THE BOMB THAT CAUSED more than 200 civilian casualties in Manchester, England, last Saturday represented a triumph of ignorance over experience.
I should know.I was active in the Irish Republican Army for five years, joining when I was only 15 years old. I planted my first bomb that year, 1970, and became an explosives "officer" by my 18th birthday.
Growing up in Northern Ireland I had been taught that with the sacrifice of blood, we would force the British out of Ireland forever.
My childhood heroes were the "executed patriots" the British called "criminal terrorists." I wanted to be like them. And emulate them I did.
My crowning "glory" came with the single-handed bombing of London in the summer 1973, using time bombs and letter bombs. (There were no deaths.) One mailed explosive got into 10 Downing St. For that, I received personal congratulations from the IRA's chief of staff.
But a few years later, after many more bombs, I voted for the cease-fire with the British that lasted into the summer of 1975. During that time, I was arrested, tried in the Old Bailey and began the next stage of my life - more than 14 years in a British prison.
I was for the truce because I was beginning to see that revolutionary violence - exalted in songs and literature, commemorated in bronze and stone - was the worst of all possible tools in a political conflict. It brings new injustices: killing, maiming and civil rights violations. It undermines the nobility and morality of the cause of Ireland's freedom.
I thought before the recent peace negotiations that both sides had agreed through experience that mutual violence had had its day. That after 25 years of bombs and bullets, arrests and assassinations, we had learned that we should talk our way to peace. Why bomb anymore?
Responsibility for the Manchester bombing lies with the IRA. But the British did not help matters by demanding what could never be delivered: that the IRA hand over its weapons as a condition for its political wing, Sinn Fein, to attend peace talks.
British officials had already gotten an unprecedented 18-month, unilateral cease-fire from their old enemy. That had already cost the IRA a loss of face and dissension in its ranks. It had never before agreed to a cease-fire for no apparent gain or promise.
To the IRA, a demand for its weapons no doubt seemed like a demand for total surrender.
British and Irish officials should give Sinn Fein a seat at the talks without first demanding disarmament. The IRA should immediately restore its cease-fire. It should also make symbolic gestures, such as turning over the bodies of its British victims to their mourning families.