 2015, written by Mathew Lyons*
The leader of a small military force – perhaps 500 strong – is determined to subdue a province, and to do so quickly. Terror is his explicit policy. Every inroad he makes into enemy territory is followed by indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. Every man, woman and child is killed. Houses, churches, crops – everything is burned and despoiled.
Each night, the heads of all those who have been killed are lain in a path to the commander’s tent so “the people . . . see the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk and friends, lie on the ground before their faces, as they come to speak with the colonel”.
If this sounds like the barbarity that ISIS has made commonplace in the news in the last couple of years, think again. It is not ISIS. It is the English in Ireland in 1569 and the leader in question is Humphrey Gilbert. He was knighted for his efforts within months; the following year he became an MP.
Drawing analogies between events at different times in history is always fraught; circumstances change. But where there are echoes we do well to heed them, because what resonates with the past can inform our understanding of the present. And while there is little in English history per se to match ISIS, our record in Ireland is a different matter. It is there that we succumbed most deeply to the poisonous cocktail of religious self-righteousness and nascent nationalism that so intoxicates ISIS. Protestantism and Wahhabism are closer cousins than we care to think.
Five years after Gilbert, the Earl of Essex at the head of the English army in Ireland, hunted down and butchered 400 women and children of the M’Donnell clan at Rathlin Island off the northern coast of Antrim ((in “Northern” Ireland, 15 miles off the Scottish coast)). A few made it down to the caves by the sea, but Essex’s men followed them and smoked them out, cutting them down on the shore as they ran choking from their hiding places.
At Smerwick on the west coast of Ireland in November 1580, a group of 600 or so Spanish soldiers surrendered a small fort to an English force under Lord Grey of Wilton. Grey sent in a number of men under the captaincy of the young Walter Raleigh. Once disarmed, the Spanish were all put to the sword; there were too many bodies in the fort for the English to count ((“put to the sword” means to execute)). Pregnant women were hanged. Three men were dragged off to the local blacksmith where their joints and bones were smashed with a hammer on the anvil. They, too, were hanged. The English used their bodies for target practice as they hung on the gallows, literally shooting them to pieces.
Elizabeth I ((daughter of Anne Boleyn)) was delighted. Her handwritten note of thanks to Grey said, “You have been chosen the instrument of God’s glory”.
As for the kind of destruction practised by ISIS at Nimrud and elsewhere, the remains of Protestant iconoclasm – Shakespeare’s “bare ruined choirs” – still litter our landscape. To erase all taint of Catholicism, windows were smashed, statues pulled down and broken, paintings defaced and whitewashed, plate melted, jewels taken, books burned.
Some buildings were destroyed more thoroughly than others. Thomas Cromwell, who personally took possession of the great Cluniac priory at Lewes, employed an Italian military engineer to raze the building to the ground.
There were over 800 religious houses before the Dissolution**. The extent of the loss across the country is hard to underestimate. And there were other, more subtle, but no less catastrophic, destructions. The religious houses looked after the poor, the sick, the elderly, the infirm. There was no national health service back then, but the religious orders came close. They were the country’s principal education providers, too.
In many parishes, church treasures were hidden among the parishioners. They were being vigorously hunted out and destroyed for decades. As late as August 1578, Elizabeth I’s progress through East Anglia brought her to the house of a Catholic gentleman named Edward Rookwood. His house was searched and an image of the Lady Mary discovered in a hay rick. It was “such an image . . . as for greatness, as for gayness, and workmanship, I never did see such a match”, reported Richard Topcliffe, later infamous as the government’s principal torturer.
Elizabeth ordered the image to be burned in sight of everyone that evening.
That ISIS is depraved is beyond question. But if history teaches us anything, it is that the human talent for depravity does not belong to one people or one faith or one era. All evil is banal, repetitive in its cruelties.
The question shouldn’t be why ISIS behaves this way, but what conditions enable or encourage any human to behave like that. The line from Gilbert to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – by way of Conrad’s Colonel Kurtz*** – is a short one, and surely too short for our moral comfort.
>*Mathew Lyons is a British writer and historian.
>**The Dissolution of the Monasteries, one of the most revolutionary events in English history, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded Catholic monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their property and income and disposed of their assets. The campaign was Henry’s way of buying the support of the aristocracy after he had split with the Church in Rome and created his own Church of England. Although the policy was originally envisaged as increasing the regular income of the Crown, much former monastic property was sold off to also fund Henry’s military campaigns in the 1540s.
>***Kurtz is a central fictional character in Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” (1899). Kurtz’s mother was half English, his father was half French, and thus “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.” An ivory trader in Africa and commander of a trading post, the multi-talented Kurtz monopolizes his position as a demigod among native Africans and becomes thoroughly corrupted, ruthless, tyrannical. The fictional US Army Colonel Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando) in the film “Apocalypse Now” echoes Kurtz’ last words as he, too, dies: “The horror! The horror!”
