By James Connolly
As we approach the Blessed Christmas Season we are reminded that this is the period of the year when all good Christians are exhorted to follow the above precept. Forgive and Forget. How sweet the words sound, and how soothing to the mind and conscience of men it is when they can in good faith act up to the counsel!
Can Ireland forgive and forget? Is it wise policy for Ireland to forgive before she has received more than a lip promise that the future will not be as full of wrong as the past? And if she can forgive, would it be, can it be, wise to forget? Ought it not rather be the aim of Ireland, and all who would guide her destinies wisely, to see that she never forgets, but that the memory of the past be forever with her as a lamp for the guiding of her footsteps in the future.
Indeed how can either a nation or an individual be fitted to meet the calls of life, and meet them wisely, if they have not been armed with a knowledge of the experiences of the past?
It will be found that Ireland failed in the present crisis where her children knew least about the past of their race. And Ireland most wisely met the crisis where her sons and daughters knew most of what that past had held for the people of Ireland.
With nations as with individuals it is not wise to forgive an injury whilst the enemy persists in retaining the power to renew the injury, or insists upon the injured person accepting a promise to reform instead of an act of reformation. The first condition necessary for forgiveness is a sign of repentance, and there can be no repentance if the oppressing nation lays it down that the power to oppress shall remain in its hands. Yet this is the condition in which Ireland found itself at the beginning of the present war.
Ireland has for seven centuries struggled in the grasp of England. For seven hundred years Ireland has seen no generation which did not attempt insurrection aiming at driving the English power out of Ireland – for seven hundred years with the exception of one brief period in the 18th century during which religious persecution strangled every thought of national regeneration. This conquest of Ireland, and the battle for the reconquest, has ebbed and flowed, but has never ceased. England insisted that her very life demanded that Ireland should be stripped of all the essentials of true nationhood, that it was not possible that Ireland could be mistress of her own destiny and England live. Therefore that England might remain an Empire Ireland must remain a subject nation. From this standpoint England has not to this day receded one millionth part of an inch. At the beginning of this war England had given Ireland a promise of a Parliament possessing certain local powers, but not possessing any of those national powers possessed by any independent nationality, by the free states of the German Empire or the colonial parliaments of the British Empire.
But this parliament, small and restricted as were its powers, was still too much to give freely and therefore England declared it could not be put in working order until the war was over, and then it would be still further restricted in its powers and curtailed in the scope of its operations. In other words England stood by every power she had gained by her long continued denial of Irish nationality, declared that Ireland was and must remain a province destitute of power to enlarge her status to that of a nation, and then having so affirmed her determination to retain all the spoils of conquest asked Ireland to forgive and forget and send her sons to rally to the defence of her conqueror and despoiler.
When a thief repents he does not expect forgiveness until he has made full and ample restitution – he would not dream of expecting forgiveness if he insisted upon retaining the power to rob his victim in the future. Still less would he expect forgiveness if he continued beating his victim as soon as that victim showed any disposition to arm himself against all future robbery on his part. A thief recognises that he must stop thieving and return the stolen goods before forgiveness can be expected.
England has robbed Ireland of her freedom. England still denies Ireland her freedom. England insists that it is unthinkable that Ireland should ever possess such freedom as would enable her to refuse to do England’s bidding. And then England asks Ireland to forgive and forget!
It is the blessed Christmas season, and we are prepared to have Christian charity to all men, but first we wish to see a practical sign of repentance – we wish the thief of our freedom to return fully and completely that, and all of that, which she has stolen. Until that event occurs our counsel to our countrymen shall continue to be like unto that of the Highland Chief in the Scottish poem –
To spoil the spoiler as they may,
Originally published in Workers’ Republic on 18th December 1915.
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