“The Troubles” of Northern Ireland really came to a head in 1969, when, as a result of escalating sectarian conflict, British troops were deployed to Belfast and (London)Derry to act as a buffer between the ‘Nationalists’ (mostly Catholic) and the ‘Loyalists’ (mostly Protestant).
Initially the troops were welcomed by the nationalists but inevitably, as time passed, the troops found themselves attacked on both sides, loved by none. Although violence and the killings peaked in the seventies, the low-level war continued into the nineties.
At one point, during Operation Motorman (which the author witnessed first hand), there were nearly 25,000 troops deployed. By the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, over three and a half thousand people had been killed, and many more wounded, as the violence spread from Northern Ireland to Eire, England and even mainland Europe.
How did this come about? There were long-term grievances held by a significant minority. That minority was alienated from major political processes, felt excluded and mistreated. As they protested, factions formed, sides were picked and violence became inevitable. Once conflict has begun, who has the courage to stop it?
All this with a total population of about 1.8 million, roughly 41% Protestant and 41% Catholic.
Which somehow reminds me of Chicago, with a population of 2.7 million, but divided more along ethnic than religious lines: 45% White, 33% Black and 29% Hispanic or Latino.
The link is in a report by the US justice Department, which finds a pattern of ‘excessive force’ used by the Chicago police Department. One of the major complaints of the Nationalists in Northern Ireland was about how they were treated (beaten and sometimes killed) by the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary).
Given the sense of alienation from the Chicago police, it is not hard to see where the massive rise in gun violence comes from. The similarities with Northern Ireland are striking, not only because of present day issues, but the sense of grievance going back hundreds of years.
So we have a large urban population with a sense of persecution and alienation from the State, ready access to weapons and a willingness to use them. Throw in gang turf wars, drugs and political corruption. Add a couple of hundred years of justified resentment. Stir in a little ‘color revolution’ come home to roost (Russia, China,… ? the many documented cases where the USA has destabilized and undermined other states must rebound one day).
It is worth remembering that throughout the thirty long years of varying degrees of turmoil, there were large parts of Ulster that were relatively untouched – but life in the big cities was ugly – almost intolerable.
What we are likely to experience is that the failed human experiment of living together in huge cities will fall by the wayside. These mega-cities will become eaten out from the center as they wither – rotten to the core, they will become compost, organic food for a new world.
Through the trauma and drama we may see fresher, more natural communities emerge. We need to use our imaginations, to look through the smoke and dust to see the glorious world that we share with so many other species.
Can you see the sunlight dappling in the clearing, hear the bird sing outside your window, smell the freshly-mown grass? No? Look again, it’s there. Now do you see it? It was always there … waiting for you.