19 Jan The Other New World Order: Michael Collins and the End of Empire by Bill Buppert
Ten years from now, you will not recognize a map of North America because of the significant changes in nation-state destruction and creation that will occur after the inevitable economic collapse of the Western world. Some of those change agents who will usher in the new geography will resort to fourth generation warfare and guerrilla warfare to carve the continent up. This Other New World Order has some historical analogs that will make the potential spectator or participant in these world shaping events better informed to deal with the undiscovered country ahead. The Other New World Order shapes change in the opposite direction of the apocryphal New World Order: where there is one nation, it will create dozens or hundreds. Consolidation and centralization will be the new enemy of the Other New World Order. In the interest of lending historical perspective to how this will take place, we will examine some worthies through history whose actions and imperatives built civilization locally instead of globally.
Michael Collins (Irish: Míċeál Ó Coileáin; 16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922), the Irish guerilla leader who was largely responsible for removing the English from the Irish homeland after an 800 year struggle was an extraordinary man. He was a young man whose talent quickly propelled him to the top of the ranks in the Irish resistance after the 1916 Easter Rising that precipitated the eventual divorce of the United Kingdom from the island of Eire in 1922. A civil war started in Ireland shortly after the divorce from the UK and Collins would live a mere four months in a relatively free Ireland before he was murdered by the Anti-Treaty IRA.
After the two Viking ages in Ireland, the Norman invasion established the first British presence in 1169 and the struggle against the English crown began in earnest. Seven and a half centuries would pass before the Irish republic finally calved off the British Empire in 1922. There is speculation on Plan Green (Germany) and Plan Kathleen [an invasion of Northern Ireland] (IRA) during WWII on the possibility of yet another English invasion to secure the Irish against German invasion but it is merely an historical interlude in the larger scheme of things. The British, of course, still held the Northern Ireland province as a fiefdom in the greater kingdom.
Michael Collins was what one could suppose is any government most dangerous adversary. He was a practical visionary. Not only did he envision a free Ireland, he had a concrete plan to get there. Like Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry before him and Giap after him, he blended a unique talent for the political chess game and calculus of violence that would enable the resisters to overwhelm the will and outmatch the ferocity of the British occupiers. While a contemporary of T. E. Lawrence, they did not know each other but crafted an eerily similar game-plan to defeat their foes. Collins knew that the “golden hour” for independence and all the planets aligning for the political tectonic shift were on the horizon and he simply had to arrange the events and orchestrate the players. Those six years between 1916 and 1922 would prove to be the precise moment when the Irish could loose the English fetters that had harnessed their nation for nearly 800 years.
Who was Michael Collins?
Collins worked as a clerk in London from 1906 until he returned to Ireland in 1916. He fought in the Easter Rising, was arrested and held in detention at Frongoch, Merioneth, but was released in December 1916. In December 1918 he was one of 27 out of 73 elected Sinn Féin members (most of whom were in jail) present when Dáil ireann (Irish Assembly) convened in Dublin and declared for the republic. Their elected president, Eamon de Valera, and vice president, Arthur Griffith, were both in prison. Hence, much responsibility fell on Collins, who became first the Dáil’s minister of home affairs and, after arranging for de Valera’s escape from Lincoln jail (February 1919), minister of finance. It was as director of intelligence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), however, that he became famous. As chief planner and coordinator of the revolutionary movement, Collins organized numerous attacks on police and the assassination in November 1920 of many of Britain’s leading intelligence agents in Ireland. He headed the list of men wanted by the British, who placed a price of 10,000 on his head.
After the truce of July 1921, Griffith and Collins were sent to London by de Valera as the principal negotiators for peace (October–December 1921). The treaty of Dec. 6, 1921, was signed by Collins in the belief that it was the best that could be obtained for Ireland at the time and in the full awareness that he might be signing his own death warrant. It gave Ireland dominion status, but its provision for an oath of allegiance to the British crown was unacceptable to de Valera and other republican leaders. Collins’s persuasiveness helped win acceptance for the treaty by a small majority in the Dáil, and a provisional government was formed under his chairmanship, but effective administration was obstructed by the mutinous activities of the anti-treaty republicans. Collins refrained from taking action against his former comrades until IRA insurgents seized the Four Courts in Dublin and civil war became inevitable. William Thomas Cosgrave replaced Collins as chairman when the latter assumed command of the army in mid-July 1922 in order to crush the insurgency. About five weeks later, while on a tour of military inspection, Collins was shot to death by anti-treaty IRA.
