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A War By Any Other Name...

By Lynna Landstreet

Posted on the IMBAS mailing list, Thu, Sep 11, 1997.

Pat Lynch writes:

War? What war? There is no more a war in N. Ireland than in any city beset with gang-like criminals. The Provo-IRA are repulsive baby bombing trash.

There are times when two or more factions of gang-like criminals, with either the backing of an existing government or the intent of forming a new one, engage in repulsive baby-bombing activities for political purposes. This process is technically known as "war".

Seriously, I've never quite fathomed the idea that atrocities and mindless violence somehow disqualify a conflict from being "war". As far as I can see, war is about atrocities and mindless violence, pretty much. Every army in the world is guilty of horrific things, at least every army that sees any action. And children are very often the victims.

Children in Northern Ireland have been shot, bombed, and beaten by the republicans, the loyalists, and the British Army, children in Viet Nam were bombarded with Napalm by the US army, and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were either vapourized outright or died slow, lingering, agonizing deaths from radiation poisoning or leukemia. Children died by the thousands in the Nazis' concentration camps, were raped and murdered in Bosnia, and are being blown to bits by land mines in Cambodia and all around the world. The casual, brutal murder of noncombatants -- children, old people, women, the sick, the injured, the disabled, or just people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time -- is a standard feature of modern warfare.

Does that make it OK? Hell, no. But it makes it hard for me to comprehend why any one gang of ruthless psychopaths -- and I think all militaries and paramilitaries fall into that category, at least while they're on "active service" -- should be considered somehow more culpable than others simply because they don't happen to be backed by an existing government. Are the children killed by plastic bullets in Belfast any less dead than those killed by IRA bombings simply because the violence that took their lives was state-sanctioned? Does the presence of a uniform or a government paycheque wash the blood off a killer's hands? I don't think so.

The unfortunate fact is that we live in an ugly, scary, violent, dangerous world. And war, in all its permutations, is one of the major things that makes it that way. We can't change the world overnight. We can't bring back to life all the children -- or adults -- who have lost their lives in any of the countless wars that have stained human history with innocent blood. What we can do is work for change. And we can stop pretending that state approval of atrocities somehow makes them less atrocious.

Sitting with a common criminal and terrorist in peace talks is a simply abominable thing to do....

Show me a peace talk, any peace talk, where no one has the blood of innocents on their hands, and I'll show you an empty room. All warmongers are criminals and terrorists. But it is only through bringing them to sit down with each other, through making the effort to work with all parties in a conflict regardless of their past actions, that we can begin to move forward. You don't make peace by preaching to the converted and excluding from the process the people who are engaged in war; that's completely futile. You have to include everyone.

And no, I don't think that we need to -- or can afford to -- be blind to historic injustices, or to power imbalances in the here and now. You can't stop people from fighting without being willing to look at why they're fighting, and address the root causes of the conflict. You don't stop a war by saying "OK, let's everybody be nice to each other now." You stop it by working through to its roots. And you can't do that if you keep on using the conflict itself as a reason not to try and solve it, which is what the loyalists who are refusing to sit down with Sinn Fein are doing. Saying "I'm not going to talk peace with them! They're the ones I've been fighting with!" cuts the process off before it can start.

Like it or not, everyone that is a part of the problem needs to be a part of the solution, or there won't be any solution.

Déithe duit,

Liath Cadhóit
(a.k.a. Lynna Landstreet)


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