Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mali's coup, Ireland's mutinies, France's conspiracy

I wrote a lot here about the chaos of Rome's Third Century AD when any taboos about seizing power completely broke down and military generals were repeatedly hailed as emperor by their armies, marching them into dreadful civil wars against the sitting emperors in Rome. The Praetorian Guard, meant to protect the emperors, instead bullied and manipulated them into pay hikes and gifts, murdering many of them. One of the most notorious incidents was the murder of Emperor Pertinax, who was stabbed by an irritated guard after refusing to grant their demands. The Praetorians subsequently auctioned out of the emperor position to the highest bidder among Rome's wealthy.
I marvelled that such violent disobedience by soldiers and police seems largely unknown in modern developed countries. It would be absolutely unthinkable that the Irish army would march on the parliament and demand a raise. In Mali, however:
The event began with discontent in the ranks of the Malian military over the government's handling of a rebellion by Tuaregs in the north of the country. The rebellion has surged in recent months—leading the other day to a Tuareg capture of Timbuktu—probably facilitated by an influx of arms from Libya following the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi. When the Malian defense minister visited a military camp a few miles outside the capital of Bamako and failed to respond adequately to grievances about the response to the rebellion, soldiers started firing in the air and stoning the minister's car. As things got out of hand in the enlisted ranks, most officers at the camp fled. An exception was Sanogo, who soon found himself at the head of a revolt that made its way to the state broadcasting station and the presidential palace.
Imagine a military coup that starts with undisciplined soldiers throwing stones at a government minister's car. It wouldn't happen here today.

Yet there were mutinies in the Irish army and police in the early years after independence. Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) police officers deserted in droves during the War of Independence when the legitimacy of the British rule was lower than ever. When new police were being trained after independence for the new police force, some radical nationalist recruits were bitter to see old RIC members among them, and embarked on a clumsy mutiny that provoked the government to halt their salaries. When the mutiny was ended and salaries released, the trainees celebrated by getting raging drunk and someone was shot dead by accident. The government decided then that the new police force would not carry firearms!

Ireland was rocked in the 1920s by continued nationalist unrest as the remains of the IRA murdered police officers and even a government minister in 1927. When the ruling Cumann na nGaedheal party lost the 1932 election, their rivals Fianna Fáil carried pistols in their jackets into parliament in the expectation that Cumann na nGaedheal would refuse to hand over power. Instead Cumann na nGaedheal accepted defeat and Irish democracy was strengthened in its first peaceful transfer of power.

It took Ireland many decades to develop legitimacy and stability, but today it goes without question. The same is true for Britain, where widespread riots last summer were never expected to cause the collapse of the state. Today we feel far from the Roman and Malian disorder, but that chaos is just a few decades in the past. Paul Pillar, who wrote this piece about Mali, continues:
We might also note that it was fifty-one years ago this month, in the next country to the north of Mali—i.e., Algeria—that four French generals staged a putsch that they intended would lead to a takeover of the government of France. It took Charles de Gaulle, donning his World War II uniform and appealing once again to the patriotism of his countrymen, to defeat the coup attempt.

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