The Terrorist as Statesman

The Terrorist as Statesman

Mini Teaser: Washington, London and Dublin all declare that the peace process must continue--no matter how many people get killed. Gerry Adams completely agrees.

by Author(s): Kevin Myers

Gerry Adams, A Farther Shore: Ireland's Long Road to Peace (New York: Random House, 2003), 448 pp., $25.95.

In the 1930s, with the ghastly blood-letting of 1916-22 at a reasonably safe distance, nationalist Ireland began to create a fresh narrative about those Troubles, one which was thoroughly sanitized. This tale was drenched with Irish victimhood, British villainy and republican gallantry; Irish nationalism had discovered something entirely new in the history of war: peaceful terrorism.

The scores of innocent civilians who were killed in the rising in Dublin in 1916 were forgotten. So too were the Protestants murdered by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) because of their religion, and the thousands of "loyalists"--people faithful to the union with Britain--driven from newly independent Ireland. The campaign against Irishmen who had served in the British army in the Great War--hundreds were murdered--completely vanished both from the popular memory and the official histories.

Most of us who have lived through the latest version of the Irish Troubles--which started in 1969--would have been confident that no such historical fable-making was possible any longer. The atrocities of the IRA had been too spectacular, too visible, too frequent for republicans to be able create a cleansed narrative in which they were unsullied heroes. I certainly believed that, though I really should have known better, since I have made it my business since the 1980s to write in my column in the Irish Times not just on the current Troubles, but also on the Troubles of 1916â€"22, using contemporary newspaper files as my source.

Archives of Irish Times issues dating back to the first Troubles make for terrible reading, because contrary to what one might expect from reading the history books, enough of the truth of IRA atrocities was being reported daily. To be sure, the poor wretches who were secretly abducted, tortured, killed and buried did not figure in these reports (how could they?); but the campaign against the ex-servicemen--it was even called that in the papers--emphatically did, with the newspaper keeping a melancholy score of the daily toll. The attacks on Protestants in West Cork, their murders and the forcible eviction of thousands were extensively covered too.

So too were other truths. That contrary to what many people believed, Kevin Barry, the great republican martyr of the Troubles, wasn't executed simply because he was an Irish republican, but because he had murdered two boy-soldiers collecting bread. Nor was he the first victim of the hangman's noose in the Troubles. That dismal distinction went not to an Irish republican, but to a policeman the week before Barry was hanged. He was executed for murdering a civilian.

Yet Irish nationalism was nonetheless able to eradicate the dark stain of murderous truth from its self-absorbed and self-justifying narrative. When the perpetrators of quite terrible deeds--such as Tom Barry, Ernie O'Malley and Dan Breen--wrote their memoirs, there was already a congenial mythological setting for them to find their place. Their factual corruption entered almost all official histories, like a modern computer virus.

The New Cleansers

Precisely the same diseased process is occurring now. Gerry Adams, the IRA leader throughout the Troubles from 1971 onwards, who in another epoch would certainly have been tried for war crimes, is now the most respected political party leader in all of Ireland. Barely less respected than him is his fellow IRA chieftain, Martin McGuinness. Between them, as leaders of almost certainly the most ruthless terrorist organization in Europe, they can confidently count on being responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of people.

A squalid symmetry indicates how the narrative has been corrupted and turned on its head. In December 1972, Jean McConville, a widow, was abducted from in front of her screaming family, then tortured, murdered and secretly buried in 1972 by men of the 2nd battalion of the Belfast IRA, whose commander was Gerry Adams. The reason? She was a Protestant living in a Catholic area, and was suspected of being an informer. Her ten children, the oldest 15 years of age, were left for months to fend for themselves before the family was broken up and put into orphanages. At the very least, Adams must have known about the fate of this woman; at the very worst, he was responsible for it. It was the worst single crime of the Troubles.

