The Bellicose Boys of Belfast

Hard on the heels of my previous post on the arrival of ultra-nationalist militias to fight the Russians in eastern Ukraine is a report from Belfast, Northern Ireland that some Loyalists (Protestants) attacked the police by throwing bottles, bolts, bricks, and whatever else they could get their hands on. In the resulting melee a driver panicked and a 16-year old girl was run over. Fortunately her injuries are not life threatening. But dozens of police were injured, one had his ear completely severed by something that was thrown, and they were forced to use water cannons on the rioters.

What was the reason for this confrontation? A battle in the year 1690–the Battle of the Boyne, where King William III defeated his Catholic rival, James II. This meant that Protestantism would reign supreme in the British Isles and ever since then the Orange Order, those descendants of the men King William led, have held a parade in order to commemorate that event. The problems is, they want to parade through an area where mostly Catholics live, and the Catholics don’t like to have their noses rubbed in the fact that their side lost 325 years ago. In the interests of peace, the authorities insisted that the parade NOT go down that road. This got some of the Loyalists worked up, and seeing the police as the nearest target for their wrath, they let loose with their barrage of missiles. Whether they really wanted to severe an ear or two and nearly kill an innocent girl is less clear.

The connection with the events in the eastern Ukraine are this: the people throwing the rocks are young men who love to fight. It can be with fists, as it is with the football hooligans I mentioned last time, with bottles and brick, with knives as it was with the Jets and the Sharks, or with guns if you can get your hands on them and find the support from propagandists and charismatic leaders.

If we really want to make the world a more peaceful place, we have to recognize that there are a lot of young men everywhere in the world on the lookout for a good fight—and not “good” in the sense of “just”, but rather “satisfying”. They’re happy being belligerent, happier still to become bellicose. To combat this combativeness we need programs in place everywhere in the world that teach peace.   It should start in elementary school, continue through junior high, and expand through high school when it is most needed.

There is a Sacrament of the Group: a feeling of transcendence we get when we’re part of a group of people taking part in a meaningful activity, as I describe in my book. It can be thrilling to be part of a group, but it’s so easy for the Dark Side to find it’s way in and turn it into a gang, a mob, a cult.

Waging peace is complicated, of course, but in addition to the quest for social justice, there has to be more attention given to the DNA of young men. If the UN and world leaders everywhere would do more to promote education programs with this in mind, perhaps one day the Irish will look back at these Protestant-Catholic confrontations with the same incredulity we in America look at the hatred some of our ancestors felt for the British in 1776.


3 thoughts on “The Bellicose Boys of Belfast

  1. […] Source: The Bellicose Boys of Belfast […]

  2. It seems to me, because we can’t count on anyone else to do it, schools need to step up and teach manners, respect for others and all the values we all should cherish. Kids can learn how they contribute to the sacrament of the group and how the group can become more than the individual could experience alone and bigger/better than its individual pieces for sure. But, the group or the individuals have to learn it somewhere along the line. I think noses would come out of cell phones more, customer service would improve everywhere and people would be generally happier if respect and “treating people as you would like to be treated” was more widely understood. Teachers should be encouraged to step into a mentoring role in this regard.

    • I couldn’t agree more. One of the other universal sacraments is “Friends and Mentors”: there are some special people in our lives who have a tremendous impact on what path we end up taking, or how our personalities develop. Not every teacher will fill this role, of course, but to have a teachers who really cares about their students, and who are trained in how to connect with young people is something we should aspire to. Elevating the profession of teacher in our communities is important. In Japan, I’m told, teachers are much more respected than here.

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