The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Rejecting Stereotypes

Liam O Ruairc • April 18, 2003

Richard English’s book Armed Struggle (MacMillan, 2003) “systematically addresses the question, what has the IRA done, why, and with what consequences?” The strength of that book is that it seeks to answer those questions in terms of serious, detailed explanation rather than stereotypes and simplistic analysis. The picture he gives is everything but simple. In this book, the history and politics of the IRA from 1916 to today are studied seriously and in all their complex details and complications, more so than in other works like those of Coogan, Bell or O Brien for example. Richard English looks “closely and respectfully - but not uncritically” at Irish Republicanism. The author is certainly not persuaded that the case for Republicanism is right, but he equally rejects simple condemnation and criticisms. The seriousness and fairness with which he studies the IRA are remarkable. English’s evaluation of the IRA is far more balanced and nuanced than most of the analysis that has come from the Left, reducing the Republican argument to “petit bourgeois politics” and the negligence of the “mass movement”. Covering a wide time frame (1916-2002), the author’s research is based on wide range of many types of different sources (interviews, archives, articles, films…), a lot of which are original. English has made full use of available resources. He has read everything, the only thing he lacks is the sort of “inside knowledge” that allowed Ed Moloney to give such an authoritative analysis of the internal workings of the IRA and of the Peace Process. But English is more concerned in trying to understand the IRA than explaining what happened.

The book successfully balances factual details and theoretical analysis. The book marks a significant shift in the author’s perspective on Republicanism. English’s previous work attacked the Republican Socialist argument in particular, as being fundamentally incoherent, contradictory, irrational, and solispsist. English employed a whole plethora of terms to attack the malevolent irrationality of Irish Republicanism. In contrast, in his new book, he shows that the IRA “were as rational as any other political players tend to be” (376), that they do not inhabit a world beyond rationality and political explanation. Republican thinking has been “practical rather than mystical, and determined by daily realities rather than by addiction to an ahistorical philosophy” (215). He also acknowledge that Republicanism is not static, but can evolve and adapt to new realities. For English, the term “guerilla war” describes the IRA campaign best, rather than terrorism or insurrection. Attempts to conceptually define the IRA campaign have been rare, and this book is to be welcomed for venturing into such polemical territory. Richard English’s book is probably the best general book for a general audience covering the history of the IRA 1923-2002. But for the post 1969 period, Moloney's book is almost certainly likely to become the definitive work on the subject.














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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

19 April 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Rivers Change Their Course Sometimes but Always Reach the Sea

Anthony McIntyre


The Raytheon File: The Campaign against Raytheon in Derry
Liz Curtis


Republicans' Big Risk Redux: Walker Stumbles Too

Paul Fitzsimmons


A Tribute to Andy Barr
Joe Bowers


Rejecting Stereotypes
Liam O Ruairc


The Daily Uprising
Seaghan O Murchu


14 April 2003


Maghaberry Update


"We Won The Peace, Now Let's Win The War"

PRO, POWs, Maghaberry


"In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash"

Paul Fitzsimmons


Killer Peaceniks
Henry McDonald


Hillsborough and the Anglo-American Agreement to Wage War
Anthony McIntyre


An English View of the 'Ra
Eamonn McCann


In the Swim with Two Boys
Seaghan O Murchu


A Better World Without Him

Anthony McIntyre


Arrogant Propaganda
Paul de Rooij




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