Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What does violence have to do with peace?

On January 30, in a Belfast bar, Robert McCartney looked the wrong way at a woman. Or maybe he didn't. But a handful of IRA thugs thought he did. They took him outside and beat him to death with steel pipes. They cut his belly open for good measure.

Then they went back to the bar, locked the doors, and told everyone that it was part of important "business" and they had better keep their mouths shut.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew who did it, but no one squealed. McCartney's brave sisters raised a huge stink and brought public pressure on the IRA to give up the names. What did the IRA do? They offered to shoot the men involved in McCartney's death.

Awwww, such sweeties. Guyyyyyys, you shouldn't have!

In Belfast, progress is being made toward peace. I can understand the IRA's reluctance to give its guns up; why should they trust the same people they were recently defending themselves against, especially when they are such a minority there? But something has to give. Agreements and treaties mean nothing until everyone decides they are ready to take the ultimate gamble: give their trust to their former enemies and lay down their guns. At the least, the IRA can stop making ape-like overtures like this one.

As someone who has always leaned toward pacificism, but has always been too "realistic" (i.e., lacked the conviction) to go in whole hog for it, this incident nudges me to the left.

If you believe that it is right to take up arms to defend your "nation" or "people" or whatever you like to call it, and you are not an imperialist, then you probably excuse the IRA's violence earlier in the century. Catholics were being murdered in Belfast, and the "legitimate" police and justice system weren't able to help them. The IRA was needed to ensure justice.

But what happens to the fighters when peace finally comes? What happens to people who have been trained to kill when there is no longer a need for killing? In Central and South America, paramilitary operatives still have guns and the skills to use them, and they often turn to crime. It's easy enough--find a bus full of tourists on a deserted road and rob them. In Belfast, IRA members do the same: they use means that they had formerly considered justified, only now towards selfish ends.

This is what happens when we use violence to resolve conflicts. We train people to kill so that we can have no more killing. But we don't--maybe can't?--retrain them for peace when the conflicts are over.

This line of thinking leads to one conclusion only: don't use violence in the first place.

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