Editorial from Irish Political Review, April 2009
"Our War" And Its Consequences
Our War was the theme of Radio Eireann's Thomas Davis Lectures this year. The War with which Britain convulsed the world in 1914, and from which the world has not yet recovered, has now been made Our War—and in the name of Thomas Davis!
Britain was at war when Davis launched The Nation. (When has it not been at war!) It was, as Davis put it, "At war with everybody". And Davis undoubtedly had a martial spirit. No pacifist could have written Clare's Dragoons. And yet he did not support Britain's war against everybody—though it was the war that gave us the modern world of perpetual progress. He did not rejoice that the greatest state in the world in those times—the most populous and the most civilised—was forced to open itself to opium and the West. What he rejoiced in was the fact that a British Army of 10,000—or was it 20,000—marched into Afghanistan, took Kabul, and was done away with while it was trying to get out again.
We are not allowed to rejoice in such things nowadays. We must lament that two young soldiers had their lives snatched away from them before they had the chance to go off to Afghanistan and snatch other lives away.
(Gerry Adams told Radio Eireann that it was wrong politically. But isn't that lacking in compassion, Gerry? Doesn't it make you sick in the stomach that these young men were deprived of their chance to kill, Aine gushed. Apparently it didn't. So there's still hope for Sinn Fein.)
One of the Thomas Davis Lectures was given by Professor David Fitzpatrick, an Australian who hatched out a brood of revisionist operatives in Trinity College around 1990 but has only recently begun to appear in his own right as a public figure in the media. Here is the peroration of his lecture:
"If the world had remained at peace between 1914 and 1918 the Irish people would surely have been poorer, less employable and more troubled with class and sectarian conflict. To that extent Ireland did well out of the war."
It is useful to be supplied, from the highest authority, with this kind of standard for judging wars. Forget about causes and purposes. Forget about the reasons given by the British Government for launching that World War, in which over 10 million were killed. And forget about the reasons given by the Home Rulers for supporting it. Forget—but who remembers—Sinn Fein has forgotten, and doesn't want to know. It lives in accomplished fact, and doesn't presume to judge the accomplishers of the facts in which it lives—except in one marginal instance. And in this it shows itself to be wise and prudent. It swallows the Great War and is itself justified by Professor Fitzpatrick's justification of it in terms of its social consequences for one of the parties to it.
If the Provos had remained at peace, the people of West Belfast and the Bogside and Crossmaglen would have been poorer, less employable, and more troubled by sectarianism.
Professor Fitzpatrick gives the answer to those who argue pedantically that Good Friday terms were available under the Sunningdale Agreement in 1974, and that rejection of Sunningdale led to a wasteful quarter of a century of warfare. Leaving aside the factual detail that it was not the Provos but the Unionists who broke the Sunningdale arrangement, it is an observable reality that West Belfast etc. benefitted from that further quarter century of war in the way that Professor Fitzpatrick says that Ireland profitted from the Great War. They were better places in 1998 than they had been in 1974.
And the improvement had nothing to do with the formality of terms. The temper and character of the community changed utterly between 1974 and 1998. War was good for it. If "sectarianism" remained, that was not its doing. When Britain set up Northern Ireland as a place apart, it determined that "sectarianism" would be the medium of public life in the Six Counties. The great change produced by the war was that Catholic participation in the necessary sectarianism ceased to express itself in the sullen whinging of the victim. Victimhood was overcome. And in that sense sectarianism was overcome. (It was transferred to the other side. That's the thing about war. Everybody can't win. But in modern Ireland, under the tutelage of the British Council, the British Ambassador, Mary McAleese, Trinity College etc., we have set aside the pacifism, the old sense of affinity with the wretched of the Earth, and become Darwinian in outlook. We no longer upset ourselves by dwelling on the awfulness of war and sympathising with the condition of the defeated.)
The Catholics in the North, incited to insurrection by Jack Lynch in 1969 and abandoned by him in 1970, fought their own war. They are now more at peace with themselves than they ever were before. They are more prosperous. They are not only more employable, but more employing. And, as for class, it is now something that exists amongst themselves, rather than in relations with others.
Professor the Lord Bew, a fragment of the old gentry who was for a generation a lost soul amongst the Stickies, has finally found his home. And he gave the Noble Lord This and the Noble Lord That, a sermon on the only sacred text of contemporary England, The Origin Of Species. He also gave a Thomas Davis lecture on Our War. Here is his peroration:
"What about Redmond's hope that a common sacrifice might have softened Nationalist/Unionist enmity? Death at the Front was non-sectarian, and apolitical in its targeting. In the early morning of the 7th of June 1917 the Catholic and Nationalist 16th Irish Division advanced side by side with the Protestant and Unionist 36th Ulster Division to take the Messines Ridge… The last clergyman that the devout Catholic Willie Redmond talked to was actually a Belfast Protestant Church of Ireland chaplain, the Rev. John Redmond… But look beyond this moment. In 1920 to 1922 the same Rev. John Redmond as Vicar of Ballymacarrett found himself centre of the bitter conflict of that epoch, and even found it necessary, for fear of something more undisciplined, to play a role in setting up the B Specials. Context is everything."