Collins was the right man at the right time in the right historical place. Absent his strategic brilliance, tenacity and charisma, Irish independence may not have happened. In the larger schema of history, this became yet another chapter in the long succession of nation creation and destruction that has marched through Western history from it Hellenic roots in ancient Greece. Not only was Collins seceding from a larger tax jurisdiction but he was creating a wholly independent tax jurisdiction that would go on to become an odd amalgam of capitalism and socialism that would completely collapse economically at the beginning of the 21st century.
Key aspects of his campaign were the careful grooming of auxiliary organizations in the mass base of the greater population, a consistent and wholesale campaign to legitimize Irish independence in the minds of the Irish and his charismatic leadership.
He also employed a savage violence that led to the events of 21 November, 1920 when he effectively killed and destroyed the essential elements and personnel of the UK intelligence organs in Ireland proper. T. Ryle Dwyer, author of The Squad and the Intelligence Operations of Michael Collins quotes Collins:
“My one intention was the destruction of the undesirables who continued to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens. I have proof enough to assure myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have committed. If I had a second motive it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile. By their destruction the very air is made sweeter. For myself, my conscience is clear. There is no crime in detecting in wartime the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin.”
Most historians agree this crippled British intelligence operations (Cairo Gang) from this point onward and made the withdrawal of British interests inevitable. Absent the sophisticated network of spies and informants, the war would be fought blind. More atrocities in response to this were visited on the Irish by constabulary and military forces and this merely stiffened the spine of the major and minor elements of the Irish resistance. That same day, British forces fired on spectators at an Irish football match which left seven dead and dozens wounded.
David Leeson in “Death in the Afternoon: The Croke Park Massacre, 21 November 1920” describes part of the aftermath.
“Two military courts of inquiry into the massacre were held, and one found that “the fire of the RIC was carried out without orders and exceeded the demands of the situation.” Major-General Boyd, the officer commanding Dublin District, added that in his opinion, “the firing on the crowd was carried out without orders, was indiscriminate, and unjustifiable, with the exception of any shooting which took place inside the enclosure.” The findings of these courts of inquiry were suppressed by the British Government, and only came to light in 2000.”
The Cairo Gang was responsible for surveilling and torturing a number of innocents and genuine guerrillas and Collins know that making them dead would send a message. It did. Fighting would intensify and British response and overreach to the incident would lead to the withdrawal of all British forces in a little over two years. One can debate the morality and efficacy of assassinating constabulary and military forces but the Irish justified their actions in much the same way one would put down a rabid dog. There are instances where defensive violence is the answer. Kirby Ferris provides an interesting perspective on this question:
“Perhaps the world isn’t the way we wish it would be. We all might wish that evil men could be persuaded from their vile behavior with bleeding heart entreaties, a kiss on the cheek, or proper toilet training. But it ain’t that way, folks, Pacifism is a sickness, an actual moral perversity, and dangerous when its effects spread to anyone else beside the pacifist. You may choose to walk to the cattle car, but damn you if you let your children be led up the ramp. You must never allow any group or government to steal your right to exercise armed lethal force in a just situation.”
I certainly consider the Non-Aggression Principle to be a cornerstone of a free society but I do not support nor defend pacifism which to me is a sure road to self-destruction and extinction of your kind. Ireland had had enough and Collins became the instrument whereby liberation would be granted.
The Irish insurgency in the 20th century is a splendid example of how to do it successfully and the behavior of British forces in Ireland is a textbook example of how to incite one and subsequently lose the fight you picked.
Collins is yet another guerrilla who got it right. I recommend three books for further reading:
The Path to Freedom: Articles and Speeches by Michael Collins
Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland by Tim Pat Coogan
The Squad: and the Intelligence Operations of Michael Collins by T. Ryle Dwyer