Germany. The film “Labyrinth of Lies” (Germany 2014) tells the fact-based story of a young Hessen state prosecutor in Frankfurt am Main whose boss, Fritz Bauer, in 1958 allowed him to pursue the case of a murder committed in Poland during the war. The young prosecutor, Radmann, was only 9 when Germany invaded Poland, and 15 when the war ended. Now in 1958 he was 28, inexperienced, and, thanks in no small part to America’s Marshall Plan and private charity programs, was a free citizen of a nearly rebuilt country then experiencing the early years of a post-war economic resurgence. However, like almost all of his contemporaries, he had no knowledge at all of what happened at places like Auschwitz when he was a boy; their parents and grandparents who survived the war had completely removed the entire topic from discussion. Needless to say, his murder case and the education it provided him gradually took on epic proportions, involving over 8,000 Nazi SS personnel who had served at Auschwitz committing crimes against humanity on an industrial scale. Five years later, he succeeded in bringing a class action criminal lawsuit against 19 of those SS officers, an historic event which marked the beginning of Germany’s long struggle to come to terms with its Nazi past. In two separate periods I spent a total of over ten years living and working in and out of Germany, primarily in Berlin and Munich during the 1970s and 1980s, by which time the very well-off Germans had come to regard American soldiers stationed in their country as their barely-tolerable underclass servants comparable to their Turkish “gast-arbeiters” (guest workers). I had rather quickly became fluent in the language and moved around the country freely, usually in civilian clothing, but also occasionally in uniform.
The young prosecutor in 1958-64 was fortunate that he was working on his case in Frankfurt, which was also the headquarters of US military forces in Europe at the same I.G. Farben building that had served as Eisenhower’s headquarters. In addition to various military commands, the huge Farben building, also called “Pentagon East”, housed a number of US government agency offices and included a truly vast archive of Nazi files and records available for research by anyone with an authorized need. (The German archives, assembled and maintained by the US Army, were eventually transferred to a specially constructed facility in Maryland near Washington for permanent storage and research. This is a common practice for the US Army, also copied with Saddam’s Iraq, whose regime had been modeled on Hitler’s.) I was quite familiar with the Farben building and its archives, and occasionally met people in various parts of Germany whose Nazi files and records were maintained there. In my early years I was often tempted to counter their arrogance with my knowledge, but eventually decided that it was best to remain silent, leaving such people to live with their own demons as best they could. Besides, it was simply too monumental a task to put the entire population of a country over a certain age on trial, especially when a third of them were now on the other side of the “Iron Curtain” and subject to different standards of justice. Of course younger Germans like the Hessen state prosecutor were innocent, but the same could not be said of any German just nine or ten years older. (“Just following orders” is NOT an acceptable defense, even for uniformed American soldiers in combat.) Immediately after the war, the allies had arrested and tried 150 of the top Nazis, but allowed the others to go free. Germany would have to come to further terms with itself through self-examination from within, not from imposition from without. The Frankfurt trial in 1963 was a good starting point for that, since it also assisted Israel’s Mosaad and Shin Bet to capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and return him for public trial in Tel Aviv.
One of the more remarkable aspects of German life depicted in “Labyrinth of Lies” was how incredibly ignorant was this “well-educated” young German lawyer of what monumental atrocities had taken place before and during that war – just a dozen years after the end of the war. I eventually encountered similar mass ignorance (or “selective memory”) in Serbia, in Japan, in Russia, in China, in Cambodia, and in a number of other places around the globe, including Latin America. Such early experiences in Germany taught me much about the human capacity to rationalize away even the most inescapable evil, to erase its memory, to pretend it never happened. One of the sad realities enabling this is the fact that the dead are just dead; to be a victim one must be alive to give testimony. This being the case, nothing is more important than unbending institutionalized equal justice for all – The Law. But then, no one has ever held the sanctimonious Brits accountable for their centuries of atrocities inflicted on the native Irish – despite the long tradition of British law and justice. At least the Germans, unlike the others, have made a good-faith effort to come to terms with the truth. Perhaps they, and the rest of us, too, can thank the Jews for keeping that truth alive.
Footnote #2: Fifth Amendment (Bill Of Rights) to the US Constitution: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Recently some devious creeps in American state governments have found ways to confiscate property, by enacting laws that permit it – solely to hand it to others for the greater profit of both government and the new owners. It’s a very old story, supposedly precluded by the US Constitution, for very good reason, an Irish reason.
