by Rob Fairmichael
There are practical and intellectual challenges to those who believe in nonviolence. How can nonviolence bear up in all situations including both those of apathy or oppression? If nonviolence depends, to some extent, on building popular support, how can we survive when building that support is difficult – in western societies usually more through apathy and failure to engage than the fact people do not agree with us to some extent. How can we make the running when many people might support a cause passively but mobilisation proves extremely difficult?
At the other end of the scale are oppressive situations where any form of protest and persuasion is difficult, or open protest next to impossible. We can think of Nazi occupied countries in the Second World War, or Burma today. How do we go about doing anything in such societies? INNATE will be trying to address just some of these questions during the forthcoming visits of Tony Kempster and Suman Aggarwal in November.
The answer is that people can, and do, resist nonviolently in both these extremes. I am not trying to detail what and how here. Imagination is obviously key. Where open protest is impossible than hidden and covert resistance becomes the norm. And in ‘open’ societies where apathy rules then perseverance and imagination, again, are required.
But nonviolence is so counter-cultural in our society and era that we sometimes need to make bold strokes to state our case. I made one such attempt in 1983 by writing an eight page pamphlet, “An alternative defence for Ireland”, which appeared in Dawn 95-96 (a year before Dawn monthly magazine stopped production). This is available here
I believe the basic case stands. Ireland does not need any armed defence. Armed defence for Ireland against any potential external aggression (none of which currently exists) is unnecessary strategically. However, and this is where the population at large comes in, ‘civilian defence’ – unarmed and unaggressive – can be utilised instead as a tool to ensure that the rights and liberties we enjoy are not bulldozered away by outside – or even inside - forces. Furthermore, I would argue that this would be more effective than any possible military ‘defence’ Ireland might have to offer. This pamphlet was written some years before the War Resisters International conference on Social Defence which took place in 1990 (and written up in Dawn Train 10, contact INNATE if you want a copy).
Of course some things have moved on since 1983. The UK (and therefore Northern Ireland) remains part of NATO – a military coalition in search of a goal since the end of the Cold War - and possibly finding one in the divide with Muslim countries which it has arguably played a part in fostering – and even possibly in another military confrontation with Russia. But the Republic has cosied up to NATO through membership of the so-called Partnership for Peace and increased EU military cooperation, and its shameless participation in the war on Iraq through permitting the USA free range of Shannon airport makes a mockery of its protestations of neutrality.
I have argued before that the role of the Irish Army, in relation to the Republic, is threefold: ‘defence’ against external aggression, internal counter-insurgency, and its position as a national symbol (the idea that any state ‘has to have an army’). International ‘peacekeeping’ is an additional role which is significant and symbolic but not a core purpose. Of the three core roles, I would argue that one and three are unnecessary (number one would be ineffective if it came to the crunch) and even number two is no longer bearing the same weight as it did in the decades of the Troubles in the North.
There is therefore a need to reassess the concept of armies in Ireland. In the North there is the perverted attempt to project the British army as ‘part of the community’ now that we are in the post-Troubles era. Can we not see that the British Army was a big part of the problem and internationally is still a big part of the world’s problems?
Anyway, I leave you the concept of “Ireland without armies”. Intellectually it is feasible. Practically it would take a leap of understanding not just about the role of violence but also on the possibilities of nonviolence. But trying to open that debate and state that case is why I wrote a plan for a nonviolent defence of Ireland almost a quarter of a century ago. It could be done, of that I have no doubt.