The Irish connection

I was going to respond to Ross's rejoinder that for all the Irish American sympathy towards them, the State Department listed the IRA as terrorists.  True, to their credit.  But Alex Massie wrote better and more thoroughly what I would have:  that whatever the nominal practices of the State department, in sentiment and practice, the United States was on the side of the nationalists--i.e., on the side of the terrorists*.

And in the 1990s there's no denying that Washington generally shared the (Irish) Republican analysis of the state of play in Ulster. Indeed the Clinton administration viewed itself as a kind of backstop looking after Sinn Fein's interetss and point of view. Crucially, that's how the Republican movement saw the Americans too. They were there to provide support and ballast for the nationalist viewpoint, countering the presumed pro-Unionist bias of the British. That is to say, Dublin and Washington would, together, counter the Brits in Belfast and London. It's peace, of a sort, but it's not a result that was supposed to happen. Nor is it one that many people would have found acceptable back in, say, 1994.

Sure, Clinton made plenty of phone calls and a visit or two. But when push came to shove he refused to put additional pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA. Consequently the Good Friday Agreement was signed despite there being a crippling ambiguity on the question of decommissioning terrorist arms. The failure to resolve that problem would cripple the peae "settlement" for years, helping to hollow-out the centre of Northern Irish politics, leading us to the present happy state of play: government by bigots and murderers.

This wasn't, obviously, all Clinton's fault. Nontheless one reason Tony Blair lost faith in the american president was Clinton's habit of promising to lean on the Republican movement and then signally failing to follow his promises with, like, actual action. The State Department may have been hostile to the IRA  -it opposed giving Gerry Adams visas to enter the US - but the rest of the US government, including the likes of Tony Lake at the National Security Council was entirely sympathetic to the "cause" of Irish Republicanism.

Nor does almost anyone in the United States put the IRA, or its cause in the same mental basket as that of the Northern Irish.  Imagine, if you will, a blockbuster film being made about a plucky Arab terrorist leader finally winning freedom for his people by slaughtering large numbers of Israeli/British/French soldiers, along with, of course, any informers or traitors in his own organization.  In Irish, it's known as Michael Collins.

Ross is wrong to think of my posts as aimed at criticizing Israeli policy.  I'm aiming, for the nonce, at something which has to be resolved before one can usefully critique Israeli policy, which is best summed up by George Orwell in his Notes on Nationalism, which has been making the blog rounds lately during this debate.  An excerpt:

All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of
inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage--torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of
civilians--which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side. The Liberal NEWS CHRONICLE published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians.  It is the same with historical events. History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell's soldiers slashing Irishwomen's faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the 'right' cause. If one looks back over the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the world; and yet in not one single case were these atrocities--in Spain, Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna--believed in and disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.

[Note: The NEWS CHRONICLE advised its readers to visit the news film at which the entire execution could be witnessed, with close-ups. The STAR published with seeming approval photographs of nearly naked female collaborationists being baited by the Paris mob. These photographs had a marked resemblance to the Nazi photographs of Jews being baited by the Berlin mob.(Author's footnote)]

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one's own mind.

To me, the impossibility of debating Israel/Palestine is that it the argument is dominated by nationalism on both sides.  There are probably more thoughtful critics of Israel than of the Palestinians, but almost no one seems to be able to hold in the middle for very long--in order to critique the one, he becomes blindly nationalistic about the other, making ludicrous excuses for their behavior that they would not tolerate for a moment were they advanced by the other side.  We haven't even gotten around to having a decent debate on morality, or the sensible policy possibilities, because each side is far too busy developing their own set of facts from which it can only be proven that they are right, and blameless.

The reflexive tendency to believe in the goodness of whichever group you most identify with is probably evolutionarily necessary, and at any rate, it's there, and I much doubt that we will abolish it any time soon.  But like other evolutionary heuristics, it can do us at least as much harm as good in many circumstances, and I think it needs to be acknowledged before we can even discuss right and wrong.

* Well . . . some terrorists.  There were, of course, Protestant paramilitaries operating in Northern Ireland as well.