Steve-O-in NJ has authored another of his periodic epics, this time in response to the George Floyd-triggered civil unrest, finding an analogy in the long, ugly history of civil upheaval in Northern Ireland. For once, I’m going to show some restraint and let a Comment of the Day speak entirely for itself.
Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Saturday Morning Ethics, 5/30/2020: Burn, Baby, Burn Nostalgia”:
In 1969, which is outside living memory for a lot of folks now, the long-standing civil rights issues in Derry, Northern Ireland, came to a head in a series of demonstrations by nationalist Catholics and unionist Protestants, which resulted in violence by both sides against both sides, due to the anger and hate they possessed. The RUC, not yet the highly trained force they would become, initially did not handle it too well. The action quickly took on the character of an outbreak of civil war, with the throwing of Molotov cocktails, the use of CS gas, and ultimately firearm discharge (this was before police in Northern Ireland were armed as a matter of course). In two days it looked like the city would be torn apart, and the rioting only stopped when the Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire landed and forced the sides apart. Miraculously no lives were lost, although about 350 police officers and about a thousand riot participants were injured. That’s before we even talk about fires and property damage.
Little did everyone involved know this was the beginning of the 37 year conflict that would be known as the Troubles and see the British Army’s longest deployment in the form of Operation Banner. The first few years were particularly ugly with ongoing low-level conflict and no-go areas for the authorities. Finally after 1972’s Bloody Sunday (which everyone talks about) and Bloody Friday (22 IRA bombings in less than an hour and a half) which no one talks about, the British Army launched Operation Motorman to reclaim the no-go areas. The IRA was not equipped for open warfare like that, and quickly melted into the countryside, there to reorganize into the terrorism cells that would have a hard time doing anything too big or coordinated, but also be hard to root out and destroy, getting money, arms, and whatever else needed from those sympathetic to the cause or just looking to weaken an American ally.
The rest is history, and it has been relegated to the history books since 1998, when the IRA realized that, although a determined minority can often get their way, this wasn’t one of those times. It wasn’t 1922 anymore, the Cold War was over, outside aid was drying up, and the idea of one insurgency defeating the UK and establishing a united Ireland was a pipe dream.
In between, though, there were innumerable bombings, arsons, murders, ambushes, assaults, and sundry other criminal acts, including atrocities on both sides. There were also almost four decades of living in fear for ordinary people. These were the folks who didn’t give a toss about old grievances and really didn’t care about what some long-dead idealists said. but who wanted to live ordinary, peaceful lives. They didn’t want to have to duck at every unexpected noise for fear it might be a gunshot. They didn’t want to have to flee if they saw an unattended bag or box for fear it might be a bomb. They didn’t want their blood to run cold if they heard a car pass by slowly in the middle of the night, praying their house wasn’t the one it pulled up to.
You may say “All well and good, Steven, but why are you retelling this ugly and painful chapter of history? Isn’t it best to let it go?” I don’t think it is. Let history go, and you also let its lessons go, snuff out the light, throw away the map. If you snuff out the light and throw away the map you shouldn’t be surprised if one day you find yourself back in that same ugly, painful place you thought you left behind a long time ago.
I’ve said at least a half-dozen times that if this country didn’t get its act together and stop the irrational anger and hate on both sides we were going to wind up in our own version of the Troubles, and, despite the romanticized stories that get told now, we were going to find out that sucked.
I’ve spoken out a few times about how we were headed towards becoming not just two or more Americas, but two or more Americas that couldn’t stand one another, and just barely tolerated one another because we didn’t have much of a choice. Each of us wants things our way and only our way. Each of us wants the others to disappear, because they’re bad people who’ve done us wrong, they just don’t understand us because they can’t, and we’re just waiting for the chance to make it happen.
Well, the chance has come, and the fight to make those we disagree with is on. Yes, this all started with an unjustified taking of life by a bullying police officer (I don’t call him racist because there is no clear evidence of racial animus like slurs). He will face justice, and by the time the Federal charges that are coming are disposed of I think he will be very unlikely to draw a breath of free air again. However, it quickly became all about all the grievances one part of American society has against another. It started peacefully, but, let’s not kid ourselves, it turned violent in 48 hours if not sooner.
Because the mayor of Minneapolis is weak, just like the mayor of Baltimore five years ago, and apparently places worrying about his personal feelings above looking to the safety of the people he is sworn to protect and serve, he’s sent the message to “riot and destroy all you want, I won’t do anything about it.” Because he abandoned his obligation to those sworn to protect the city, 170 businesses lie in ashes and one police station is badly damaged if not destroyed. Who suffered? The ordinary folks who owned and worked at those businesses, that’s who. Know who else suffered? The police in other cities where other grievance merchants and professional rage-a-holics decided to try to duplicate that feat…and found out not only that other police departments were not going to fold so easily, but that some, like the NYPD and the San Jose Police, were going to put up a VERY stiff fight. The ordinary folks who got caught in the middle of that fight also suffered. The other emergency services suffer too, as the Atlanta Fire Department find themselves being pelted with rocks and bricks and working with bulletproof vests under their turnout gear. There’s a ton of suffering to come, too, as these neighborhoods become ghost towns and other protests spiral.
Here’s the thing – we’ve now almost reached our Operation Banner moment. Minnesota is mobilizing their entire National Guard, a first in 164 years. The police in other cities are deploying in huge numbers. Now the active duty army is about to get involved, for the first time in 28 years. It just gets worse after that. And for what? This stopped being about one person’s abuse and death on Wednesday. It stopped being about long-standing grievances the moment the first fires were lit. At that point it became all about who in this society hates who, who is angry at who, and who is willing to destroy that other person, by any means necessary, and justify that destruction by justifying that hate.
It isn’t right to make everyone else bear the burden of your anger and hate. It isn’t right to bring your anger and hate to your neighbor’s doorstep. It isn’t right to turn your neighborhood, your home town, your state, or your nation into a war zone so you can express your anger and hate. Do that, and this nation is headed for its own version of the Troubles, where everyone is going to cut loose with anger and hate, and those who want no part of it will pay the price.