Michael Collins

The legend and reality of the life Michael Collins is matter of much debate and also a certain amount of mystery. The subject of his motivations and character are dealt with in the film “Michael Collins” directed by Neil Jordan. In the film Collins is portrayed as an Irish patriot and a man of integrity. There is also a certain amount of ambiguity that the film attempts to deal with in that Collins is also the instigator to a brutal form of guerilla warfare as a reaction against the occupying British forces. The central aim of these actions was to oust the British from Ireland and to achieve an independent Irish Republic.

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According to the narrative in the film, Collins was largely responsible for stranding up to the might of the British Empire, eventually achieving a political compromise through a treaty. Collins however was assassinated by an Irish republican solder in 1922. He was 31 years of age.

There are two central aspects that this paper will attempt to address in the light of the view that the film puts forward about Collins. Firstly, the view of Collins as an Irish patriot and secondly an assessment of his methods of retaliation against the British forces in Ireland.

The film itself leaves little doubt that the tactics that Collins employed against the British, while ethically questionable, were the only tactics that he felt were left to him in the face of the overwhelming force of British domination. At one point in the films he states that he hates the British not because of their nationality, colonial dominance or even their brutality, but because they have left him no choice but to employ harsh tactics that would increase violence and hatred.

This reasoning is similar to the rationale behind many other guerilla or terrorist groups and tactics throughout the world. There is also suggestion in the film and the literature that the way that Collins used guerrilla tactics against the British was emulated by other leaders and groups such as Argentinean Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara.

This reason for the use of guerilla or terrorist tactics is often given as being inevitable, when a smaller force is faced by an intimidating and overwhelming or numerically superior oppressor that cannot be fought in a conventional manner. Therefore the tactics that Collins used are similar to those used in many modern conflicts as a means of drawing attention to the plight of the oppressed. “His terrorist tactics, like those of the Irgun in Palestine of the 1940s and the PLO of more recent times, helped bring world attention to his country’s situation. His work helped force the English to cede authority in some parts of Ireland and begin the movement for an independent republic.” (Shulgasser B.)

In terms of the historical context of the time, Collins felt that the defeat of the Easter Uprising of 1916 had shown the futility of fighting a conventional war against the British. “The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was formed that day, and led by Michael Collins, a student of Russian anarchism and terrorism. ” (RELIGIOUS TERRORISM)

His patriotism is also clearly displayed in that he agrees to a treaty that would at least potentially provide a start towards the establishment of an Irish Republic; and one which would ensure that no more Irish people would be killed. However, the treaty that Collins negotiates is also one which is a poor compromise at best.. “The best Collins could negotiate was self-government for the south of Ireland with an oath of allegiance to the Crown still required. He found himself defending a pact that he insisted was a step in the right direction even if it wasn’t the complete freedom he and his fellows had been fighting for. De Valera denounced Collins.” (Shulgasser B.)

In the film Collins is seen as a somewhat ambiguous figure. He changes for being a ruthless guerilla leader against the British to the initiator of a rather weak treaty with his enemies, which is also opposed by many of his colleagues and countrymen. The director of the film overcomes the seeming ambiguity by relating Collins’ intentions throughout to his patriotism and projecting the view that Collins was essentially a man of peace, who only used violence when he had to. However this does not seem to fit very well with the first sections of the film in which were see Collis as an unrelenting and determined guerilla. This disparity also relates to the opposing ways that the Irish people saw Collins. “The question is how do the Irish view Collins: as the fellow who bombed the British out of Ireland, or as the one who insisted that the bombing he started must stop? Some Irish view both Collins and De Valera as sellouts. Jordan says he means to celebrate Collins “the statesman and, ultimately, man of peace.” (Shulgasser B.)

Historically it seems that the actual intentions and motivation of Michael Collins as a human being are not clearly known. The identity of Michael Collins is to a large extent shrouded in myth and contradiction. The director of the film has stated as much.

Even though Collins lived only about 75 years ago, much of the information we have about him is as mysterious as the existence he maintained. I have made choices about certain events based on my own extensive research into his letters and reported speeches. I wanted to make this story as accurate as possible without killing it dramatically and I think I have. It is a very true film. (Introduction: a foreword by Neil Jordan)

Jordan also upholds the view that Collins was not a terrorist by choice but by necessity; and that his intentions were essentially patriotic and essentially those of a man of peace.

Collins wasn’t a proponent of terrorism. He developed techniques of guerilla warfare later copied by independence movements around the world, from Mao Tse-Tung in China to Yitzhak Shamir in Israel. He fought the British Empire in Ireland with the only army available to him — the Irish Volunteers, bands of poorly armed peasants and working-class youths. Collins would never be a proponent of contemporary terrorism as practiced today. He was a soldier and a statesman and, over time, a man of peace. (Introduction: a foreword by Neil Jordan)

Possibly the most significant question that the film raises in the context of the exploration of the motivation that led Collins to use guerilla tactics, is the question of who is the real terrorist. The idea of Collins as terrorist and the IRA as a terrorist organization is put into question in the film, as well as in the factual historical events on which the film is based. This refers especially to the massacre of players and spectators at the Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Tipperary

Shortly after the start of the game, an airplane flying over the grounds dropped a red flare. Crown forces immediately surrounded the stadium, and a British officer on top of the wall fired a revolver shot. Without warning, auxiliary soldiers began firing their weapons, and a machine gun hastily set up just inside the main entrance opened fire. At first, the crowd thought the soldiers were firing blanks, but then the machine gun fire increased the volume, and people began to fall. The crowd stampeded towards the Railway wall, which was furthest from the gunfire. (Mullan D. And Mullin J.)

This historical fact suggests the possibility that the British government was at least equally guilty of immoral and unethical actions and also implies that the Irish response was not one which was out of proportion. If one studies the events of that incident in its historic context it would seem that the actions of the British government were more heinous than those of the IRA.

The victims in Croke Park, however, were not selected for who they were or what they had done; their identity was clearly secondary. Therefore, the “hallmark of terrorism” applies to Britain’s murderous rampage at the football match. They fired into a crowd of football fans to inflict collective punishment for Collins’ actions. Moreover, the real target audience for their terrorism was the Irish People. (Mullan D. And Mullin J.) think that this is an aspect that could have been further explored in the film as it places the character and motivations of Michael Collins in a less ambiguous light.

Works Cited

Introduction: a foreword by Neil Jordan. May 29, 2006. http://michaelcollins.warnerbros.com/cmp/introduction.html

Michael Collins” directed by Neil Jordan.Warner. 1966.

Mullan D. And Mullin J. Terrorism Defined and Exemplified. 2004. May 29, 2006. http://www.phoblacht.net/terdefexpjmdm.html

RELIGIOUS TERRORISM. May 27, 2006. http://faculty.ncwc.edu/TOConnor/429/429lect13.htm

Shulgasser B. COLLINS’ TERRORIST AS HERO. 1996. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/e/a/1996/10/25/WEEKEND973.dtl