Irish Republican Army, Oliver Cromwell, and Political Terrorism and Violence

"My guess is you are American... and vastly ill-informed about direct political action."

"It doesn't take courage to shoot a policeman in the back of the head or to murder an unarmed taxi driver. What takes courage is to compete in the arena of democracy as these men and women are tonight. The tools are persuasion, fairness and common sense."
former U.S. Senator and peace talks chairman George Mitchell announcing preliminary agreement to end the "troubles" in N. Ireland on April 10, 1998.

Listen to Mitchell speak the truth!

From: RED GUY (
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 08:36:46 EST
Subject: Political Terrorism
Organization: AOL (

My guess is you are American. Certainly a conservative and vastly ill-informed about direct political action. Do you think the Irish were happy to be forcefully converted to protestantism by Oliver Cromwell. A man you must despise as a political terrorist. Or King William of Oranges' attempt to slay them. A man you must admire. Or how about starving to death because the only crops you can eat are potatoes, grown on land you once owned but now rent from a foreign conqueror. While all the best food, Beef, tomatoes, chickens leave your country under armed guard for the British Aristocracy and Lords to eat.

Better still if you are a Yank, as I suspect (prove me wrong). Why do you not hand back our Colonies you stole from us with Political Terrorism in the 1770s. Also don't talk to us about John Locke as one of the fathers of your constitution as he advocated armed inserection to change Governments who break public trust.

When is your lovely Republic going to lift its sanctions on Cuba. Surely that is political Terrorism. But of course you do not interfere in other countries internal sovereign business. Such as Saudi Arabia who regularly publically beheads woman on the ground of infidelity. But of course you are against Female Circumcision.

      Dear "Red Guy,"

      Yes, I am an American, and for this I ask the forgiveness of no one. Your caustic comments have, on the other hand, the unpleasant odor of the extremist Irish Republican Army hanging around them, poignantly reminding me why my own ancestors left that emerald island over 100 years ago for the more propitious regions of North America. Thank you for the reminder as to exactly what my family gave up and gained in the exchange.

      And, no, I don't look with much happiness upon the historical figure of Oliver Cromwell, harbinger of much war and misery in his time - a man whose chief skill was causing other men to die violent deaths in a context of 17th century English political instability. I do, however, take hope in the fact that Cromwell was the last "Lord Protector"-style absolute ruler to govern in England, as the Glorious ("Bloodless") Revolution of 1688 brought about a political system where the English king once and for all found himself ruling only within carefully prescribed limits set down by Parliament. I see as much more important to us today the legacy left to us by the poet John Milton, jurist William Blackstone, and philosopher John Locke - men who although they lived in the same period as Cromwell thought very differently from him. (From an idea conceived in Athens centuries ago, those thinkers helped extend the liberal tradition which respects the individual's right to life and property, freedom of speech and religion; and over time this developed into the constitutional liberalism we see today emphasizing checks on the power of each branch of government, equality under the law, impartial courts and tribunals, and separation of church and state.) It are not the prescient voices and messages of Cromwell or King William of Orange but those of Milton and Locke that reach down to us over the centuries and resonate as if alive, urging an ethic of discussion and tolerance instead of autocracy and oppression. I honor this tradition as it continues on through history in the statesmen Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, and philosophers the Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Sirs Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin - to answer your questions, in part.

      None of these worthy thinkers would argue that violence and revolution are unwarranted or indefensible when all other paths for political change have been exhausted. The colonial Americans who came to populate General George Washington's citizen-soldier army, for example, originally coached their objections to the arbitrary taxes and governance of the King by claiming their rights as Englishmen as elucidated in the Revolution of 1688. But the great success of constitutional liberalism since that age are due in part to the fact that democracy can make violent change unnecessary, with government answerable to the people and the autonomy and dignity of the individual more and more protected against religious, political and cultural coercion. Democracy, as I see it, is about respecting certain "inalienable" rights and choosing the ballot box over the bullet, if at all possible. This liberal tradition in Great Britain and the United States has helped those two countries avoid falling into the barbarism of fascism and communism which have engulfed so much of the rest of the world this century.

      Freedom in Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China? I completely agree with Paul Johnson when he asserted that "freedom is a good which any rational man knows how to value, whatever his social origins, occupation or economic prospects." I do not believe, as many do today, that persons in the Middle or Far East have been conditioned to be treated poorly because of their unique cultural circumstances and as such we should consider said treatment legitimate. And I would argue this wherever it would come up by use of arguments and persuasion, as I have done in many places (against my own government, as well as any other). I believe if you do not change the soul within than the world outside will never change; old corrupt and exploitative institutions will simply be replaced by new corrupt and exploitative ones. I believe it is the power of thought and ideas and not mere violence and physical duress that ultimately bring about real change; I agree completely with Ralph Waldo Emerson when he claimed that "spiritual are stronger than material forces; that thoughts rule the world." General Washington never was going to remove from the colonies a vastly superior English military on the field of battle, the victory at Yorktown and French support notwithstanding. Ghandi had not the wherewithal to drive out the British colonizers by physical force. Without Voltaire, the French Revolution would have been impossible. Martin Luther King, Jr. won his civil rights struggles in the hearts and minds of Americans not through a campaign of bluster, intimidation, and insurrection but through moral strength and personal example. Conversely, history - especially recent history! - is replete with mindless political violence which instead of ameliorating human misery and suffering has only increased it.

