A vision of utopia includes the conversion of weapons of war into agricultural tools.
The Bible anticipates a time when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears will become billhooks. But sometimes, in our modern world, it happens that bitter enemies with blood on their respective hands wake up and realize that compromise is better than conflict.
Overcoming hate is less a matter of love than of recognizing the reality of the devastating consequences of prolonged conflict. When the source of the conflict is forgotten and someone finally realizes that an eye-for-an-eye policy only creates darkness, wise leaders assess the future and act to resolve their differences.
Compromise is difficult and weighs most heavily on statesmen. Visionaries who see the possibilities of a world transformed by practical necessity must be content with partial victory in the hope that the future will allow for incremental achievement. Understanding that half a loaf is better than no loaf requires a maturity that recognizes a better future is achieved every day because each small victory builds on another. In short, starting a peace process that keeps dialogue open is always a step in the right direction.
In Ireland, Michael Collins, Adjutant General of the Irish Republican Army, agreed to a compromise with his sworn enemy, the British. A leader in guerrilla tactics of ambush and assassination, Collins was a wanted man. The number of deaths for which he was responsible remains unknown.
As the butcher bill on both sides grew expensive, Collins saw no future in pursuing tit-for-tat. He recognized the futility of tactics that produced only death and destruction without the possibility of a stable economy, let alone an independent republic. This same reality was recognized by the British, who realized they could continue to dominate the Irish with overwhelming force, but the attritional deaths caused by the Irish Republican Army forced them to reassess their aims. If all they were doing in Ireland was occupying territory as an unwanted presence, there was no future. The policy of retaliation was not a strategy for success.
Both sides realized they had nothing to gain from continuing the war, and each saw a bleak future of continued counterattacks and reprisals awaiting them. The British then took the first step and invited Collins and other Irish revolutionaries, under safe passage, to London to negotiate. To extend and accept such an invitation required bravery on both sides.
Each had to contend with less than enthusiastic political support for the venture and, given centuries of animosity, trust or lack thereof, created an atmosphere of foreboding. The parameters of a treaty to settle their differences were completely undefined.
The British were, in part, motivated by King George V, who encouraged “all Irish people to pause, to stretch out the hand of patience and conciliation, to forgive and forget, and to join in doing for the land they love a new era”. of peace, contentment and goodwill.” This was an indirect mandate given to Prime Minister Lloyd George to negotiate.
Compromise proved difficult for both sides, but the alternative of continuing hostilities remained an unacceptable option. At the bottom of the discussions, Michael Collins seized the opportunity.
Despite all his republican notions and his devotion to a united Ireland, Collins realized that a treaty was the first step in a process. Recognizing that by accepting a compromise he was signing his own death warrant; he nevertheless agreed to the terms. Collins consented to create a new Irish Free State, which retained the king and required an oath of loyalty.
This state would initially have a dual government, Irish and British, and would give the northern counties of Ireland the right to opt out and remain under British rule. Collins called the treaty “freedom to attain freedom”. Free State status was not an independent republic, but gave Ireland dominion status, much like Canada. Although not a united Ireland, it was certainly more than half a loaf. .
A hundred years ago this month, the treaty was debated in the rebel Irish Parliament, the House of Commons in Southern Ireland and then both Houses of Parliament in London. It passed, but the vote in the Dail, the accepted name of the rebel Irish Parliament, was quite close. Once the treaty was ratified and its terms implemented, former IRA leaders objected.
Using weapons that had been acquired to fight British, pro and anti-Treaty forces engaged in a civil war. Like most internal conflicts, it was particularly brutal. All the animosity directed against the British was now turned against each other. Even though the Anti-Treaty forces lost, terrorist-turned-statesman Michael Collins was needlessly killed in an ambush.
Collins proved he was right that the Anglo-Irish treaty ratified 100 years ago was the first step in a larger process. Over time, the Irish Free State became an independent republic. Relations with the British would gradually improve as the issues relating to Northern Ireland were gradually faced and are still being managed with a view to resolution.
Mature leaders like Collins, who fight ruthlessly for their freedom, become statesmen when they realize that their goals are best achieved through compromise and negotiation. The ability to imagine a future that sees compromise as part of a process to achieve an ultimate goal is essential to the intensity of hard-fought negotiations.
In Collins’ case, he understood that having an independent Ireland in the short term was not possible; but, with additional work to build relationships and seek common ground, his long-term goal would be achieved. The enemies of long-term thinking, who reject compromise and would rather settle for nothing than something, achieve fleeting fame, but in the end the story sees their resistance as fundamental.
The legacy of Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish Treaty shows how leaders mature and grow to understand that incremental, short-term compromise provides a structure for building long-term ultimate goals. This lesson deserves to be remembered.