On Sept 11 2001, I was lounging in Kennedy’s bar on Westmoreland Street, Dublin when the images of the attacks on the Twin Towers started coming through on the TV screens. My companion was Paul, a budding novelist from Oklahoma – we were both doing the MA in Creative Writing in Trinity College at the time.
At first, we didnt really know what we were looking at. It took a while for us to realise that America the Invincible was under attack – that our modern day Rome was being sacked.
I can say, like most people, we were shocked. But like most people with any knowledge of politics & history, we were not surprised. The US empire & its client states had caused countless deaths & incalculable misery throughout the middle east over the previous decades, including an estimated one million deaths due to sadistic sanctions against Iraq. Unfortunately it was not to be the architects of this mass-murder that were to suffer the inevitable backlash, but ordinary New Yorkers. Such is the way of imperialist war.
On the socialist & anarchist left we immediately knew that the neo-liberal hawks running foreign policy in the US and its allies would capitalise on the sept 11th attacks and launch a new series of even bloodier wars for control of the middle east. Within days we were setting up anti-war groups all over Ireland.
These would eventuallly grow into one of the largest political mass movements ever seen in Ireland, culminating in over 100000 people marching against the Iraq war on Feb 15 2003 – as part of an international mobilisation of tens of millions.
The Dublin March set off from Parnell Street & when the front had arrived in Merrion Square there were still many thousands waiting at the start point to set off. It was bigger, & much much broader, than the water marches, the hunger strike marches, the PAYE marches….
But it didnt stop the war. Because marches no matter how big are simply not enough without the back-up of large-scale strikes. We did attempt a day of strikes when the war broke out, and with some success – I led a walkout of staff & students in St Johns school in Ballybrack & there were many other similiar actions around the country – with mass school student walk-outs playing a leading role. But it wasnt enough, here or anywhere else in the world to stop the endless slaughter we knew would be the result of a US led attack on the middle east.
The Labour Party and the union leaders they control can take the blame for this. Labour politicians were happy to push themselves into the media photos on the day of the 100000 march, but actively worked to sabotage calls for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to officially back a mass anti-war strike.
The other reformist parties were similarly Machiavellian. Turning up for the photo-ops on days of big action, but offering no support atall to maintaining & growing the out-of-the-limelight local anti-war groups, without whom there could be no big anti-war actions.
It was left to the small numbers of revolutionary socialists & anarchists, alongside handfuls of what might be called militant pacifists, to try and keep the movement going.
And we had a row. Anarchists argued for a focus on direct action at Shannon Airport, then as now a vital transit point for the imperialist mass-murder machine – with the aim of shutting the airport down as long as possible & forcing a political crisis that would lead to the closure of Shannon to US troops.
Socialists argued for keeping the emphasis on mass demos in Dublin – although we did organise demos at Shannon too, just not ones aimed at shutting the airport down.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the anarchists were right. If we had focused on direct action in Shannon in the immediate aftermath of the huge Dublin march, when the movement was at its height, we could have got several thousand onto the tarmac at Shannon & launched a long-term occupation that would have severely disrupted the US war machine & forced a crisis in the FF govt on the issue of neutrality.
Instead we pissed it all away in the quixotic pursuit of trying to convince amoral union leaders of the moral case for a mass-anti-war strike & in trying to build electoral coalitions with reformists – a tactic which led to the ultimately disastrous RESPECT project in England, & nowhere atall in Ireland.
Now that the socialist left is offering full
support to anarchist-style direct action through our involvement in Extinction Rebellion in 2019, it’s time to admit our mistake in 2003 – or else be blatant hypocrites.
Anyway, every prediction of chaos & genocide & endless war & bottomless horror made by the anti-war movement has come to pass.
And Shannon is still in use by the genocide ferry & so will be struck by several nuclear warheads, with thousands of times the impact power of Hiroshima, within hours of a war breaking out between any of the major Imperialist powers – a near inevitability at some point in the next few decades.
Only then will we in Ireland will know the true consequences of our failure to stop our country being used as a refuelling depot by the most murderous & destructive empire in the history of the world.