      Let us take a look at the achievements of liberal democratic government as it has evolved over the past three hundred years: limited government by the rule of law, a tolerance for a multiplicity of views, strong civic associations, and rational discourse among men and women of different opinions. Even with all its shortcomings and weaknesses, this style of government has allowed sections of the globe to flourish and prosper as never before. The quiet virtues of democracy -- the space it leaves for privacy, the individual, the ability to choose -- are no less virtuous for being quiet. But buffeted by the calumnies of day-to-day political life, I notice that much of this noble rhetoric with respect to "rights" and "freedom" wears thin as human frailty and prejudice lead to political scandals, abuses of power, rank incompetence, etc. Instead of the princesses' glass slippers, democracy leaves us with the worn and frayed pair of comfortable walking shoes in the closet which have conferred workable service over many years. Nevertheless, I suspect we do not truly appreciate those old walking shoes until they are gone and we find ourselves walking the streets barefoot. (How ironic that those who enjoy political freedom are often the ones who are least likely to appreciate it, knowing nothing else!) Why commit to the mundane banality of unglamorous and ambiguous political life when you can embrace the epic millennial revolutionary struggle? Two harrowing words, bringing to mind images of barbarity and feelings of disgust upon hearing them, instruct as to why: Northern Ireland.

      But why face the squalid reality of the IRA's long campaign of violence and intimidation in Ulster? It is of course more comforting to romanticize the "cause" and imagine a heroic resistance to oppression than to confront the death, injury, division and bitterness that are the IRA's only true achievements. This primitive tribal struggle is grist for anthropologists and criminal psychologists -- a throwback to earlier decades of 20th century European history when thuggery and intimidation were often more the rule than the exception. And the fratricidal conflict continues today, even in the European Union of the Common Market and generalized peace and prosperity! When even the British and Irish governments see eye-to-eye on the issues! But from ancient grudges break endless fresh mutinies, and so the bloodshed mindlessly continues as if on autopilot. Will it never end?

      Mao Zedong tells us that power is in the muzzle of a gun. You yourself talk euphemistically about "direct political action," as if blowing up a man were little different than persuading him. In too many parts of the world, your point of view holds sway! But power is also to be found in words, and in the long-run, words triumph over guns. How sad that Northern Ireland has produced so many more bloodied experts in bomb building and gunnery than social visionaries willing to lead or solid wordsmiths able to craft messages worth following! After decades of the most senseless violence, this might only be changing now. Why must violence be the lingua franca of Ulster? Why must people live like beasts in Northern Ireland? As Isocrates claimed:

"In most of our abilities we differ not at all from the animals. We are in fact behind many in swiftness and strength and other resources. But because there is born in us the power to persuade each other and to show ourselves whatever we wish, we not only have escaped from living as brutes, but also by coming together have founded cities and set up laws and invented arts, and speech has helped us to attain practically all of the things we have devised."

This power of reason and intellect may not be enough to overcome the blind hatred and blood feuds in Northern Ireland, as the "better angels" of our human natures swim against the tides of history and prejudice; but it is perhaps the only hope. It is certainly a better hope than your talk of "direct political action." The pen is mightier than the sword; ink is more indelible than blood.

      "Red Guy," you seem a contentious fellow - e-mailing me (a perfect stranger) so inhospitably from your America Online account. Perhaps a spell in Castro's Cuba might change your manners and political perspective. I suspect you probably would not get on well with the authorities there in the same way so many of the old Bolsheviks finally fell afoul of Stalin, the wolves eventually devouring one another.


      Richard Geib

P.S. The economic embargo against Cuba is political terrorism? I disagree; nobody is being car-bombed or shot dead in the streets of Cuba by agents of the American government today. The United States has simply decided not to trade with that country. Fidel Castro - the only political force in that country which matters - sided with the Soviet Union in the Cold War and his side lost. Now he (and, unfortunately, his suffering people) is paying the consequences; such is the bed he made for himself, let him lie in it. As Castro will not live forever, neither will the embargo: patience is all.

The pen is mightier than the sword; ink is more indelible than blood.

This in honor of Eamon Collins, beaten to death by the Irish Republican Army and dumped at a roadside near Newry, North Ireland on January 27, 1999. Collins, a one-time member of the IRA, was murdered for writing an unflinching exposť of life inside the Irish Republican Army which refuted his former colleagues and their cause. Mr. Collins knew the risks of writing his book and has now paid the price; let us all take note both of his words and his example.

"If I have blackened the IRA's name, I have done so with the heat of truth," Collins wrote, condemning his own past mind-set as "fanatical, full of anger and contempt, and ready to connive at the deaths of enemies when they are unarmed and vulnerable." Collins further claimed, "The violence has isolated us from the people with whom we have most in common -- northern Protestants -- and deepened the gulf between us and our southern neighbors." In his book "Killing Rage," Collins recounts his growing sense of disgust that the IRA, which he had joined in hopes of sparking working-class revolution, but was concentrating instead on killing unarmed Protestants and in turn provoking Protestant retaliation against innocent Catholics.

May Mr. Eamon Collins in death rest in peace, knowing in life he spoke what he knew to be true. Amen.

Some discussions....

"You may theorise all you like but..."
" for Eamonn Collins well he was just a fucking tout who betrayed his own people."

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