The Irish have a word—as they are supposed to—for this sort of book: blather. The author could be described as one of those fellows who “does go on,” to the point of being, eventually, barred from the pub for boring everyone to tears.
The Gun in Politics bears the subtitle “An Analysis of Irish Political Conflict, 1916-1986.” If we are to judge a book by its cover, given the reality of much that is published in the United States, we might conclude that this was an interesting book. The gun has been a central force in modern Irish history, even if it is not immediately visible or heard, and it would be good to have such a study. However, Bell’s book is not that but rather a collection of previously published essays on diverse themes. As the author writes in his own introduction, ” . . . a mingled manuscript—some old, some new, much discarded, all edited, a medley rather than separate essays or a brand new book.” He adds in way of defense that the book has “little wisdom to offer after a generation in and out of the island.”
Mr. Bell’s medley is composed of an interminable essay about his own living in Ireland, a bibliographical critical overview of everything that has been written on the Irish problem in the last 15 years or so, a buffs history of the Thompson submachine gun (originally published in The Irish Sword, Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland), a history of the Irish contribution to the Spanish Civil War which reads like a proposal for an interesting book. And that is Bell’s main problem: much of his book reads like a proposal, a pitch for this or that grant, a hustle to get some of the loose cash that floats around and about in university and government circles, engaged in the study of terrorism and other assorted problems. A world populated with people such as Mr. Bell, who is president of something called International Analysis Center Inc. (a consulting firm focusing on the problems of unconventional war, terrorism, deception, risk analysis, and crisis management), is indeed in trouble, for anyone who has the time and money to consult such an organization might as well kiss his ass good-bye: it is already too late. The facts of the Irish case are laid out and plain when it comes to the situation in Ireland today. It was all probably a matter of failure of nerve in 1921. If Michael Collins had held out, if he had been better informed and had waited while negotiating with Lloyd George an end to the war between England and Ireland, partition would not have occurred. True, the war would have gone on, but it would have ended in real resolution rather than postponing it to some dim future. The Algerians, for example, knew this while fighting the French in the 1950’s. Today there is no part of Algeria that is “forever” France. It is done with. There is France, and there is Algeria. But today there is Ireland, there is England, and there is something called Northern Ireland. And there is war acknowledged as such only by the IRA. The English treat it as a civil disturbance and brand their opponents as criminals for taking up arms; in the Republic, all shades of Republican sentiment are publicly tolerated, except the IRA. A citizen of the Republic must monitor British airwaves if he wants to hear or see representatives of the IRA. They are banned from the Republic’s radio and television in the interest of “controlling terrorism” and preventing a full discussion of the real situation in Ireland.
There is nothing very edifying about the IRA. It is a brutal, authoritarian organization, but it does represent—in its uncompromising goal of a united Ireland—what will be the eventual solution to this age-long conflict. Eventually, Ireland will be one country, separated from England. It will be a country composed of a number of traditions, but none of them will be supported by a foreign force as now in the North, where England sees fit to protect and foster the Loyalist cause.
But today even the Loyalists are beginning to see that this cannot go on forever, and there is talk of an independent Northern Ireland which many think would be a step in the right direction. In many ways the Loyalists are a tragic people, touching in their love of the Crown, and their pride in their dead on the Somme without realizing that the English see them as just another aspect of “The Irish Problem.”
Much of the American intellectual community is Anglophile and willful in its ignorance of Irish history. If it hasn’t been on PBS as a boring British TV series, these pundits won’t know anything about it. The curse of small nations is to know too much history, especially of their relations with their large neighbor. The large neighbor, on his part, could care less and blunders on.
The whole relationship between England and Ireland can be summed up in a single English joke: An Irishman is sitting in a London pub. He turns to the West Indian sitting next to him and asks, “You wouldn’t be Irish, would you?” “No,” the West Indian replies, “I have enough trouble being coloured.”
Need we remind ourselves of all those other garden spots of fraternity and toleration in the world today: the Indian sub-continent, Palestine, South Africa, Canada, Cyprus—all, like Ireland, the victims of the unfailing English ability to divide, conquer, and rule through the manipulation of religious, national, or racial groups. Ah, happy world.
[The Gun in Politics: An Analysis of Irish Political Conflict, 1916-1986, by J. Beyer Bell (New Brunswick: Transaction Books) $24.95]