Did Britain Lose The War To Win The Peace?

I’ve recommended the historical analyses of Pat Walsh in a previous post and this sample from his forthcoming publication, “Resurgence”, the second and final volume of “The Catholic Political Predicament in Northern Ireland”, gives a good indication of why.

“The famous British jurist, F.E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead), who introduced the 1920 Act into Parliament and prosecuted Roger Casement, once stated that the measure of success in war and “who wins is found in the answer to the question: who is punished? There is no other test” (The Speeches of Lord Birkenhead, p108). At the conclusion of the War the Republican POWs were released and Sinn Fein took their place in government.

The 28 Year War could not be won by the British Army. It goes against the grain for Britain not to win in war, or at least to give the appearance of having won. In 1998 it admitted in effect its inability to win and, by the settlement it agreed, de facto at least, that the War waged against it by the Republican Army was legitimate. But the only sense that can be made of its policies in the years which followed is that it continued hoping to free itself from the concessions it had had to make in order to end the War. The idea is to restore a modified version of the system it set up in 1921, an arrangement more to its liking. Its intention has been to recover the ground, all or in part, it had to concede in 1998.

The first manifestation of this was in the attempts to ‘roll-back’ the policing reforms. This has involved a subversion of the Patten changes, which were intended to introduce a new culture into the police…

Further British measures against the settlement included the arrest of pivotal Republicans for alleged IRA activities not covered by the 1998 Agreement—because they occurred after it and were therefore beyond its scope…

The strategy of embarrassing Sinn Fein with arrests of Republicans was presumably directed towards dividing and fragmenting the Republican base. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the Provos was to hold the Republican movement together, except for some fragments, as they negotiated the Agreement and carried it through. They said at the outset that their great concern was to prevent a repetition in the North of what happened in the South in 1922. And they have succeeded in this for now.”

That last caveat is an important one, especially as a number of post-conflict issues, taken with the more egregious Brexit threats emanating from the nationalist right-wing in Britain, have the very real potential of turning a cold peace into a hot war. Those believing that an immediate casus belli no longer exists in relation to the UK’s continued authority over the north-east of this island nation may need to think again if British military engineers start blowing up “cross-border” roads and bridges. Returning to the era of the early 1990s could occur in more ways than one, and the City of London doesn’t look any more resilient now than it did back then.

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11 comments

    1. Unfortunately true! I know in American English is has become as sort of acceptable mistake but I try and capture it on the read-through before posting. Type in haste, regret at leisure! Fixed now.

  1. For a short article, this one is raising a lot of ghosts. Wars are never really finished until the last of the surviving combatants have died, surprisingly, most of them, in their beds, unlike their dead comrades. Until then,. fear, bitterness, and pride, lives on in the survivors. Young teenage volunteers at the ceasefire, in 1998, will be around, reliving that last war, until about the 2080’s. That applies to both sides of the conflict. In the meantime, some are in Government, and doing their best for a bad peace, that was manipulated and undermined from day one. (classic divide and rule tactics).

    What surprises me though, is that the peace has held, more or less, with greater or lesser enthusiasm, on both sides. The Republican dissidents are not strong, in force or numbers, and in my view, misguided, as De-Facto, the old Northern Ireland Regime was dismembered, some basic rights restored or gained, and the Unionist reactionaries forced to learn basic manners and behaviour and take part in the Government, and share power. That in itself, is a standing rebuke to them, and to the UK Government.In my view, the direction of events in the North are now relentlessly towards reunification, and that is now inevitable, and will take place within a decade.

    By way of contrast, the looming BREXIT, one of the largest examples ever of Turkey’s voting for Christmas, is a huge event, of great significance for Ireland. People have become used to the demilitarized, open border, free movement, and 70% of the North’s trade being with the South. All that is now subject to a Green version of an Iron Curtain, severing the North from the South in many ways, a re-militarised border, collapse of the Northern Irish economy, and the social and political isolation of the North. The North will be outcast from the EU along with the rest of the UK. The consequences will be much harsher than for the UK mainland. There will be hard times, and BREXIT will cause a huge crisis in the UK, with Scotland, almost immediately forced into a second independence referendum, and attempting to break away. The Scots will then be in the same position as that of Ireland in 1919, with all the ominous implications that has. We shall all live in interesting times.
    Events, uncontrollable events, will force the UK Government into a corner, and I foresee a breakup of the UK, within two years, and probable violence in Scotland, as the UK Government repeat the Irish mistakes of 1919.

    In these circumstances, I think that Republicans have to be very alert, sophisticated, and careful, in their responses. This is because, after BREXIT, the North has nowhere else to go. It is outcast, outwith the EU, and will never be allowed back in, and economically isolated, weakened, and subject to a capricious UK Government. Time is not on the Unionist side. It is on the Republican side. Our day Will Come.be very sure that it will.

    1. And why would there be violence in Scotland? It’s not an occupied country. They themselves have chosen to be part of the UK.

  2. Why would Scots vote to leave the U.K. in the event of “Brexit?” The S.N.P.’s economic case for Scottish independence has been blown out of the water following the fall in oil prices, the Scottish people are simply too sensible to take such an option. I would be astonished if there were any violence in Scotland : Scotland is not Ireland, there is no tradition of political violence there.
    Why would the economy of N.I. collapse in the event of “Brexit”? Surely the U.K. would make a net gain of around £8.5 billion and therefore would have more money to spend in N.I. and elsewhere. Of the people I come into contact with in N.I., mostly small business people and farmers, from both religious communities, I haven’t met one yet who’s in favour of staying in the E.U.. I’m the only one still in two minds.

  3. i agree with Graham that the Brexit Referendum is a bad, bad move by the UK government/conservatives.

    Whatever the outcome there will be problems, most probably a UK break-up if the vote is for leave. In that brittle situation I agree Republicans (and indeed the irish overall ) will need to be very alert, sophisticated, and careful, in their responses as we will be very much in end-game territory.

    I’m not convinced there will be violence in Scotland – the Scots don’t want it and Scottish nationalists are very proud of having come as far as they have without any of the irish physical force tradition, Also times and communications are no longer what they were 100 years ago when britain cheerfully unleashed its black and tans on a country it claimed it owned.

    Although modern communication systems cannot prevent massacres in the ME and Africa, I am not entirely convinced mass murder could occur unnoticed, unreported and unremarked in Scotland

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