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We are a people – or nation – that has been invaded; we have resisted and suffered in that resistance. Naturally we tend to sympathise with other countries who have been – or are being – invaded too. Many other peoples have been invaded more often than has Ireland; the Book of Invasions and Occupations of some of those would run to many pages. Few however have been occupied for nearing a millenium by what has been essentially the same invader – as has our little nation. So the question as to whether invasions are always wrong is bound to arouse an emotional feeling of rejection in us, of hostility to the questioner, even. Still, I ask the question and turn to history for the answer, our own history and that of other places.
INVASIONS OF IRELAND
The Vikings invaded Ireland (a sovereign state or collection of states) in successive waves from Norway and Denmark areas, took people to be sold as slaves, pillaged and looted and in time occupied parts of our land. They were hardly welcome but after their defeat at the Battle of Clontarf (sic) in 1014, left little permanent damage.
The Normans, invading in 1169, were a different matter, with less pillaging but wreaking far-reaching adverse changes, especially as they became the English ruling class, a mixing of Norman and Anglo-Saxon elites. Our land was turned into a colony, competing industries destroyed, the majority population turned into second-class subjects, our produce used to fuel the British industrial revolution, followed by famine here, mass emigration, our resistance repressed ……
In our strivings to be free from the English Occupation, we invited an invasion from the Spanish Kingdom to Ireland and one arrived in 1601, which was followed by the Siege and Battle of Kinsale (2nd October 1601-3rd January 1602) between Irish clans and their Spanish allies against the English. The latter’s victory resulted in English conquest over the whole island and the destruction of the remains of the Gaelic social and legal order in Ireland.
During the Jacobite War (1689-1691), the Irish and Anglo-Irish clans invited Royal French forces to invade Ireland in order to assist them in supporting King James II his bid to regain the English Crown1 and that too ended badly for the Irish with the Limerick Treaty, the flight of the Wild Geese and the religious Penal Laws.
In the late 1790s, the United Irishmen once again invited the French forces — but this time Republican – to assist them in overthrowing English rule in Ireland in what was a semi-sovereign state. The planned French invasion failed due to adverse weather conditions in 1796 and a smaller force successfully landed in Mayo in the closing weeks of the 1798 Rising, joined with Irish insurgents and defeated English military units but was soon surrounded and, massively outnumbered, surrendered.
During WWI sovereign states in large areas of the world, in particular in Europe and in the Middle East, were invaded by the armies of many states, comprising those of the Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Turkey on one side and those of the Entente — UK, France, USA, Turkey, Russia, Italy and Japan – on the other. The cause of the war was contention between imperial powers and no side could be said to have been justified in the alliance they joined or in invasions carried out as a result. One revealing example of the gap between justication propaganda and reality was that the UK claimed that it was waging war with Germany in defence of the little nation of Belgium, while it repressed a rising of the little nation of Ireland. Likewise, the USA, which claimed to want a post-war world of peace and security for small nations, refused to receive the delegations of a number of small or weaker nations, including that of Ireland, to the Paris Peace Conference2.
In the runup to WWII and during it, parts of Africa, Asia and most of Europe, including many sovereign states3, were invaded by the Nazis and Fascist powers of Germany, Italy or Japan4, with horrific consequences for the people who lived in the invaded lands.
Would we have countenanced an invasion of Nazi Germany to prevent what it was going to do? In any case, during the War, the counter-attack of the Allies also invaded huge parts of the world, including sovereign states that had colluded with the Nazis, as well countries totally dominated by them: the USSR invaded Eastern Europe beyond the USSR’s earlier borders, also sovereign Germany and sovereign Austria; the USA and UK invaded France (part-sovereign, part-occupied) and Italy (part-liberated by popular revolt) and all three invaded sovereign Germany and Austria too, but also North Africa; the USA invaded the Phillippines and Indo-China. Had we been alive then, most of us would have cheered those invasions – they brought down the terrible Axis forces, liberated death camps, freed people from fascist rule.
