Belfast Telegraph

War cannot purify, it can only corrupt

By Brian McClinton

In explaining the failure of constitutional nationalists, Padraig Pearse wrote: "They have conceived of nationality as a material thing, whereas it is a spiritual thing. They have not recognised in their people the image and likeness of God. Hence, the nation is not to them all holy, a thing inviolate and inviolable, a thing that a man dare not sell, or dishonour on pain of eternal perdition".

Nationhood, Pearse believed, could only be achieved by taking up arms, and, although the wrong people might be shot, "bloodshed is a cleansing and a satisfying thing and the nation which regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood".

Images of violence and sacrifice recur throughout Pearse's speeches and writings.

In his graveside oration at the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa in 1915, he said: "Life springs from death, and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations".

Pearse identified the Irish Catholic nation with Jesus Christ. Ireland was a crucified nation which would have its resurrection and redemption. He and his fellow nationalists would re-enact the sacrifice of Christ and, thus, redeem the nation as Christ redeemed the world. For the symbolism to be complete, the national crucifixion and resurrection had to take place at Easter.

We should also point to the similarities between the 1912 Covenant and the 1916 Proclamation. Both appeal to the same Christian God and both imply that He is on their side.

If there is a difference, the Covenant is more an appeal to the Old Testament in harking back to God's covenants with the Jews, whereas the Proclamation alludes to the New Testament in drawing a parallel between the rebels and Jesus.

Jesus was right. Violence breeds more violence; war causes division; it corrupts, rather than purifies.

In this centenary year of both the Easter Rising and the Somme, let us finally dispel the myth of redemptive violence and say, with Joyce, that Irish history is a nightmare from which we have finally escaped.

Brian McClinton is a director of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland

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