Was the 1916 Rising morally justified?
An insurrectionary group must have solid evidence that they represent the people, says philosopher James G Murphy
Éamon de Valera in custody following the 1916 Rising
“Just war” theory is commonly invoked to establish whether certain conflicts – such as the Israeli attacks on Gaza or the US invasion of Iraq – are morally defensible. But what about historical violence that we continue to commemorate, if not celebrate, today?
Under the doctrine of “just war”, someone is justified in resorting to arms if the following criteria are met: (1) just cause, (2) competent authority, (3) comparative justice, (4) right intention, (5) reasonable prospect of success, (6) last resort, and (7) proportionality.
James G Murphy SJ, who teaches philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, and is author of War’s Ends: Human Rights, International Order, and the Ethics of Peace (Georgetown University Press, 2014), argues that there is a logical order to these criteria “so that, if the proposed resort to force doesn’t pass the earlier criteria, then passing the later criteria will be either impossible or irrelevant”.
Advocating more rigorous thinking about what precisely justifies the use of violence, Murphy provides today’s idea: The 1916 Rising does not meet the conditions of a "just war".
How do we get a world without wars?
James G Murphy: “We’ll be a step closer to that when Irish people – nationalists – are prepared to say the Easter 1916 Rising and the 1919-1921 War of Independence were not morally justified. It’s always easy to get people to denounce other countries or rulers for ‘warmongering’. For example, Ireland likes to do that about the US in recent years. But that’s cheap; the real test is whether they will say that about their own favourite wars.
“So, the answer is: there is no guarantee on an end [to] wars unless you get a world without human beings, or a world of perfect human beings; which is not, on anybody’s reckoning – including Christians who believe in salvation – possible in this life. It’s like asking: how do we get a world without injustice? Well, pray.
“As long as human beings squabble and fight with each other, or do criminal acts, wars will be around. It’s an impractical idealism that imagines war could easily be abolished. And it may well be immoral for a country – or government – to take the position that it will never, on principle, engage in war of any kind, but be strictly pacifist.”
In your book, you advocate early intervention, pointing out that Hitler could have been stopped in Czechoslovakia. Is it better sometimes, then, to be a hawk rather than a dove?
“I suppose you could say yes. But it’s misleading. Best answer: it’s best to be realistic, and join together in international solidarity to impose order, using force if necessary. War is a terrible evil, in the sense of a destructive state of affairs. But that does not mean that any country going to war is acting immorally.