Don't we know, for we are told it often enough, that however unjustified terrorism is, it springs from real social and political conditions? That this is the sequence: from the feeling of grievance, through a growing belief in the need for violence, finally to the subsequent act of terror? From this it follows, solve the grievance somehow - through concessions or talks or even military measures - and the terror will stop. There will be no reason for it.
Let us presume that it was indeed the Real IRA, as claimed to the Sunday Tribune, whose “volunteers” shot up a pizza delivery to the Massereene Barracks on Saturday night, badly wounded two pizza “collaborators” - a new category in the history of terror attacks - and then finished off at least one of the four wounded soldiers as he lay bleeding on the roadside.
After the condemnations there followed a discussion on why this shooting had happened. It was sometimes a very rational discussion, suggesting a very rational shooting. The head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde, had only recently revealed that he was bringing some army intelligence capability back into Northern Ireland because of what he saw as the renewed threat of attacks from people like the Real IRA. Was it - it was speculated - as a consequence of this announcement that the gunmen had struck?
Even Gerry Adams seemed to be suggesting that perhaps the Saturday pizza killings might not have taken place but for the special dislike reserved for army intelligence because (I tried to follow the logic) of its democratic unaccountability. “No one knows if the attack was prompted [by Orde's action] or was coincidental ...,” somebody said on the radio.
Rubbish. Really, absolute rubbish. Such an assault is not set up in a couple of days or even weeks. You need the men, the cars, the weapons, the reconnaissance, the plan and the back-up. As the author Kevin Toolis said, this was not a whim, but rather “a bloody annunciation” to let everyone know that violent republicanism is back, in a new, potent, death-dealing guise.
But to do what? When the guys and gals of the Real IRA sat down and discussed their plans together, rationally, how did shooting these young men and their collaborating pizza suppliers (minimum-wage Poles, armed with mozzarella and tomatoes) fit into their overall strategy? In fact, what was their overall strategy?
When they sat down again in their political guise of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement - the movement that does not like to be called the political wing of the Real IRA, so that's what we'll call them - and after they had dealt with their role in defeating the Lisbon treaty in the Republic, did they consider how a poorly supported return to killing in Ulster might somehow be turned into a magnificent victory, the likes of which had eluded every physical-force republican movement before them? Did they debate just why it was they were more likely to succeed this time? Given that the “armed struggle” (a euphemism for strolling up behind someone and blasting their brains out all over their children) was partly ended through the offices of Sinn Féin, it is interesting how the warriors of the Real IRA seem to have forsworn the obvious tactic of bumping off the Adamsite traitors.
So no, it was the Massereene Barracks. And the one thing that we know about that place is that it was due to close in 2010. They only had to wait a few months, and the occupying forces and their counter-revolutionary fast-food accomplices would have been gone. The hate object would have been removed.
That's the clue. Hatred requires an object. It needs a Jew or a black or a Brit or a Papist, for your KKK man, your stormtrooper, your Gordon rioter or your green fascist to buttress the walls of their collapsing egos. As William Hazlitt put it in his 1826 essay, The Pleasure of Hating: “We have always a quantity of superfluous bile upon the stomach, and we wanted an object to let it out upon. How loath were we to give up our pious belief in ghosts and witches, because we liked to persecute the one, and frighten ourselves to death with the other!”
The shooting wasn't designed to get rid of the British Army; it was designed to bring it back. It was the first atrocity in a desired new cycle of attacks, arrests, martyrdoms, bombings, internments, hunger strikes, funerals, orations, gun-runnings and crying children, which could return us to the Seventies, the golden time of death and certainty.
What do the Real IRA actually feel the compulsion to kill for? They have the vote, the right to speak, the right to argue. There are no B-Specials, there's no more job discrimination, no more gerrymandering.
Republicans sit in government. Why does a group in the US, calling itself the Coalition of Irish Republican Women salute the attack on its website with the headline “New Group turns up the heat”? The heat which, when turned up, will burn other women? They hope. They hope.
If hatred is one pleasure, with grievances to be “nursed”, then violence is another. Think of those local hard men, once recipients of frightened glances and scared obsequiousness, having spent the past decade being just ordinary no-marks again. Think of them getting together with the young psycho, who is sitting at their corduroyed knee, learning the intoxicating vocabulary of killing. “Don't you know that Che Guevara thought it was necessary to execute traitors himself? One shot, just here.” And you to fire it, Jamie.
These men, these hard men, lost in the era of peace. Unattractive men with bald heads and pallid skin and an inability to string five words together without inducing catatonia, can again imagine themselves to be Wolfe Tone or James Connolly reborn. Middle-aged matrons, brought up in the purple of Republicanism, but now with roots showing through the dye, can reconceive of themselves as Gaelic warrior queens, or bereted resistance Valkyries. It's worth killing other people's sons and daughters for this.
Last Saturday night, as the gunmen walked up to deliver the death shots - executing the wounded victims, because their terrible injuries were somehow insufficient and there must be funerals - what TV programme or movie did they imagine themselves to be in at that moment? The Sopranos, perhaps. And then, sometime later, a drink and black humour at the Real IRA equivalent of the Bada Bing.
Sometimes - often, perhaps - the grievance comes second. The desire to hate and kill comes first, and then grubs around in the shit for its excuse.