‘Mindless violence’ is a term that’s often used to describe violence we disapprove of, whereas ‘We will fight them on the beaches’ and ‘No surrender!’ are used in relation to violence we (or others) approve of. There are some who disapprove of violence of all kinds, but they tend to be rare. The almost-universal existence of national armies and the honouring of those who fight in them suggest that just about everyone and every country is willing to engage in violence in certain circumstances. And while we’re at it, maybe we should stop talking about violence and talk about killing. As one former British soldier whom I interviewed for a forthcoming book told me:
“ Make no mistake about it – infantry soldiers are trained to kill. They’re not trained to shoot weapons out of hands, they’re not trained to shoot people in the legs, they are trained to put rounds into a target until that target is no longer a threat.”
Violence/killing is something that virtually everyone subscribes to when the circumstances are right – “the just war” notion – and they would and do argue their case for it.
So what, you might ask, is the motivation behind the violence of the New IRA? Their attempt to wound or kill PSNI officers in Derry on Thursday night which resulted in the killing of Lyra McKee almost certainly had some kind of thinking behind it. One thesis says their violence was orchestrated to gain publicity through a film documentary crew who were present at the time. But that doesn’t tell you why they engage in lethal violence in the first place. Perhaps they have explained this to some journalist but I don’t remember reading it.
My guess is that, if asked, they’d say their violence was intended to ultimately remove British authority from Ireland, and they would see themselves as part of a long chain of Irish heroes and martyrs. But if the Provisional IRA was unable to end British rule, it’s highly unlikely that the New IRA is going to make much impact.
If the futility of their violence was made clear to them, would they stop? I doubt it. Irish history is littered with doomed violence that achieved nothing except some notion of “keeping the flame alive”. Which sounds kind of heroic, until you remember the innocent young woman whose funeral is in St Anne’s in Belfast today. If the New IRA believe their violence is heroic, they have to justify the squalid horror of what happened in Derry on Thursday night. Which will take some justifying.