In commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, some excerpts from
“The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?”
From Chapter 20
Revolution: Don’t Try This at Home
It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority. – Samuel Adams
… Ireland’s Proclamation of 1916 or America’s Declaration of Independence … are national treasures. They represent our highest values; our highest collective “self”, if you will. They may be the moral keystones of our national identity. And … but … they are not the whole story of who we are.
Such a proclamation or declaration may be the crest of a great tsunami of social change, which has been swelling beneath the waves for generations. It’s not the “happily ever after.” It’s not the end of the story by any means. It’s just the beginning. It’s a gauntlet thrown down on the bloody pages of history. Corrupt this. In a sense, it’s a declaration of war.
If nationhood is what happens after the proclamation, then the story of Michael Collins may be called a microcosm, even a skeleton key, if you will, of what follows.
Adulthood, for an individual, entails clearly seeing and accepting one’s own faults and weaknesses, as well as one’s strengths. Similarly for the adulthood of a nation: Doesn’t it mean facing the ugly facts of history, along with the heroic inspiration?
… So modern republics celebrate their founding revolutions, and canonize revolutionary leaders. But kids, don’t try this at home. Revolution is always a gamble, of the highest stakes possible. Its outcome can be “more unpredictable than the results of a first-rate European war.” 1 The “good guys” don’t always win. Overturning an entrenched, abusive regime often means the shattering of social orders. Thus ripping the fabric of society opens the door to change: for better or worse. It can invigorate society with new ideas and opportunities; and/or expose it to opportunists and backlash, very far from the aims of idealistic insurgents.
… The assassination of great popular leaders, at a key cresting pinnacle of the monumental social upheaval which had brought them to prominence, in which they are the man of the hour … is one of the terrible tragedies common in revolution. Assassinations often occur in the context of such great convulsions, when the institutions of society are in flux. Under such conditions, suspects are many, circumstances are complicated, and mutating in unprecedented ways as the situation unfolds.
… These are risks not to be undertaken lightly. Neither can any lunatic fringe jump-start such changes. The leaders themselves are often very much taken by surprise.
Two kinds of courage enabled the nation to struggle out of bondage – the patient, enduring courage that willed survival in the long years of defeat; and the flashing, buoyant courage that struck manfully, challenging fortune. 2
Revolutions are born, not made. A movement for political change which has lain dormant underground for years, decades or centuries may, like in Ireland, suddenly rear up, and sweep all before it. Their greatest leaders don’t so much choose the time, as recognize, and seize it.
(1) George Bernard Shaw