Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ireland's War of Independence: The chilling story of the Black and Tans - Europe, World - The Independent

Next time Obama wants to use Churchill as a good example he might want to think twice. Anyone with any knowledge of Irish history would have known the other side of Winston. He may have been the right man for the job against the Nazis, but against the Irish he was responsible for a lot more sufferring than anything caused by waterboarding.

The Black and Tans were created after the First World War by Winston Churchill and other ministers who were faced with a increasing tide of violence from the IRA, which had launched a campaign to drive Britain out of Ireland.

This is known as the War of Independence, though republicans took to calling it the "Tan War". With the IRA inflicting heavy casualties on the Royal Irish Constabulary, killing more than 50 of its officers, London created new forces to cope with republican insurrection. They were part of a hurriedly constructed counter-insurgency apparatus which included the existing police force, the regular army, secret service detachments and two completely new forces, the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans.

In the years that followed, all these groups were deployed against republican rebels, but the particularly violent behaviour of the Tans, together with their striking nickname, has meant that the blame for most of the misbehaviour has stuck to them.

The nickname arose entirely accidentally, and is usually traced back to a well-known pack of Limerick foxhounds which had that title. As members of the new force poured into Ireland there were not enough uniforms to go round, so they were originally dressed in a motley mixture of army khaki and police tunics.

Irish women, it is said, jeered at them as Black and Tans. Their irregular ensembles served to emphasise that, although they were technically part of the Irish police, they disregarded all normal policing procedures, and committed almost casual murders. Most of them were Great War veterans who answered an advertising campaign in Britain for men willing to face "a rough and dangerous task". With unemployment high, there were many ready to join for pay of 10 shillings a day plus board and lodging. Pay for a British Army private soldier was little more than a shilling a day.

The recruits, many hardened by trench warfare, were given only a few months' training before being despatched to Ireland, supposedly to act as policemen but in fact to provide military steel. In Ireland, they faced a very different type of war. The IRA waged guerrilla warfare, with hit-and-run tactics, attacks on isolated police barracks and deadly ambushes in territory which was unfamiliar to the Tans. All the security forces found this an extremely frustrating type of conflict but the Tans in particular quickly abandoned the normal rules and conduct of war.

They were in any case explicitly instructed to step outside the law, one police divisional commander instructing his men in a speech: "If a police barracks is burnt then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter. Let them die there; the more the merrier."

He instructed them to shout "Hands up" at civilians, and to shoot anyone who did not immediately obey. He added: "Innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man."

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