But the UK and France retook their colonies, where they had been suppressing and repressing the people for generations.5 The UK and USA prevented the Greeks from stopping the return of their monarch (their sovereign) and, combining former fascist police with their own armed forces, suppressed the Greek rising. And the USA installed themselves in the Phillippines, making them their neo-colonies. The USA also began to cultivate elites as clients in Indo-China, particularly in Korea and Vietnam.
The reoccupations of colonies and transfer of control to new masters were the cause of a wave of anti-colonial struggles and wars of repression in India and Malaya with the UK; in North Africa with the French; in Korea with the USA; in Vietnam with the French first and then with the USA; in the Middle East and West Africa with the UK and France. They also facilitated the creation of the Zionist state of Israel with horrific consequences (including invasions by it) that continue to be played out to this day.
The struggles of people resulted in the eventual national liberation of areas of the world, including part of Korea and later, Vietnam, creating states. Cambodia and Laos, having been bombed by the USA in its war with the Vietnamese people, came under new national regimes. But the new rulers of Cambodia’s sovereign state, under the Pol Pot regime, developed a new kind of horrific rule resulting in the distinction of becoming the country with most mass graves in the world6. That sovereign regime was toppled by an intervention of Vietnamese forces and those of us alive then cheered that invasion.
The Portuguese colonies in Angola and Mozambique were freed by liberation struggles but in Mozambique were assisted by Cuban troops, which also helped them resist invasion by South African troops and proxies.7
Much closer to our own time, the UK and USA/NATO, leading coalitions of other states, invaded Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, destabilising them and destroying for years the development potential of those countries8. They attempted the same with Syria and that conflict is ongoing. The excuse given was always along the lines of countering a threat to the world (Iraq: “Weapons of mass destruction”, “Al Khaeda”) or liberating their populations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria).
INVASIONS GENERALLY — AND WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE?
So, reviewing the historical record, very few would say that invading another region — even a sovereign state — is wrong on every occasion. Most would say, I think, that it would depend on the motivation for the invasion, how it is conducted and what the invaders do afterwards.
Hopefully this can help us to mediate the automatic Irish sympathetic reaction to the war in the Ukraine and with regard to the Western-dominated discourse that Russia is automatically wrong – purely because its troops invaded the Ukrainian sovereign state. Russia may indeed be wrong – but not purely on the fact that it invaded.
Which then moves the evaluation on to a more productive and rational basis. Was the reason for the invasion justified? How did Russian troops conduct themselves during the invasion? What is intended as the longer-term outcome of the invasion?
Here, unfortunately we are in a marsh of propaganda, fake news, partial accounts, censorship9 ….. and the war has not yet concluded. But we can try to navigate our way across this marsh relying on the fairly firm patches we can find and hopefully avoiding getting stuck or even sucked down.
Justification for the invasion?
Russia says it invaded because it was being encircled and threatened by NATO, while the latter denies this. The evidence is however on the side of Russia in this disagreement10.
Putin also says that he did so to “de-nazify” the Ukraine. Considering the number of active fascists in Russia, this does not ring true, though the presence of nazi militia in the Azov Battalion is undeniable and the the Ukrainian regime is certainly glorifying Nazis in its past.
Conduct during the invasion
When Russia invaded it says that it fought to confront military units and to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. In the early days of the war this does seem to have been the case. As the fighting grew fiercer around Kyiv and Mariupol, it was harder to ascertain the truth, with Ukranian claim the Russians were targeting civilian structures and Russian counter-claim that, in Mariupol in particular, the Ukrainian forces were firing from civilian structures, which naturally attracted Russian return fire. And of course, bombardment of any large area is going to result, whether intended or not, in damage to civilian structures.
Another Ukrainian accusation, widely covered in the western media, is that the Russians were kidnapping civilians and transporting them back to Russia. The latter responded that they were facilitating the evacuation of civilians from danger areas. A similar Ukranian removal of civilians, on the face of it, is represented as a humanitarian action. Humanitarian evacuation or kidnapping? By one or the other, or by both?