Footnote #3: It Gets Even Better: After Henry’s death, the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, the Protestant Elizabeth I, firmly established the Church of England and had the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots beheaded in 1587. Think about it: A megalomaniac king alters history with a single cataclysmic decree – for want of a male heir. And yet it is his two daughters, one legitimate, one illegitimate, who ascend to his throne after his death in 1547. (The nine-year old son of Jane Seymour, Edward VI, did reign briefly after his father’s death, but died at age 15.) The first was Catholic Mary, daughter of the divorced Catherine, who sought during her brief five-year reign to reverse Henry’s religious legacy until she died childless in 1558. The second was Protestant Elizabeth, daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn, who carried forward Henry’s legacy with great vigor for the next 45 years. Despite all his machinations, the first three successors to his throne, each children of different mothers and the same father, all died childless, forcing ever more bizarre efforts to maintain the crown, the “royal line” of the “birthright entitled”. It is one of history’s great tragedies that all that narcissistic insanity still failed to realize the tyrant’s objective.
(The other unfortunate Boleyn girl, Mary, did bear Henry an illegitimate son, but since Mary Boleyn had never taken the crown, the boy had no claim to it. Mary raised Anne’s red-haired daughter, Elizabeth, as her own, until she did ascend to the throne.)
Elizabeth’s claim to the throne was viewed with considerable doubt throughout Europe due to the scandalous background of her father (Henry VIII) and mother (Anne Boleyn). And there was another potential claimant to the throne, the daughter of King James V of Scotland – the Catholic Mary Stuart, who thus represented a threat to Elizabeth. So Elizabeth had Mary executed after eighteen years of imprisonment. (One of Mary of Scotland’s two Catholic servants, present at her death, was named Jane Kennedy.) But Elizabeth never married and also left no heir upon her death in 1603, so the son of the executed Mary Queen of Scots became first James VI of Scotland and then also James I of England, the crown denied to his mother. After Henry, religious politics and court greed easily trumped royal blood lines and the finer details of “legitimacy” in marriage. With no power above the throne, the throne was free to make up its own rules as it went along, dedicated only to maintaining its power and eradicating any hint of opposition to that power. In 1606 the Protestant James formally established the Plantation of Ulster by wealthy English and Scottish Protestants. So began the systematic organized colonization of Catholic Ireland – enforced by the Protestant son of a Catholic Scottish Queen – in the Irish region most resistant to English control during the preceding century. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s total absurdity that can only exist among the self-anointed birthright entitled, the “special” people – who judge other humans as both stupid and helpless, and therefore best kept that way under a very ruthless grip, or exterminated.
Genetics Or Culture? An Oxford study of DNA, published in 2015 in the journal Nature, which screened out effects of migration over the past 100 years (20th century), found that, while there are distinct genetic groups in various parts of Great Britain, there is not a unique Celtic group of people in the UK (which includes Scotland, Wales and “Northern” Ireland). The finding is the first genetic evidence to confirm what some archaeologists have long been arguing: that Celts represent a tradition or culture rather than a genetic or racial grouping.
It also found that there are two genetic groupings in “Northern” Ireland:
>One in a small sliver along the northeastern coast that identifies with western Scotland and the Highlands which appears to reflect the kingdom of Dalriada 1,500 years ago, a kingdom that revolved around the sea, coasts and islands (north of Ireland, western Scotland). It’s only about 13 miles across the strait (North Channel) linking the Irish Sea to the North Atlantic at this point between Ireland and Scotland. Dalriada reached its height about a century after St Patrick’s life in Ireland and eventually merged with the Picts of eastern and northern Scotland in defense against the Vikings by consolidating its strength in Scotland. However, traces of ancient history still exist. Islay is a Scottish island 25 miles from Ireland’s northeast coast where inhabitants speak (in addition to English) a native Gaelic language that has much in common with Irish. Islay is today world famous for its much revered (and very expensive) single malt whiskey, which after agriculture is its only industry.
>The other larger group contains identifiers with individuals in southern Scotland and southern England which represents the large-scale imported “settlers” or “planters” of the Ulster plantations in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
The study also found that those of Celtic ancestry in Scotland are more genetically similar to the English than they are to other Celtic groups. (The Scots are British, and both have been imposing their “superior” self-serving views of “Irish” and “Ireland” and “history” for over 400 years. Both should stick to discussing themselves, and let the Irish talk about the Irish. This includes those who label themselves as “Scotch-Irish”. The differences were always almost entirely cultural, and within culture it was solely a really stupid matter of religion and “birthright entitled” favoritism.)
Also, for the record, the Vikings left little genetic trace in the British isles, confirming that their success was due to military prowess rather than to large-scale population movement. They came, they plundered, and then they left.
