Watching the T.V. at the present time, the in-dispute seems to be: Were the troubles a war? As usual the debate has an air of pantomime farce about it i.e., "Oh, yes it was!" - "Oh, no it wasn’t!", with no reference as to what the word, "war", is supposed to mean.
In such circumstance it is my conditioned reflex to reach, Pavlovian style, for the dictionary. According to my dictionary, war, has a proliferation of meanings. So it is a question of finding which one best fits the period of violence in the 6 counties. I quote the following meanings
1. A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict, carried on between nations, states or parties.
Does this fit? Was the conflict in the six counties between the Irish Nation and the British Nation? That doesn’t fit.
Was the conflict between the six county state and the twenty six county state? Surely not.
A conflict between parties or communities in a country is a civil war. Was the conflict between the Catholic community and the Protestant community and was it a civil war? That doesn’t fit either. However, the poet Michael Longley calls the conflict in the six counties a "squalid little civil war".
2. A period of conflict as in (1).
The period of conflict in the forties between GB and Germany is called, in common speech, "during the war". The period of conflict in the six counties is called, in common speech in Ireland, "during the troubles". So the period of conflict in the six counties is "the troubles", not a "war".
3. A formally declared state of war in which certain internationally conventions are supposed to apply.
This is the way in which war is nowadays understood. War ought to be underpinned by conventions and rules. Military personnel who infringe such conventions and rules in conflict can be indicted for war crimes. The conflict in the six counties was not formally declared a war but freelance paramilitaries took it upon themselves to enter into conflict. These freelance paramilitaries were guilty of crimes at Enniskillen, Teeban, Darkley, Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday, Omagh, and The Disappeared, along with a host of innocent people who were murdered. In the meaning of "war" in definition three of war should be underpinned by morality and ethics. These were patently absent on both sides in the conflict in the six counties.
4. Any condition of active antagonism or contention ---e.g. an advertising war, a price war.
5. A concerted effort or campaign to combat or put an end to something--- e.g. the war against disease
(4) and (5) illustrate the width of meaning in which "war" is used. When these meanings are examined, war should still be based on morality and ethics. In an advertising war, are pornographic images permissible? In a price war, is the use of substandard or illegal goods permissible? In a war against disease, is vivisection permissible? If the campaign of violence was to put an end to the six county state, then morality and ethics still apply in the effort.
6. A conflict; a clash of opposing ideas or forces; a battle; a fight.
However, to describe what took place in the six counties as a conflict and leave it at that is a moral and ethical cop-out. If one sees two men fighting in the street and one says this is a conflict and is unconcerned with the rights and wrongs of the matter, then that is a moral and ethical evasion. I heard a lady from Dublin say on television that she saw the troubles in the six counties as a conflict and she claimed that the people in Dublin saw the troubles that way as well. If that is so, then that is an evasion of the rights and wrongs of the matter by the South.
7. Rebellion; An uprising or organised opposition intended to overthrow the existing government or ruling authority.
Synonyms: Revolt, insurrection, uprising, coup d’etat, revolution, mutiny
This begs the question, is a violent uprising justified if the government or the constitution is just? There was an organized peaceful opposition by the C.R.A. to an unjust government and constitution in the six counties. The demands of the C.R.A. were conceded, so the ensuing violence by P.I.R.A. to overthrow the state was without moral or ethical foundation.
However, Federal Unionism–Early Sinn Fein maintains that the constitution of the six counties remains unjust in that it is unwritten and is maintained militarily, not democratically, and is imposed on those on the Island who don’t want it. For that reason, Federal Unionism–Early Sinn Fein advocates that the six county constitution be opposed in an organized peaceful opposition with a view to replacing an unjust constitution with a just constitution in The National Government of Ireland Act.
8. Feud; A bitter prolonged hostility between two armies, two individuals or two families or clans
What is characteristic of a feud is the absence of any moral or ethical basis to the conflict, the conflict being underscored by hatred. A feud could be described as a dirty war. What has gone on in the six counties for thirty years or more can best be described as a feud between the clans, Republicanism and Right Wing Union Jack Unionism. The dirt in this feud was equally distributed between the two sides.
In summary, the present attempt by Late Sinn Fein to have the conflict in the six counties called a war is a vain attempt by that feuding faction to snatch some semblance of victory from the jaws of abject defeat. It is the thrust of this article that what has taken place in the six counties is best described as a feud not as a war.
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