There have been Ukranian accusations that the Russians executed captured Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and the Western media and political leaders have repeated those accusations. What appears to be bodies of civilians have been photographed in the streets of Bucha and Irpin after the Russians forces retreated, some of which appeared to have their hands tied behind their backs.
The Russians have rejected the whole story as fake news, pointing out that the Mayor of Bucha had smilingly recorded a video message after the Russian military evacuation of his town, during which he had made no mention at all of any such executions. Also that the reports of the alleged executions did not emerge until four days after they had evacuated the town.
However the Ukrainians also say that a mass grave containing 410 bodies has been uncovered outside Kyiv. Russia has said it wants the issue discussed at the UN Security Council11 but so far have been blocked by another permanent member, the UK (the latter holds the Presidency of the Security Council at the moment)12.
We must await some kind of even semi-independent investigation but if any of these allegations turn out to be true it will certainly be a powerful indictment of Russia’s conduct during the invasion.
We do not know for certain what the situtation will look like post-conflict but it looks likely that Russia will withdraw from most of the Ukraine, which will remain outside NATO and with much-reduced armament, which was part of what Russia was seeking even years before the conflict. But it also looks as though Russia will retain the Crimea and the Donbas area.
To judge whether that retention is just or not, one has to choose between two narratives (or some synthesis of both).
The Russian narrative is that after the change of government in 2014 there was a campaign against ethnic and linguistic minorities, in particular Russian-speakers, by the Ukrainian authorities, aided by fascist forces. These attacked the Russian-speaking areas, the latter mobilised to defend themselves and asked Russia to come to their defence.
The Western narrative is that Russia egged on Russian speakers to fight the Ukrainians and to secede and that the whole thing was just a Russian land grab.
But one way or another, the bare fact of Russian invasion is not sufficient to decide against them, much less to agree with what is essentially the dominant US/NATO discourse of the western media – the bigger and longer picture needs to be examined.
1Both Irish and Anglo-Irish sought an end to religious oppression of Catholics and retention of their lands; the Irish clans may have also sought recovery of some of their ancestral lands.
2More about the division of the world between victorious powers and punishing the losers, than about peace.
3The Austrian state was subverted under threat by the Nazis, as was also the Norwegian, followed quickly by invasion.
4Nazi Germany also recruited fascist units from Spain, Ukraine and Romania into their army and Japan recruited Koreans; in addition an Indian natiolal liberation army fought the English occupation in coalition with the Japanese.
5The Japanese were asked to hold on to their conquered territory in parts of SE Asia until the French could move back in, for example in Vietnam.
6Spain is the second, dating from its Civil War/ Anti-fascist War, a sovereign monarchical state evolving from a successful fascist-military coup against an elected Republican government.
7A highly simplified description, as there were civil war elements also with fighting for control between different factions of the former liberation movement.
8The UK holds the record for countries invaded, while the USA holds the record for involvement in military conflicts since WWII.
9Twitter has taken down an archive of six years of Chris Hedges’ Contact programs, Netflix has removed the Oliver Stone documentary “Ukraine Is Burning”, the US and UK has banned RT and Russia then banned BBC, China has banned BBC and Facebook, the latter has unbanned the fascist Ukrainian Azov Battallion …. And the Western Left is ignoring Naom Chomsky.
10Just Google “Map NATO states in Eastern Europe”.
11The United Nations is a body containing essentially two general decision-making bodies, the General Assemby of every full member nation — currently 193 – and the 15-member Security Council, which makes the only binding decisions. However, the decisions of the rest can be vetoed by any of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council: USA, UK, France, Russia and China.
12Any entering of the words “Russia” combined with “war-crimes” or “executions” into a search engine will bring an avalanche of western reporting of the allegations but scant treatment of the Russian response. As balance I have included only two rare more balanced western reports in the Sources section.
Rare balanced western media coverage of Russian response to allegations of war-crimes: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kremlin-denies-ukrainian-allegations-its-forces-killed-civilians-near-kyiv-2022-04-04/
Not Russia-friendly Al Jazeera: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/6/ukraine-as-russia-faces-genocide-charge-experts-urge-caution