The Home Rule vision of peace and harmony, set out in August/September 1914, was realised on the battlefield. But only on the battlefield. Come home from the battlefield and the fighting starts.
But where can we find this context of peace and harmony today? How can Britain do for us now what it did for us in 1914? Maybe if the war on Afghanistan and Pakistan is escalated as Obama promises, those good old days will return.
The Lord Bew says no more than Professor Fitzpatrick about the reasons why Britain launched the Great War, Our War. Ours not to reason why. It should be enough for us to know that Britain declared war. Then:
"John Redmond offered Irish support for the British war effort in exchange for Home rule being placed on the Statute Book… Redmond was operating from within the tradition of Constitutional nationalism that had always assured Britain that in the face of an international crisis a self-governing Ireland would be a Loyal Ally. As a man of honour… he found it difficult to escape the obligation when the time came".
We cannot say it wasn't so. This is the first hint we have had that the Home Rule Party had a Manifesto commitment to fight in Britain's wars. We will check up on it and tell the reader what we find—even though we know that it is in bad taste to do such things. Wars are too serious, and confer too much benefit on humanity, for them to be tampered with like that. Belief that the victor was right in some higher sense, and did not merely win because of a more effective organisation of violence, and that the moving spirit was Truth rather than Propaganda, is good for the spirit of the victorious populace. So it is thought by those in authority who manage such things.
The world in which we live was brought about by a series of Great Wars fought over the last three centuries, in all of which the moving force was Britain, which, by one means and another always managed to end up on the winning side. And the methods by which Britain did all of this are at the source of the present economic crisis.
This series of wars began immediately after the Glorious Revolution, which we now seem to have decided was Our Revolution as the 1914 war was Our War, as we celebrate the Boyne along with the Somme.
Britain, around 1690, adopted the deliberate policy of manipulating conflict in Europe to its own advantage. By means of Balance of Power strategy it kept Europe in a permanently unsettled condition, and ensured that it should itself be a free, unbalanced Power. It was able to do this with much smaller resources than any of the major European Powers by virtue of being an island (defined by Oliver St. John Gogarty as a country surrounded by a Navy) and by establishing a new form of state ruled by a combination of landed gentry, financiers, military men, and propagandists.
All of these wars were financed by the magic of credit. Credit means debt. And it meant the circulation of a kind of money without physical existence that was always liable to collapse and evaporate. The National Debt expanded enormously with every war. It was opposed by Tories, with Jonathan Swift pre-eminent among them, on the ground that it tended to dissolve all social values, leaving money as the only value. But the financing of war by credit, raised by the state using tricky financial devices that did not bear too much thinking about, was a stabilising influence on the regime in that it implicated the property-owning populace in the war for which it had lent its money.
The greater the National Debt, the more awful was the prospect of losing the war. Hence the rule of British political life that a Government has only to start a war to have national support for it. The last war that was stopped by English public opinion was almost 300 years ago. It was the war for which Swift wrote his still famous, though unread, pamphlet, The Conduct Of The Allies (often referred to as a satire because Swift is known for Gulliver's Travels, but was nothing of the kind).
The Tory Party, that stopped the war, was the Government. A British Government might start a war in the face of public opinion, but stopping a war was a different matter. Swift's argument was that Britain had done well enough out of the war to end it, and that continuing it to the utter destruction of the enemy was inadvisable. He said that the Whig radicals, Addison being their ideologue, who thought that Britain could be free of enemies by utterly destroying the current enemy, were pursuing a delusion—this was a delusion that was laid low until 1914.
The financial measures adopted and developed by Britain after 1688 were borrowed from Amsterdam. The Dutch had by this time been chastened by Britain and were resigned to the role of a secondary Power.
The first Great War against France (1688-97) cost £49 million, of which a third was raised by credit. The second (1703-13) cost £93m, of which 31% was credit. A minor war (Jenkins Ear, 1739-48) cost £96m, of which 31% was credit. The fourth (7 Years War, 1756-63) cost £160m of which 37.4% was credit. The American War (1776-83) cost £236m of which 40% was credit. The War against the French Revolution (1793-1815) cost £1,657m, of which 26% was credit. (Figures from P.G.M. Dickson: The Financial Revolution In England).
