Shame and war

The most significant question was: why did they want to join the IRA? The same simple reasons cropped up all the time: the Brits were killing our people; the army, police and legal system were biased against Catholics; they felt as Catholics that they were discriminated against generally in society and nothing was ever done about it. ALmost always they expressed personal experiences of harassment and intimidation from the Crown forces.

That is Eamon Collins, a onetime IRA intelligence agent, in Killing Rage. It’s a memoir and meditation on why certain northern Irish Catholics turned to terror and violence. This is easily the most readable book on war I’ve encountered in some time. Collins gives an incredible insider’s account of the IRA–a history, a guilty confessional, and a search for an explanation why so many people would turn to terror for a political cause.

I pulled the book from a new civil war syllabus from some Yale colleagues–Stathis Kalyvas and Paul Kenny. Economists and political scientists who study war fret over the ‘participation problem’–why some would risk everything for a goal they may not live to see reached (especially a revolution from which they can reap benefits without actually fighting).

Collins would have us believe that shame, humiliation and injustice lead some to fight. The same argument has been made by Libby Wood in El Salvador. I find myself increasingly persuaded.