Call in the army? Remember Northern Ireland…
At the time of writing, it’s difficult to comprehend the scale of the trouble in London, not to mention Birmingham, Leeds or Liverpool.
One thing is for sure though: the notable impotence of the Metropolitan police in tackling a roving, leaderless wave of theft, intimidation, assault and petty vandalism.
With much of the grand expanse of Greater London acting as the rioters’ playground, a generalised fear and loathing has poured forth in the accounts of bystanders, tweeters and TV news channel callers. A great fear of rapid civic fragmentation is creating an avalanche of authoritarian rhetoric, with the chief topic for discussion the need for an Army-led intervention.
Any clean, reasonable, efficacious intervention from the authorities seems, at this point, very difficult to envisage. But we already know from bitter experience what it’s like when there are Army boots on British streets as support for a collapsing, de-legitimised civic authority; over forty years of not-quite-over strife in Northern Ireland.
While the police are struggling right now, and thankfully, as I write this, no-one has been killed or seriously injured, soldiers are utterly ill-equipped to deal with civic unrest. We can see the shocking collateral damage British Army ‘security’ efforts have wrought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Closer to home, if more remote in time, we can see the toll inflicted in urban areas when trigger-happy squaddies are let loose in communities where contempt for the native population is a given.
All were unspeakable calamities: all were avoidable.
All inflamed the pre-existing conflict. All helped lead to a bloodier, more intractable, multi-generational disaster, and all contributed to the gross distortion and corruption of authorities ostensibly committed to upholding a democracy of laws.
Any Bright Green reader will know how profoundly flawed the Met and the police at large are. But we should be equally clear that a putative army intervention, and the authoritarian rhetoric that comes with it, should be loudly and quickly dismissed out of hand.
Finally, speaking from Northern Ireland, I’d like to say don’t worry. People are getting hurt, and there are plenty of scary things happening. But, without wanting to sound smug or preachy, our experience shows that everyday life is pretty resilient when the dust settles. We Greens and lefties are usually pretty frustrated when we see that’s the case; I have a feeling tonight might be an exception.