There are few books these days that I can find myself lost in, most suffer from feeling derivative, asinine, or just plain boring. Everyone thinks they can be a writer. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down to read The Yank and didn’t stick my nose up again until I had finished it some hours later.
An Irishman born in America, and US Marine turned IRA volunteer, Crawley’s account deftly balances the philosophical underpinning that drove a great many Irishmen to take up arms, weighed against the material necessities of waging guerrilla war against a major Western power, in more than just a historical recounting. It provides many lessons we can draw upon that remain true today.
Most of the attention in the media focuses on the eye-catching headlines, that he was part of an operation intending to destroy parts of the English power grid, or that he was told to set up a network to acquire arms with only £9000 – but in my view the more interesting take away from the book is the constant arguments on the need for professionalisation. No matter whether you’re fighting a war, running a political party, or starting a business, the need to constantly self-appraise, and the dissevering of the ego from proper administration, is critical to success.
Crawley’s book, while touching on the relationship between Britain’s intelligence agencies and loyalist death squads, focuses largely on the internal problems of the IRA, in a refreshingly unsentimental lens. It is neither boastful, apologetic, or anything other than one man’s experience.
Through Crawley’s testimony we see the disaster of the ego on proper organisation, most noticeably in the reluctance of members of the Army Council refusing out of hand proper advice on the functioning of logistics and procurement, training and operating.
Crawley notes on several times meeting with Martin McGuinness and coming away with a less-than-awestruck impression. Having sent Crawley to acquire M60s, McGuinness balks at the prices. ‘Accessories’ to fighting a war like radios, night vision, scopes, are all ignored in favor of a mismatched armoury of firearms and ammunition.
The failure to adopt proper methods is what holds back any nationalist movement in my estimation. A failure to promulgate rules and regulations, failure to provide standard methods and practices, failure to delineate clear areas of responsibilities and competencies, is what holds back the emergence of a successful organisational entity. And for that reason alone I would recommend reading Crawley’s book to see clear examples of why standardised modes, methods and practices need to be adopted.
Crawley touches on the republican/‘constitutional nationalist’ split but I think his analysis is wrong here. The author does correctly identify the strict difference between nationalism and republicanism in their original contexts but John does a disservice to Irish nationalism by pairing it off with Castle Catholics and rentiers as a stop-gap to the establishment of the Irish Republic declared in 1916.
In its original guise, the United Irishmen did perhaps want to achieve a secular egalitarian Republic like the French (which is itself an area under dispute by some – given that the leadership were Protestant and most turned informant for the British but the ones pitched and burned were Catholics who received no quarter – the sacrifice of a relative handful of Protestants aside), but one must consider in context the developments before and since. Irish nationalism traces its lineage of separatism and resistance to the foreigners much, much earlier than 1798.
Crawley’s distinction makes sense if one classifies the Irish Parliamentary Party, Daniel O’Connell and the rest of the ‘moderates’ as nationalists – but this is an error in classification. Crawley (unintentionally) alludes to this when making reference to what republicanism’s defining characteristics are, and the misclassification in the public mind which places ‘militant nationalism’ as being a prerequisite to being a Republican.
One cannot be a Nationalist and accept any less than the establishment of a whole and sovereign Gaelic Ireland, regardless of what you call yourself. No more than you can think 1+1=7 and consider yourself literate.
While Crawley, and other courageous Republicans no doubt, may indeed have been motivated by the belief that the Republic is the superior form of government – there is the simple question, would you rather be ruled by a British republic or an Irish monarchy?
I would go out on a limb and say that for most of us, we would instinctively prefer the latter to the former, and I would ascribe such beliefs to those who fought in 1916 and 1919 and 1594 and 1640 and ever unto the beginning of foreigners landing on the island. This does not and would not make us Monarchists, but rather highlights that the driving force behind the motivation, regardless of the adjectives used, is fundamentally nationalism