Jean McConville's bones were accidentally found in the Irish Republic last year, and in November 2003, she was finally given a proper funeral, 31 years after she was murdered, in St. Peter's church in the IRA heartland, the Falls Road in West Belfast. The church was half empty, neither the British nor the Irish government was represented, and the Falls Road looked away as her coffin passed by. At least, the presiding priest, Monsignor Thomas Toner, placed the event in context.

"In the history of our Troubles, there can be no more despicable act than the abduction, murder and casual disposal of the body of Jean McConville and the subsequent plight of her children. It is our most shameful example of the moral corruption and degradation that violence generates in the human spirit.

Not long after that funeral, Gerry Adams' father died. The same church was full to bursting, the Falls Road closed down out of respect, and thousands lined the street to watch the funeral procession."

The corruption of this peace process had reached its ultimate moral nadir. Or so it seems; who knows what other degradations await us as the propitiation of terrorist culture continues?

All is possible, as we have to endure the grotesque effrontery of Sinn Fein leaders giving us moral homilies, even as pools of blood form at their feet. Sinn Fein-IRA now apparently believe the moral façade they built to impress gullible foreigners. Sinn Fein representatives now actually talk down to people; they speak as if they have been the guardians of decency, rather than the night-watchmen of a torture chamber for the past thirty years. Have you any idea what it is to be condescended to by such creatures?

The moral superiority, the falsehoods and the pathological amnesia that lie at the heart of Irish republicanism are there in full and plenteous measure in Gerry Adams's latest contribution to the world of fiction--entitled A Farther Shore in America, Hope and History in the British isles--which nonetheless purports to be fact. And in its own perverse way, it is fact: It probably is an accurate portrait of the Irish republican mental landscape, with its mountains of myth, its lagoons of falsehood, its dark woodlands of unionist and British ogres and its hamlets populated by peaceable Irish republican Hobbits.

The central problem about this landscape for the outsider is that it is intact and whole and compelling for those whom it bewitches, but it is as empty of reality as computer-generated imagery. With this CGI-politics comes an entire morality, as intact and self-enclosed as the landscape. This morality is perfectly at ease with the torture and execution of informers; untroubled with bombing blameless cities; at ease with killing people because they are loyalists; and speechless with rage at any perceived injustice done to republicans.

All this homicidal aggression has to have a moral context, and that context is "oppression." No one disputes that there was discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland. But even when the province was governed by the Protestant majority, there were Catholic judges and senior Catholic police officers. Catholics had opted out of the state school system, but Catholic schools were 90 percent subsidized by the state. Certainly, however, there was injustice--as in employment in the shipyards and government service, and in the gerrymandered constituencies which gave Protestants disproportionate power--and it was this which the civil rights campaign of the late 1960s was targeting.

But the IRA campaign had nothing to do with civil rights. It was a violent terrorist assault on the union with Britain which a majority of the population of Northern Ireland continued to cherish. And in the process of that assault, infinitely more damage was done to human rights than had been inflicted by unionist rule: Thousands of people died, and tens of thousand were injured and bereaved. The IRA campaign of 1970â€"95 was a human and moral catastrophe. Terrorism on such a scale in the U.S. would have caused at least 175,000 dead--Vietnam threefold, as it were.

In the Irish republican mind, responsibility for this campaign has been shifted to the enemy--the British and the unionists. History is falsified. Synaptic short circuits in the Sinn Fein brain intensify nationalist victimhood, and form absurd analogies. The favored comparison--of course--is between the lot of South African blacks and Northern Ireland Catholics. But there is no comparison. There was no apartheid in Northern Ireland. Nothing in Northern Ireland compared with the South African pass laws, the thousands of people murdered by the security forces, the countless deaths in custody or the land seizures.

To be sure, in the early stages of the IRA terrorist campaign there were human rights abuses and even torture by members of the security forces. Victims of those abuses sued the British state, and a (Catholic) Northern Ireland judge, Rory Conaghan, denounced the transgressions and awarded the victims generous damages. The IRA's response to this brave and civilized deed? Well, it was to murder him. Why? Because they hated visible signs of justice, and also because taking life was what the IRA did. If in doubt, kill.

Essay Types: Book Review