Easter Rising was not a ‘just war’ – and it gave a false legitimacy to IRA
Schools around the country held ceremonies this week to mark the 1916 Proclamation of Independence. In many cases this involved drafting proclamations of their own. To judge from some of these proclamations, the men and women of 1916 died for better public services.
FOR II EDUCATION 1916, KATHERINE DONNOLLY STORY.
St. Mary’s Secondary School, Holy Faith Convent Student Shauna Sheridan, as PH Pierse pictured with the Proclamation and The Schools’ students enacted the reading of the Proclamation at The Glasnevin school yesterday.
PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
Hmm, could the British not have provided that without any blood being shed? They have the NHS, after all, and as shambolic as it is, it seems to be better than our HSE.
The original proclamation is being touted as though it was a left-wing text of some kind. In fact, most of the proclamation is given over to justifying the rebellion in the name of Irish freedom and placing the rebels as the legitimate heirs of a long tradition of rebellion against British rule.
That is nationalism, not socialism, or even social democracy.
The references to equality, are to “equal rights” and “equal opportunities”. There is nothing specifically left-wing about either of these ideas. There is nothing there about equality of outcome.
The “children” in the line about “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” are the children of the various religious traditions, Protestant and Catholic. (In the children’s rights referendum, it was ludicrously claimed that it was a literal reference to children).
This could not be further in spirit and letter from the spirit and letter of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia the following year, a revolution, incidentally, that the Anti-Austerity Alliance still holds up as a model to us all.
The proclamation begins and ends by placing the rebels and the Irish Republic under the protection of God. How many of the new “proclamations” read out in schools this week invoked the name of God at all?
Many of the men and women of 1916 were deeply religious, as befitted the times. It would have been extremely strange and extremely alienating to most Irish people if they had not invoked God.
They had to invoke Him and “the nation” in order to justify their actions. People must always invoke something to justify controversial actions.
But was the Rising justified? As educated Catholics, they ought to have been familiar with ‘Just War’ theory. Was the Rising a just war?
One person who says “definitely not” is the Jesuit philosopher Seamus Murphy. Writing in ‘The Irish Catholic’ a few weeks ago, he set out the major criteria by which a war may be considered just or unjust.
He lists these as: don’t target non-combatants; don’t start a war if there is no hope of success; only a “competent authority” such as a government or popular representatives possess the right to start a war or insurrection; the war requires a just cause such as defence against invasion; and there is no realistic alternative to war.
The 1916 Rising did target civilians. Civilians are always killed in war, but they can never be deliberately targeted. Dr Murphy points out: “On the first day of the Rising, the Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army members deliberately killed some civilians and unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police constables.”
Kevin Myers has very ably listed the atrocities some of the rebels engaged in.
The rebels knew they had no hope of success and that the Rising would be put down. There is wriggle room here for the rebels, however, because they could argue that their hope was that the Rising would trigger something in the broader Irish people. And it did. So in that sense it succeeded.
Were the rebels a “competent authority”, that is, did they have the right to start a rebellion and kill people? They invoked the “dead generations” and the “old tradition of nationhood” as their legitimators.
But couldn’t anyone do that? That’s what the IRA did and it did not legitimise their long campaign of violence.
The French Revolution had genuine popular support. So did the American Revolution. The Rising did not. Most Irish people were opposed to it and only switched their sympathies when the British started to execute the rebels.
So the Rising certainly fails this Just War criterion as well.
Was there a “just cause” for what they did? That is, were Irish people being killed as a result of invasion? Was mass killing otherwise underway? Was the weight of oppression so great that the only proper response was violent insurrection? The answer to all these questions is “no”.
The rebels would argue that Ireland had been invaded, albeit centuries before. But Britain had ceased to be a violently oppressive ruler and a number of British governments, starting in the 19th century, had tried to ease the lot of ordinary Irish people.But perhaps the Rising was justified because there was no other way to become independent?
It fails on this ground as well because there was another path to independence and it was well represented by John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party.
People complain that the Home Rule on offer from Britain didn’t go far enough. It was part of a process, however. We’d have won full independence eventually, probably following the Second World War when Britain was shedding its empire and around the time India won its independence.
There were violent elements in the Indian independence movement (some of them inspired by the Easter Rising, incidentally), but the real architect of Indian independence was, of course, the pacifist Mahatma Gandhi.
In an earlier age, the British might simply have executed Gandhi but by the 1940s, they had lost the will to rule. And that was the point. They would have lost the will to rule Ireland as well and independence would have come peacefully.
What the Easter Rising did instead was to give a false legitimacy to the notion that any group of men could justify violence by wrapping themselves in the mantle of the “dead generations” and the “old tradition of nationhood” which, as mentioned, is exactly what the IRA did.
Catholics in the North were unjustly treated but there was an alternative to the “solution” offered by Sinn Féin and the IRA, and that was the path offered by John Hume and the SDLP.
The 1916 rebels set out on the wrong path to independence and the IRA followed them down that path only a few decades later.
We should have continued on down the path being followed by Redmond. That would have been a much better thing to remember than what we are remembering and celebrating now, namely violence without justification.