What 1688 did was establish freedom of the gentry. It freed them from the monarchy, which had maintained an internal state apparatus to which they were subject. In the 18th century the gentry ruled in their localities as JPs, and assembled in Parliament to pass Enclosure Acts for one another against the peasantry and to see to the maintenance of a strong and disciplined Navy as an instrument of foreign policy (even subjecting themselves to severe discipline for that purpose).
That era of liberty went into decline at the end of the century under Pitt and George III (a King who spoke English). An internal apparatus of state began to be restored and Income Tax was introduced, in addition the Land Tax and Import duties. Hence the fall in the proportion of credit in the war of 1793. But there was never any question of going back to the old order of paying for wars out of revenue.
The first major credit crisis came a few years after the end of the Glorious Revolution wars against Louis XIV (1688-1713). It took the form of the South Sea Bubble of 1720, and it came about through devices connected with an attempt to handle indebtedness. Then, as now, when the bubble burst people could not understand how they had ever come to participate in it, but while it was going it was irresistible.
Walpole took over in 1721 and for twenty years he settled down the new regime by means of other financial devices, graft and corruption, so that it was ready for new adventures on credit by the 1740s.
In 1720 the effective international market was small. The Bubble directly affected Britain, France, Holland and one or two of the hundreds of German states. The foundation of the world market was laid during the following decades. As Swift pointed out in his pamphlet, Britain had got one very substantial gain from the war in 1712: the Slave Trade monopoly. Some time before this—as one of the first liberations of the Glorious Revolution—slave trade by Englishmen was freed from Monarchical restrictions and thrown open to unsupervised free enterprise. And the Triangular Trade, which was the major source of English prosperity and the foundation of the world market, had slavery at two of its three points. English traders bought slaves in West Africa, shipped them to the Caribbean and the American Colonies, where they were sold and the products of the Caribbean slave labour camps—the chief of which was sugar—were bought and shipped to England, where they were sold and pots and pans made by the new capitalist manufacturers were bought and shipped to West Africa, etc.
The other great source of English prosperity was India, which seems to have been simply plundered.
The major addition to the world market in the 19th century was China. In the 1840s it was compelled to allow English merchants in India to sell opium to Chinese subjects so that the English upper classes might buy Chinese porcelain without using up their gold and silver. The Chinese market for such English goods as the Chinese would buy was at first limited to a couple of ports, but China as a whole was systematically broken open during the following decades.
The world market could not have been established by commerce on its own, or by military power on its own, or by political acumen on its own. It required an operative combination of all three, along with a driving sense of mission provided by ideology.
And commerce is not a single element. There was a time when producers sold their goods directly to consumers. Then intermediaries of various kinds stepped in. Wholesalers appeared between the makers and sellers of goods. And financiers appeared to facilitate commerce without taking part in it. And 'bills'—which were receipts for money in its indestructible form of gold—appeared, and began to circulate out of contact with gold. After that, financial devices grew and multiplied.
The shattering experience of the South Sea Bubble led to a proposal in Parliament that financiers and merchants should be excluded from Parliament. This was in accordance with a provision of the democracy of ancient Greece that merchants might enrich themselves to their heart's content, but were excluded from the body politic and should live apart in gated apartments. It was a choice between that and embracing the financiers so that the new financial devices which had proved so useful in the War might be grasped and handled with expertise. The latter course was adopted.
The 18th century English Parliament was a sovereign assembly in which Finance was represented by financiers, the Navy by Admirals, the Army by Generals, Progress by ideologists, and there was a ballast of stick-in-the-mud Tory country gentlemen who didn't know if they approved of any of it. That Parliament which changed the world was as different as could be from the Dail, which has the task of keeping the country afloat in the world created by that Parliament of co-ordinated vested interests, to which the ideal of government detached from vested interests and corruption appeared as remote as Eden before the Fall.
It used to be argued by political economists that international trade was, of necessity, mutually beneficial because, if it was not, the party to whom it was not beneficial would not engage in it. That view was perhaps valid in the century before last. It presumed that both parties were basically self-sufficient, were free to trade or not to trade, and therefore would only engage in trade from which they benefitted. But that is not the case in the globalised market.
The states formed after the 2nd World War, in the era of the United Nations, were born into a globalised world hegemonised by Western capitalism. They did not decide to enter the world market. Their only choice in the matter was whether to wrench themselves out of it. That was not easily done, but it was at least possible while the Soviet bloc existed as a major part of the world in antagonism with the West. China could do it because it was so big, and the national force which came to dominance in its Civil War was the Communist Party. But, when China became Communist, it was excluded from the UN for a generation, during which the Chinese seat was held by the defeated fringe group in Formosa/Taiwan.