Footnote #4. Baltimore. Two centuries after the sacking of Baltimore, Ireland, in 1814 the British, after burning and looting America’s capital city in Washington, sought to score a final knockout punch against the “rebels” at a new Baltimore – this one in Maryland, America. The British effort failed as America’s huge flag stood its ground at Ft McHenry, and the young nation had its proud new anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
Footnote #5: Slavery: While the “plantations” were well underway in Ireland, the first English colony in North America, Virginia, acquired its first African slaves in 1619 when a ship arrived with a cargo of about 20 Africans. And, no, this was not a practice limited only to the American South; New York (a nascent Dutch colony soon commandeered by the British) imported its first black slaves (11) in 1626 and held its first slave auction at New Amsterdam (Manhattan) in 1655. Thus, a practice established in the Spanish colonies a half century earlier in the Caribbean (“West Indies”) with black and Irish slaves was expanded into North America and rapidly spread throughout the British colonies. The original agrarian colonies of New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia were established by members of Henry VIII’s Church of England, and all of them encouraged slavery. These New World “plantations” were an expression of the global expansionism begun by Portuguese and Spanish monarchies in the 16th century and then aggressively copied by the British, French, Dutch, Swedish and Danish monarchies in the 17th century. As with Ireland, “inferior” native inhabitants were largely inconsequential to these greedy powers and their birthright entitled nobility classes. More than any other single factor, the British, drawing on their treatment of the native Irish, were responsible for the introduction and growth of black slavery in America. Black slavery and the Ku Klux Klan flourished in these five major “plantations”, and the bigoted anti-Irish British group known as the Orangemen remained very powerful in New York until the riots of 1871 – 250 years later. (See Footnote #3 Syracuse Orange to “Irish In America“.) Today, of course, the ever-sanctimonious New Yorkers, similar to the ever-sanctimonious Brits, prefer to villify those in the American South, while carefully avoiding their own reflection in the mirror.
Footnote #6: Arms: Similar conditions existed in other monarchies of that period as well. French citizens, for example, were dying in huge numbers from starvation under oppressive taxation needed to prop up the aristocracy’s global military campaigns, designed primarily to keep its own coffers flush, all with no concern for the welfare of its own citizens. But the French Revolution (1789-99), against one of the world’s most powerful military forces underpinning the aristocracy, was simply not possible until the people were able to arm themselves. The starving French citizens who stormed the Bastille prison did so to liberate large stores of guns and ammunition for their own use against their oppressors – and they were able to do that only after some armed French soldiers joined their effort and fired on other armed soldiers guarding the fortress. Only after the common people were capable of fighting back against the aristocracy’s military forces did the revolution become real and have a chance of eventually succeeding. Americans of the time were well aware of what was taking place in other countries, so it was not just conditions in America that helped create the United States Constitution. I know through direct personal experience over decades that very many of the people immigrating today to America from Third World countries, as well as many Black Americans, view the subject of private ownership of arms with the same gravity as did America’s Founding Fathers. Except for those able to “buy their way in”, these are people who have lived their entire lives under “elitists”, ruling class, tribal oppression, caste systems, political tyranny, and similar forms of self-serving dictatorship – even under the guise of rigged “democracy” – but who never had the ability to fight back. The right, the duty, to fight back is enshrined in the American Declaration Of Independence, and the ability to fight back is guaranteed in the United States Constitution. Anyone who thinks it can never happen again is simply delusional. America was NOT born in a vacuum, and it has never existed in a vacuum. No matter how hard some of her citizens try to anoint themselves “special”, America will always exist within the larger world reality, subject to all the self-interested forces at play out there. As any American Special Forces soldier knows so well, an unarmed country is a prison.
Footnote #7: Monarchy: The idea that certain select humans are born with a certain “right” to rule over other humans, such as in a monarchy, is one of the vilest notions known to man. People who live in childish fantasy worlds embrace the idea because it’s a way to reach the top with no effort – no requirement to compete, no need to demonstrate actual competence or leadership or responsibility. But since no such ruler in history has ever NOT placed their own interests above those they ruled, it is thus the ultimate in selfish greed.
Any two-bit twit can stand in the safe rear and scream orders to idiots. Leadership is NOT a right. Since there is only one way to lead – from the risky front – leadership is an earned capability to assume responsibility for others, to get them to willingly follow your example for the greater good of all. Furthermore, that demonstrated capability must be earned repeatedly throughout the period of leadership and comes with a willingness to pay the full price for failure. Since I am NOT an idiot, I do not follow ANYONE anywhere who has not demonstrated the requisite responsibility for others, including for me and my group, and the readiness to be held fully accountable for the consequences of their actions. Even today there remains a certain understated smugness among the British aristocracy, an assumed sense of arrogant superiority due solely to privileged position as birthright, and absolutely nothing more. Birthright entitlement of position is inherently corrupting. I’ve noticed over the years that those anywhere in the world, including American women, who believe that leadership is some sort of birthright, are simply natural-born losers who are guaranteed to fail (even as they are propped up by propaganda). Such self-anointed “special” people are simply contemptible. They are usually the same losers who think trust and respect are also unearned birthrights. What nonsense. MY trust, MY respect, has real value. You want it, you earn it. I don’t care who you are, what position or label you were born with or with which title you have anointed yourself.
