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The Escalation of Insurgency: The Provisional Irish Republican Army's Experience, 1969–1971

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009

Extract

There exists a substantial body of revolutionary analysis focused on those elusive objective conditions that permit rebels to rise with some hope of success. There is, of course, no more a general consensus on how to begin an insurrection than on how to prevent one. At one extreme there exist the more simpleminded adherents of Règis Debray who have suggested that a small band of the brave, a foco, may alone spark an insurrection against an oppressive regime. At the other are those reluctant rebels who insist on so extensive a roster of assets that the moment to rise continues to recede into the distant future. Still within the middle ground conditions have sufficiently encouraged some so that, possessed of a just cause and hopeful of ultimate victory, the armed struggle has been launched. As a result in southern Africa and Latin America, on Mindanao and in the Basque country of Spain, there are insurrections under different banners. Some appear close to victory and others on the verge of disaster, a few are little more than the disorderly residue of past hopes and others scarcely begun. For all a crucial question remains how to escalate the initial thrust. An insurrection may begin as the act of an urban conspiracy, spring from the operations of a rural foca, evolve out of the spontaneous rising of the masses; but unless the moment is ripe any insurrection can flicker out in the recriminations of exiles or be interned with the dead. And, perhaps, no set of potential rebels have had as much experience and as little luck in identifying the moment to strike as the Irish. Yet, the news from Northern Ireland indicates that this time they must be doing something right—or the British something wrong.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 1973

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References

1 The history of that failure can be found in my The Secret Army, the IRA 1916–1970 (New York, 1971) to be republished in 1973 by M.I.T. Press, bringing the story up to date based on 1972–1973 interviews in Ireland and the United StatesGoogle Scholar.

2 Sunday Times Insight Team, Ulster (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1972), p. 309.Google Scholar

3 Ulster, p. 213.

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