Martin McGuinness, the IRA, and the nature of Civil War

…and no, I never use the term “Troubles”, which is such a cutesy underestimation of what actually occurred – a civil war that lasted for a solid 30 years. With that in mind:

So Martin “Former IRA Commander” McGuiness has died.
Relatively recently, I wrote a Facebook post decrying Sinn Fein for selling out, and amongst other things I singled out McGuinness for his newfound fondness for the Queen of England, as well as his chummy relationship with one of the largest bigots/religious fanatics, Ian Paisley. I’m tempted to write something cute and cheeky now Martin “It’s DERRY, not Londonderry” McGuinness is dead, but I’m not going to. History, especially the history of that strange autonomous zone/apartheid state up north, is far too complex for that kind of simplistic damnation.
And it should be noted that I criticized Sinn Fein from the position of a left wing Republican – I believe that Northern Ireland is IRISH, NOT BRITISH, and the territory has never been British anymore than Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Egypt, or any other headache from the colonial era. There has also been considerable tutting from the Right about Martin McGuinness’ IRA past – the CBC wrote a particularly damning eulogy that, while making a big deal about the man’s role in the Peace Process, condemned him to eternal hellfire for his participation/leadership of the IRA.
This fails to understand, or even have anything remotely close to empathy, the past 400 years of Anglo-Irish “relations” – and when I say relations, I mean brutal invasion, conquest, arbitrary violence, and the complete hegemony of the British state as they revved up for Empire AND cleaned up what they considered their backyard. You know how Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan felt about Central and South America? Kinda like that.
It fails to understand that this was a CIVIL WAR, not some drum circle at a park during the Summer of Love. I can’t believe that I have to explain this, but as a leading member of an army, McGuinness indeed spilled blood. So did the British Army, and I can’t help but notice that no one mentions the significant “other” in this combination; along with the aforementioned 400 years of Empire, more recently the British army was occupied with killing even more Irish people.
McGuinness felt (rightly or wrongly) that the only way that Ireland could be freed would be via kicking the Brits out with physical force. If that makes him a terrorist, then that same condemnation can be applied to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Abe Lincoln (hey look! Another civil war), FDR etc, and that’s just running down the more notable Americans.
Another analogy that the IRA actively fostered was that connection with other anti-colonial movements, specifically the Viet Cong. I don’t know how accurate that comparison is, but I will say that no one on earth would ever call the VC terrorists; they were a guerilla, irregular army, kinda like the IRA. I can think of a few British Army units (including the charmers in the paratrooper division) who could also measure up to that whole terrorist sobriquet.
McGuinness talked and acted tough on the TV, then OUT OF NOWHERE began peace talks in secret. You know why he talked a lot of bullshit about violence RIGHT BEFORE he entered talks to end said violence? Because it’s a lot easier to sell the concept of ceasefire with your paramilitary buddies if your Republican stripes are in order and unquestioned. His speeches in the late 80s (which the CBC referred to as “glorifying violence”) were just a tactic, meant to keep the real Republican hawks in line, as well as creating trust across the Republican spectrum that McGuinness and Adams knew what they’re doing. It was a strategy to gradually win over Republicans to their side, then gradually introduce the concept of ceasefire; it is no more the mark of a sociopath, in love with murder, than any given gangster rapper similarly talking a lot of bullshit (without actually doing anything physical).
The Peace Process was by no means perfect, and today there are plenty of dissident Republicans who have fallen out of love with Sinn Fein, who view Adams and McGuinness as sellouts. And from the other end of the spectrum, you have good ol’ Canadian Redcoats who are apparently very happy with Canada’s bizarre constitutional relationship with England; and these people hate the IRA like they hate sin. The loyalists who also apparently constitute mainstream media in Canada are either totally unfamiliar with the rest of the context of colonialism in general and the civil war specifically; it disgusts me that the utterly ignorant are given the job of writing a report on a dead man that looks like the Nuremberg file on Rommel.
Was McGuinness good? Evil? Probably neither, which puts him squarely in the same category as the majority of humanity. But what has to be understood is context; McGuinness did not grow up in an American suburb, and the cutesy term, “The Troubles”, is a grotesque understatement of what was occurring at the time, namely a civil war. A civil war that lasted for around 30 years, and was only the most recent spasm of violence to take place in that conflict zone – and it will likely start again in some form or another during my lifetime. That’s what McGuinness grew up in, and his choice to participate in this violence was mirrored by thousands.

 

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