The excellent 2010 Hollywood movie, “The King’s Speech“, recounts the efforts of King George VI to overcome a severe speech impediment in order to deliver England’s 1939 declaration of war with Germany over the radio to his “subjects”. As the story of a man struggling to overcome a disability, the film has definite value. But in real life, what difference would it have made had George not been able to get through his speech? A minute later, he would still be King, and England would still be sending her soldiers to war. Big deal. It’s just another pompous ass, as a matter of birthright entitlement, standing in the safe rear and ordering others into harm’s way. What difference does a stutter make? A young man with a similar speech impediment who decides to make a living by speaking in front of a live television camera broadcasting to huge audiences almost every day of his life has a far more worthwhile story. So does a guy with a stutter who decides to become an actor. Those guys have real courage, and they’re just average Americans named John Stossel and James Earl Jones. Anyone can “lead” from the rear.
What I always find interesting is that the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, in the midst of World War I, was an Earth-shaking rebellion against birthright entitlement, that twisted “superior entitlement” accruing to the aristocracy, to ruling nobility, as a right of birth. The Bolshevik Revolution was not just a communist revolution. It was a revolution of the political left against the political right of the day, a people’s revolution against birthright entitlement. And yet today it is leftist women who demonstrate an eagerness to assume birthright entitlement, to rule over the great unwashed masses – for their own benefit. That is the very definition of historical irony (or ignorance).
America’s best example of the consummate leader was and remains its first – General and President George Washington. He earned it all, from the front. George Washington’s conduct, his every public act, in both war and peace, remains The American Standard. For everyone. Everyone should be measured against this man’s leadership standards. A full 225 years later, no American has measured up to those of our still greatest leader.
King George VI made his radio broadcast to the nation three days after the outbreak of World War II (German invasion of Poland) on 3 September 1939, and he was imploring less privileged and able-bodied young British men to rally against the German onslaught on the European continent before it came to Britain, too.
A similar radio speech was made 22 months later by Joseph Stalin, a full ten days after German military forces had broken a prior agreement and surprise-attacked Russia along an 1,800 mile wide front. German forces had already taken vast swaths of Russian land and killed or captured over a million Russian soldiers caught in their path, few of whom would ever return home, but most of Russia had not been officially informed of any of this betrayal. In his 3 July 1941 speech, Stalin, who rarely spoke in public, was trying to rally ALL Russians – men women and children – to place their bodes in front of German guns to save the Motherland from total annihilation. But to pull it off, he had to hide as best he could a distinct accent that revealed him to be Georgian, not Russian – and this after two full decades of unrelenting terror throughout Russia that had already taken many millions of Russian lives.
Operation Barbarossa, the code name for Nazi Germany’s World War II invasion of the Soviet Union, began on 22 June 1941. It was the largest invasion force in the history of warfare. The operation opened up the Eastern Front, to which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history. The Eastern Front became the site of some of the largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties for Soviets and Germans alike, all of which influenced the course of both World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German forces captured millions of Soviet prisoners who were not granted protections stipulated in the Geneva Conventions. Most of them never returned alive; Germany deliberately starved the prisoners to death as part of a “Hunger Plan” that aimed to reduce the population of Eastern Europe and then re-populate it with ethnic Germans. But Germany was stopped by the Russian people in December 1941 just 15 miles short of Moscow, and Russian infantry and tank forces, supplied with massive equipment and materiel from the United States, then mounted their first counter-attack, eventually driving the Germans all the way 1,000 miles back to Berlin – at truly stupendous cost to everyone and everything in the path. Russian men who were 18 in 1941 were born in 1923. Only 20% of the males born in Russia in 1923 survived the war – just two of every ten.
Footnote #8: The Collins Name. On 16 July 1969, another Michael Collins, a US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, piloted the NASA spaceship command module Gemini 11, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to ever set foot on another celestial body. Collins, whose second-generation Irish-American father (James Lawton Collins) was a US Army major general who had served in the Philippine-American War, World War I and World War II, eventually retired from the Air Force, also as a major general.
His second-generation Irish-American uncle, General J. Lawton Collins, commanded VII Corps during the WW II Invasion of Normandy, and was chief of staff of the United States Army 1949 – 1953, the Army’s senior officer throughout the Korean War.
The Collins family ancestors were Famine-Irish immigrants who settled in and around Cincinnati, Ohio. Collins’ grandfather, the Irish immigrant father of both of these generals, and the grandfather of Astronaut Collins, served in the US Civil War as a 16-year old bugle boy before settling in an Irish community in Algiers, Louisiana, near the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad, where he married his boss’s daughter and fathered eleven kids.
