Needing Somewhere To Go To

Elvis Presley famously sang “are you lonely this Christmas?” (with nowhere to go to). Bob Dylan less famously sang “and the riot squads lay restless, they need somewhere to go”, which always sounded to me like a cool little reflection on militarism. Actually the whole song (“desolation row”) is essentially a satire on politics or the political minded, but…more to the point…do armies really need “somewhere to go”?

Once I met a non-national who was able to do some kind of visiting tenure with the Irish army. He said that he thought the Irish army were absolutely brilliant, in their training that is, yet he did not know how anyone could stick being in the Irish army for a long time because they “had nowhere to go” or insufficient missions to take part in to satisfy whatever it is that soldiers like to do.

Non-enlistment in the British army (a.k.a. the Sinn Féin policy) was the only thing that prevented the Irish volunteer movement founded in 1913 being what all volunteer movements inherently are, i.e. support for a territorial army, which at the time was the British army exclusively, so the history of the foundation of the Irish army (which can most accurately be dated to 1924 and, to a lesser extent, unorthodox efforts by IRB fellas to create the mindset of an Irish army up until that time) is one that was effectively governed by two factors: first, a long gestation of the development of some kind of “acceptable” command structure for a territorial army that, unusually, grew out of purely voluntarily and even elective (secret IRB style elections that is) structures; and second, and most significantly for the purposes of this blog, the idea that non-enlistment in an imperial army was the founding premise for the desire for there to actually be an Irish army.

All that has come to mind “again” recently simply from glancing at an entertaining pamphlet by a colourful Glaswegian figure, Alasdair Gray, who I’ve just discovered died very recently. I had only heard of his existence for the first time from a pop singer a couple of months ago. Although called “Independence: an argument for home rule” (2014), he ignores the question of armies almost entirely, which (it has seemed to me) is, along with issues such as currencies and crowns, a major factor in the weakness, or even unreality, of Scottish nationalism. Non-enlistment has never been a Scottish policy and, indeed, the SNP are often the first to wish all British soldiers serving overseas a merry Christmas before the royal family even gets its chance, which is a reminder that soldiers in the UK’s army, be they Scots or otherwise, have lots of places to go, even (to this day at least) within Europe.

I’ve become something of “a believer” of late that defence policies are, ultimately, largely an outgrowth of a state’s economic policies. In Ireland’s case, a curious feature of the state’s history is that it was a part of the sterling area for longer than Canada or Australia and even for decades (three to be precise) after it left the Commonwealth. Is that a significant historical factor? An article I wrote suggested that it is and I’ve just discovered tonight that it is already available for a download (at a price) along with a host of other individually priced and interesting looking articles. I hope to receive a hardcopy of the journal in June and will have to stem my desire to be able to read the rest of the journal until then.

My thought for this evening, however, is that even though my article was more about finance than geography, perhaps an “unanswered question” or a question that I have not yet either attempted to or learnt how to address is “when or where “do armies feel the need for “somewhere to go” and just why or how often does this happen? It sounds simple, perhaps, and a logical link between realms such as international finance and international (military) alliances, but just how should writers (or even historians like me) deal with the theme? Do academic networks really succeed in creating or building rational intellectual structures for understanding such subjects or themes? International relations journals of various hues may leave the mind with a great deal of uncertainty in response to that question. By contrast, can stand-alone original works of research, thought and insight sometimes be altogether “more where it is at”? Such thoughts cross the mind today, as I feel a little sense of loss about the loss of the hitherto essentially unknown figure to me of Alasdair Gray. Not that he had insights, but mavericks at least can sometimes provide the mind with lots of alternative or entertaining places to go by attempting to synthesise conventional and commonplace with unconventional and rare schools of thought. But perhaps it may be that just as musicians often say that only musicians can truly understand music, only soldiers can truly understand armies? If so, my qualifications are rather too slight to mention in more than one category.

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