When the Soviet system collapsed in 1990 (not because it was economically unviable, but because of ideological deficiencies) and the Cold War ended, the US/UK set about subordinating the entire world to the globalist market which it operated. During the 1990s the supreme object was to render the entire world suitable for the investment of Western capital. It was frankly stated that the primary function of 'national' Government was to establish a legal/commercial/police framework which facilitated Western investment and made it secure. Those who ran the WTO/IMF were confident that, once this was done, they would have ample power to punish rogue states who tried to step out of line. At a number of WTO meetings the system seemed to be on the verge of being finalised, but somehow the opportunity was always missed.
Protectionist arrangements in Asian countries which had served the Ameranglian interest during the Cold War were now declared to be intolerable and corrupt. The outstanding case was Indonesia. General Suharto had saved that sprawling complex of islands from Chinese Communism in the mid-1960s by killing a million people, supervised by the British Ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, who was then transferred to Dublin to handle the Irish. Indonesia was stable under Suharto's regime for a quarter of a century. But then Ameranglia decided that Indonesia must prostrate itself before Western capital. It must become open and democratic. Suharto must go. And it had the means to make Suharto go. He went, and 'Islamic terrorism' came.
One Asian state refused to prostrate itself: Malaysia. An international campaign was launched against Dr. Mahatir, and in support of a free marketeer, Anwar Ibrahim, who also happened to be an Islamist. It would of course have been preferable if he had been a liberal secularist, but the primary thing was to end protectionism, and the instrument that was available had to be used.
The Irish Times threw itself vigorously into the campaign against Dr. Mahatir's 'corrupt crony capitalism'. But he survived. And Malaysia did not succumb to the financial crisis called the 'Asian flue' a few years later. And it is not the usual basket case today.
The Irish Times is now celebrating the 150th anniversary of itself and of Ireland. In the Manifesto which it issued for the occasion it is said that Ireland did not exist as a country until 1859, which is when the first issue of the Irish Times appeared. It makes sense. The other Ireland seems to have thrown itself away. At least there is nothing in official life to remind one that it ever existed. The Irish Times alone remains, boundless and bare.
But the Irish Times did not only create Ireland. It created this world in which we live in. It was a segment of the fiscal-military force that made this world. And the fact that it has nothing coherent to say about the present crisis is a reflection of the origins of our Creator. It is waiting on England, while England waits on America.
Europe too is incoherent and inarticulate. A generation of Anglo influence from within has made it so, with Irish Times Ireland playing a critical part as England's catspaw. Pat Cox, the party colleague of the Editor of the Irish Times, had his moment of glory when he played the figurehead part in subverting the old European Commission on the issue of a French Commissioner giving a job to her hairdresser.
The EU succumbed to the laissez-faire Utopian vision sold to it by Britain, in which Britain itself does not believe—or believes only insofar as it corresponds with its interests which are not European, and which remain considerable. And it expanded recklessly to the East with a view to squeezing post-Communist Russia, making delusory promises to bring in a line of new member states which it is now leaving in the lurch.
In our little affairs the PDs have come and gone. They presented themselves to us as a vigorous beast, fitted to flourish in the capitalist jungle. And now they have gone and dissolved themselves—just in time!—leaving Mary Harney as a non-party remnant attached to the party she once hoped to destroy.
The Labour Party has gone most of the way, under Stickie guidance, towards making itself a tightly centralised Liberal party of the vacuous stratum of the middle class. It is now trying to remember some of the things it used to say long ago. But it is too late. Its achievement during the past generation has been to refuse Coalition with Fianna Fail, which is the party of the realistic and national element of the working class, and make it dependent on the PDs.
Fine Gael remains a niche party.
So we are left with Fianna Fail, which remains a representative party of the society to a considerable degree, despite its efforts to turn itself into a detached, centralised Liberal party. And there remains some substantial survivals of the nationalised sector established by Fianna Fail in the past (when it was still Sinn Fein), which it has not entirely succeeded in dismantling.
Ireland floated itself a generation ago on the Globalism which has failed to carry itself through to consistent dominance. Ireland let go of itself then, to general approval. All it can do now, while the world is betwixt and between, is try to hang on until it is seen how the world is sorted out. And then it might learn once again what Arthur Griffith saw over a century ago, that between the individual and the globe there is a chasm that can only be filled by the active nation.
"Our War" And Its Consequences.
Gerald Dawe & Robert Graves (Reader's Letter).
Share Dealing (Reader's Letter).
Shorts from the Long Fellow .
The Poetry Of Neutral Ireland.
The Irish Who Fought In The Spanish Civil War.
Irish Neutrality (Backbite).
Living In Glass Houses (Two Sonnets).
Haughey Never Had Army Honour Any Nazi War Dead.
Does It Stack Up?
Historians (Part Six)—History Ireland On Coolacrease.
Rejoining The Commonwealth.
Figuring Out The Famine.
Up The Pole (Sonnet).
The Labour Party & Northern Ireland.
Societalism Not Socialism?
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