Footnote #9: “Traitors”. The Irish War of Independence had begun toward the end of WW I. The British military during WW I included over 206,000 volunteers from Ireland, including members of the 10th Irish Division that had taken huge losses at Gallipoli, all of whom were then labeled as traitors by many of their Irish countrymen, especially after some of them were among British forces sent to quell the Irish rebellion. It was only about 17 years after the Irish War Of Independence when WW II exploded. The Irish Free State finally had been steadily building its own government, including a nascent military. Determined not to join Great Britain in the war, she declared her neutral status and remained so throughout the war. Many Irish men, however, again felt that if Germany prevailed, Ireland’s neutral status would not save her, and left to join the British military, despite the history. Their numbers included almost 5,000 members of the Irish armed forces, over one-tenth of its strength. These men served honorably with British forces until war’s end, but the Irish Free State labeled them “deserters” from the beginning. For those men, it was a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
The Irish have long memories, and after 400 years of hell are not especially forgiving. After the war all Irish men who served in the British armed forces suffered under subsequent Irish government measures to punish them, so many never did return to Ireland. The penalties were especially harsh for those who had deserted the Irish armed forces. At the end of World War II, in August 1945, Ireland drew up a list of around 4,800 men who had disappeared from Irish military duty to join Britain’s armed forces. Dublin lawmakers passed an emergency measure that targeted these men, barring them from all taxpayer-funded jobs, including even as postmen or garbage collectors. The government blacklist ensured the men suffered permanent job discrimination and loss of pension rights and survivor benefits, condemning their families to poverty. Those families targeted by the list called it a “starvation order.” Ireland treated the returning war veterans “horrendously,” with their ability to find work crippled and their expected retirement benefits impounded. “If you were in the British army, you were regarded as a traitor. Neighbors turned against each other, and people were isolated.” That the Irish soldiers risked their lives in war against Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan mattered not.
Sixty-eight years later, a whole lifetime, in May 2013, the Irish Minister of Justice introduced a measure in parliament to pardon the men. The action was the culmination of the lobby efforts of the group “Irish Soldiers’ Pardons Campaign.” The measure was immediately passed into law. It removed “any tarnish from their name or reputation” and ensured that no surviving deserter would face a court-martial if they returned to Ireland from self-exile abroad. Unfortunately, less than 100 of those men were still alive. All those Irish soldiers, and their families, had paid a very heavy price for Ireland’s tragic history even as they fought to save her from yet another tragedy. After centuries of hating your oppressor, you can end up doing really stupid stuff to the best of your own.
Of course, the Americans, too, should not be left off the hook with their own World War II veterans, very many of whom were Irish-Americans. Not until they were almost gone did anyone think that maybe they should pay homage to these brave men, the best among us.
Footnote #10. Bloody Sunday: It Was All One Big Lie
One would be very hard pressed to find another group that sacrificed so many of their own lives over the past two centuries in the fight against oppression and slavery everywhere, including in America, as has the Irish. This becomes even more incredible when one considers the size of that very small country. During the 19th century those who survived spread out all over the globe, mostly to America and Canada, but also to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Europe. And for a very long time they seemed to achieve far more elsewhere then they were ever able to achieve at home under their insufferable rulers. The following is the sort of thing that happens when one group keeps another group under extreme oppression for centuries. Those on top regard those on the bottom as sub-human animals who are dumb natural-born liars, cheats and thieves, while those on top are smart, truthful, honorable and above reproach. And, naturally, the latter get to write the history. Over half of what is known, and popularly believed, about the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is fabrication perpetrated by British law enforcement, the British judicial system and British military occupation forces, and promulgated by the British “journalism” media, almost always arising out of sheer incompetence, stupidity and greed reinforced by centuries of relentless British crown bigotry. Truth becomes irrelevant; perception is everything. When one side is able to tell the story for centuries, it settles into the popular consciousness, gets accepted as truth, becomes “group think”, even by those knowingly promulgating the lies. Such is the nature of propaganda, of unearned “birthright entitlement”.
On Sunday, 30 January 1972, a crowd of about 10,000 Irish Catholics gathered after church in Londonderry “Northern” Ireland to protest the practice of indefinite detention without trial (sound “Gitmo” familiar?), used frequently by the British authorities to curb those suspected of “paramilitary extremism” (what we today call “terrorism”). The outburst of violence that accompanied that peaceful demonstration effectively ended a nonviolent campaign for civil rights and led to three decades of sectarian strife that claimed more than 3,600 lives. Within weeks of the violence, another British prime minister suspended the Parliament in Belfast and again imposed direct British occupation rule, which lasted 26 years, until the 1998 Good Friday peace pact ushered in the new era of “power-sharing”.
