Monday, August 9, 2010

A little bit of India in Cahersiveen - it's all about optics, people!

As I discussed below, some very nerdy myths have been aired in relation to Defence and Security on a thread over at A real beaut has been the claim that, due to an administrative oversight by some bespectacled bureaucrats in Britain, during the 19th century the plans for a Royal Irish Constabulary police barracks were mixed up with those destined for a militia fort in India. The result, according to the myth, stands today in the town of Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry. As you can see above, (h/t to saintinexile on flickr for the image) it is somewhat out of place.

Alas, this myth is probably not true, unless the Brits repeated the same mistake throughout Ireland in towns such as Ballyduff in Co. Waterford (below right), where the station is apparently still in use today by our own boys in blue, the Garda Siochana (isn't it great, lads, how the state invests in your work at least once a century?).

In fact, it is to the eternal shame of Ireland's erstwhile colonisers that these stations were not a product of bureaucratic oversight, but rather a deliberate effort to build defensive structures (in what was, after all, a part of the United Kingdom) throughout the latter half of the 19th century (Cahersiveen was built in 1875, and Ballyduff in 1870). A good summary of the defensive features of these barracks is found at Building of Ireland, and all I can say is that these are not the police stations you build in a country you respect, or among people who you view as equals. True, these buildings were a direct response to the Fenian Rising, but that rebellion was most remarkable for the degree of military inability displayed by the participants. Fortress style stations that would not have seemed out of place on the Khyber Pass were probably overkill, one must admit.

Surprisingly enough, by the dawn of the twentieth century many Irish people did not entirely trust the RIC, and consequently (and somewhat unfairly) it became one of the first targets for attack during the War of Independence. What's more, very quickly the RIC members themselves (the vast bulk of whom were Irish Catholics) were quickly torn between competing loyalties in the increasingly "us vs them" atmosphere of the conflict, leading to low morale and desertions. Perhaps if Britain had put more effort in to developing an effective and fair police service during the 19th century, rather than providing a Constabulary with the tools for an occupation that (let's face it) had already been more or less successfully completed, we might still be in the Union, or at least our exit may have been less bloody.

Obviously, those of you in Iraq/Afghanistan, or with recent experience of those theatres, already know how much optics matter. But if you ever have any doubts, be sure to speak up when your superiors suggest that Operation Evangelical Storm or Mullah's Bewilderment are good names for your upcoming offensive. Otherwise, 100 years from now, a young man in Kabul might be wondering "Why does that madrassah look so much like an American Burger King?".

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