The Blanket

Political Violence’s Victims:
Issues And Questions Of
Responsibility And Opportunity

Paul A. Fitzsimmons • 16.11.02

In late May of this year, Anthony McIntyre wrote and published an article entitled “The Killing of Children,” addressing such murders in context of the Northern Ireland and the Middle East conflicts. The article challenged its readers to consider the special wrongfulness of combatants snatching away these youngest lives in the course of socio-political battles.

Mr. McIntyre’s views were, I had thought, laudable, important, and uncontroversial, but a responsive letter disagreed. That letter read in full:

Regarding 'The Killing of Children' by Anthony McIntyre,

Am I to take it that McIntyre places value on human life according to the number of months lived - the fewer, the more valuable that life is?

I have two children aged 23 and 26. Is it less wrong to kill them now than it would have been to have killed them when they were 18 months or 5 years? At my ripe old age of 54, am I about to fall off the scale of value? Or perhaps I already have?

Eileen Watson

While watching developments in this very latest Good Friday Agreement crisis, I’ve held off responding to that letter, but now seems an appropriate time to do so.

In answer to Ms. Watson’s questions, my surmise is that Mr. McIntyre does not “place[] value on human life according to the number of months lived - the fewer, the more valuable that life is.”

But, if that surmise is correct, why then does he feel - properly, I think - that the murder of a child in these circumstances is an especially egregious wrong?

The answer is certainly not that “the average Joe,” whether walking down the street in Belfast or in Jerusalem, “deserves” to die from political violence more if he is 40 years old than if he is 4 years old.

Instead, the reason that such murders of infants offend - or, at least, should offend - the conscience more than the political murders of “average adults” has to do, I believe, with fundamental, if perhaps subconscious, notions of social responsibility and opportunity.

Whenever a society suffers from such endemic, persistent, and virulent socio-political conflict that cross-community murder becomes part of the everyday landscape, one thing can truly be said with certainty: no two-year-old child in that society has ever had any opportunity to take any affirmative step to address those conflicts in any way whatsoever. Simply put, a child of tender years has, unarguably, no responsibility for the condition of the society into which he or she has been born.

Many will see coming - but some may nonetheless have extreme difficulty accepting or, at least, admitting - the implications of the answer to a related question: does the average adult Joe or Josephine have any responsibility for the state of the society in which he or she lives? The answer to this question must be “yes.”

How much responsibility? Perhaps not much individually but, even individually, the answer cannot be none. Adults are the operators and caretakers of society as well as being the immediate caretakers of their children, who will of course take those same social reins when they come of age and when their parents retire from society’s center stage.

Any converse assertion - that “average adults” are no more responsible for the condition of their society than are their infant children - would be beyond ridiculous, reaching indeed the point of cowardly falsehood.

These facts underpin, in my view, Mr. McIntyre’s correct position on the particular reprehensibility of the murder of infants and children in socio-political conflicts.

Thus, Ms. Watson’s letter was disturbing its apparent unawareness of the responsibilities of 56-year-olds and 26-year-olds and 23-year-olds to their society. If problems within a society are so severe and extreme that infants are too regularly the victims of political murder, “average adults” in that society ought to figure out that they ought to try to figure out how to address those problems. If such problems have been happening over the course of many decades, perhaps “average adults” in that society should come to the conclusion that their leaders aren’t adequately dealing with those problems and that some other approach not actively advocated by their leaders needs somehow to be attempted or at least investigated.

But - in the Northern Ireland context, and with the Good Friday Agreement scheme perhaps on the verge of its final failure - what other approach might be taken?

Some have urged that opposing “tyrannical techno-industrial corporations” is the one of the most important ways to address social evil, in Northern Ireland and beyond. Others have argued that harping on how reunion will solve Ireland’s long socio-political conflict is the best way forward. If any “average adult” reader of this small writing sees merit in those approaches, I would urge that he or she either actively and publicly oppose those corporations, or actively and publicly harp on reunion, or both. Doing something peaceful to try to reduce political conflict and violence in Northern Ireland - even doing something that may seem pretty silly - may be better than doing nothing at all.

Some reading these words may already be aware that I’ve advocated that people speak up and ask the British and Irish governments to undertake a first-ever formal inquiry into whether a fair and workable six-county independence might be both feasible and broadly acceptable. (If any reader hereof would like to receive, via e-mail, a computer file with about a hundred pages of articles on this subject, published over the last two years, please send me a note.)

Much, much easier, though, than taking any such step would be for an “average adult” in Ireland or Britain to sit back in a cozy chair - all the better with an ample libation in hand - and expound to any willing ear on what a damned shame it is that nothing, really, can be done.





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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

24 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Blanket Special

3 Part Series

Capo de tuti Capo?: The Three Families

Part One: Bridie McCloskey's Story
Anthony McIntyre


A Wilderness of Mirrors
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Revenge of a Child
Uri Avnery


Political Violence's Victims

Paul A. Fitzsimmons


22 November 2002


House of Cards
Michael Dahan


It's Gone - Hip, Hip, Hurrah!
Sean Smyth


In Search of an Alternative World
Anthony McIntyre



Brian Mór


Kilroy Nouveau

Brian Mór


Kilroy Redux

Brian Mór




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