On that Sunday afternoon back in 1972, units of armed British Army soldiers were on hand to address problems if the crowd got out of hand. Suddenly the soldiers opened fire, killing 14 unarmed people, 7 of whom were teenagers, and sending the huge crowd into panic. Fourteen others were wounded, twelve by shots from the soldiers and two struck by their armored personnel carriers. The Catholics claimed that the soldiers opened fire without provocation, that the soldiers lied about why they opened fire, that there was no offensive action taken against the soldiers by anyone in the crowd, and that soldiers planted makeshift weapons on some of the dead civilians. No one on the British side, from the soldiers up to the British prime minister, and most British citizens in between, including the British media, believed them. The result was three decades of brutal unconventional armed conflict between the IRA-backed Catholics and the British Army-backed Protestants in “Northern” Ireland known as “The Troubles” – another “flare-up” of a festering conflict that had been raging for four centuries ever since the British crown began its efforts to impose the crown’s imperial church-state will on all of Ireland.
Finally, in 1999, the Good Friday Agreement went into effect, signed by both the British and Irish governments and endorsed by all political parties in “Northern” Ireland, hoping to significantly decrease the violence. (The primary architect of the agreement was the esteemed US Senator George Mitchell (D-Maine), whose ethnic Irish father was adopted by a Lebanese family when he was orphaned. The father, who became a college janitor, married a Lebanese textile worker who had immigrated at age 18 and ensured his son got a good education. Thus Senator Mitchell’s roots are both Irish and Lebanese.) As part of the negotiations that brought about that pact, an inquiry was commissioned in 1998 by Tony Blair, then prime minister, to investigate the events of Bloody Sunday. The commission took 12 years to complete its inquiry at a staggering cost of $280 million of taxpayer money (more than half of which went to lawyers). Nearly 1,400 witnesses testified. Finally, on 15 June 2010, over 38 years after the shootings, the commission issued its 5,000 page report. It left no doubt that the Bloody Sunday shootings were “both unjustified and unjustifiable.” Also discounted were previous official inquiries designed to hide the truth.
The report found that none of the soldiers fired “in response to attack or threatened attacks,” as the soldiers and their lawyers had maintained. Rather, the report found that the British Army commander should not have ordered the soldiers to open fire; that the army fired the first shots; that no warning was given before the army fusillade began; that “none of the casualties” was carrying a firearm; and that some soldiers had “knowingly put forward false accounts” of their actions. Rather, the soldiers reacted to perceived threats from the protesters by “losing their self-control,” “forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training” and with a “serious and widespread loss of fire discipline,” the report said. The document described one of the victims as having been shot while “crawling away” from the soldiers, and another, “in all probability,” taking fire “while he was lying mortally wounded on the ground.” These were “soldiers” trained for centuries by officially sanctioned and pursued bigotry and violence to regard such targets as sub-human.
With that report, for the first time in 400 years, the Irish side of the story had been heard. It was not a pretty story. The victims of Bloody Sunday had been vindicated. But what do they tell the subsequent 3,600 who died, or their families? Or the millions who died before them?
It “only” took 38 years to find the truth about this one incident. Sometimes self-serving propaganda (or “marketing”) is as ugly as the truths it seeks to hide.
Addendum, 2015. The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) is a unit of the Police Service of “Northern” Ireland, consisting of both Protestants and Catholics, set up in 2005 to investigate 3,269 known unsolved murders committed during The Troubles (specifically the thirty years between 1968 and 1998). In 2015, an assault rifle used in seven of those unsolved murders was discovered on public display at the Imperial War Museum in London. The weapon was originally recovered by the police in 1992, but HET officers, told that it had been “disposed of”, were unable to locate the rifle when they reopened the murder cases (which involved five Catholics, including a 15-year-old boy, at a Belfast betting shop).
The fact that the rifle was finally found at the military museum was actually not surprising, given the role of the British military throughout “The Troubles”. British security forces had thousands of paid agents and informants working inside “Northern” Ireland paramilitary groups – such as the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando – many even providing Catholic assassination targets for the Protestant militias. These undercover operatives were recruited by the British Army, MI5 and Special Branch, and many were involved in decades of criminality and murder. One police team arrested 210 paramilitary suspects; 207 of them were agents or informants for the state. Just one Special Branch agent in north Belfast, who ran one of the Ulster Volunteer Force’s most notorious terror gangs, was paid at least £79,000 ($125,000) for his work as a police agent; he has so far been linked to 20 murders. The Brits had created their own “enemy” terrorist organizations to keep alive the senseless killings.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan, who was “Northern” Ireland’s first police ombudsman, found that the security forces failed to control their undercover operatives. “They were running informants, and their argument was that they were saving lives, but hundreds and hundreds of people died because these people were not brought to justice,” she said. And, obviously, neither were they controlled. “There was impunity really for these people to go on committing their crimes. Many of them were killers. Some were serial killers.” And they were paid employees of the British government, a secret army of criminals and killers. The police ombudsman of “Northern” Ireland is currently investigating 60 murder cases where the state has been accused of direct involvement. These investigations were delayed because the police refused to hand over crucial evidence implicating themselves, members of the British army, and members of the British national government, to the ombudsman.
The British government says that collusion with paramilitary groups should never have happened and that the government has apologized where it did. But how do you apologize to 3,600 dead people, 3,300 of whom were Catholic? These are the people who for a century complained about the IRA doing bad stuff.
Here’s some sound advice from a professional American soldier: NEVER ever trust a liar.
And never give one a second chance to lie to you.
In the 1960s the Irish-American Kennedy brothers took on the Ku Klux Klan in the US with federalized military forces and a massive deployment of the FBI. But in Ireland the British government supported and encouraged federal military and police forces’ close partnership and complicity with the very origins of the KKK – and continued to do so for the next forty years – as the dead bodies piled up.
Kennedy “federalized” National Guard (“militia”) forces to restore order and protect human life in states like Alabama, nominally under FBI (federal civilian law enforcement) supervision (equivalent to Scotland Yard or MI5). In the US, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 severely limits the powers of the federal government in using its federal (Regular) professional military personnel to act in domestic law enforcement capacities. However, that law does not apply to the National Guard under state authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within its home state under the state governor’s command or in an adjacent state if invited by that state’s governor. All such personnel are fully subject to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a separate system of constitutional laws enacted by Congress and applicable to all American military personnel. However, there is now some quite murky language, confusion and other laws (like the “Patriot” Act) which apply to the use of federal military forces in “national disaster” situations for “homeland security” purposes. (This is typical Baby Boomer ignorance and stupidity designed primarily to confound and confuse everything, and ensure that civilians, dependent on the military, remain unprepared to do the “safety and security” jobs for which citizens pay them.)
Addendum: In November 2015, “Northern” Ireland police finally made the first-ever arrest in connection with Bloody Sunday – a now-66-year old man who was a soldier believed involved in the deaths of three of the victims – 43 years earlier.
Non-Lethal Approaches. The events of Bloody Sunday followed by just 20 months a similar event that occurred at Kent State University in Ohio USA in May 1970. In that event Ohio state National Guard army soldiers (“militia”) opened fire without provocation on a crowd of unarmed students protesting the war in Vietnam, killing four students and wounding nine others. In the years that followed, the US Regular Army developed far less lethal means and tactics for dispersing demonstrators and changed the crowd control and riot tactics for the Army and all National Guard units it trained in a concerted effort to avoid future civilian casualties. Many of those methods and tactics were adopted by American police departments across the nation. Such US Army efforts continue today, and the Army readily makes its experience, knowledge, equipment and technology available to police services around the world, including in “Northern” Ireland.
The US Army has developed a wide range of non-lethal devices designed to control one or more humans without doing them lasting harm. The problem is the competition. A pistol, or even a rifle, has a certain beauty in size and simplicity. It’s easily man-portable and completely mechanical; all you have to do is aim the barrel and squeeze the trigger. But then, you have to assume that the people on the other side have the same type of device – which makes you equally vulnerable to its beauty. Most non-lethal devices developed by the US Army do have a rather high degree of effectiveness, but many suffer from being, relative to the lethal competition, rather cumbersome and complicated. They also suffer from a certain degree of unreliability; as reliability decreases, the vulnerability of the user increases. So non-lethal devices have to meet a variety of engineering challenges beyond mere effectiveness. Any bright young engineer who can design a non-lethal device that can match or exceed the qualities of a gun or rifle could become a rich man, or woman. So far, the hand-held Taser has come closest, but it still doesn’t win the cigar. (It’s also effective with only one person.) Two of the problems with non-lethal weapons is that they can inadvertently do harm (say, if the target falls and strikes their head on a hard object), and there’s a tendency for them to be used excessively. A person using a lethal weapon has a sense of the gravity of the situation in his hands and will usually exercise an appreciable measure of restraint. Since this is usually not the case with non-lethal weapons, the need for considerable education and training (and rules) is just as important as for lethal weapons. Excessive use of non-lethal weapons is definitely a very real problem. Even a non-lethal weapon should never be used as a substitute for intelligence and good judgement. The first order of business is always to defuse the situation – quickly, peacefully, safely and smartly – preferable without weapons. I’ve known men who can do that with nothing more than body language.
Footnote #11: … such as Dublin’s Scotch-Irish “elitist” Socialist George Bernard Shaw, who, having witnessed first-hand the example of Ireland, remained a proponent of Stalin’s mass “liquidation” of those humans deemed sub-par performers in a “civilized” society. This twisted mind wasn’t satisfied with massive “ethnic cleansing”; he wanted to re-engineer humanity. You can see the same supreme arrogance today among many of America’s privileged women. (The Soviet communists, including Stalin, viewed Shaw as one of their “useful idiots”.)
See Invincible Probity comment below dated 17 July 2011, Consequences And Coincidences. re Lord Mountbatten; historian, folklorist and author Joe McGowan; & Irish revolutionary Countess Constance Markiewicz.