I was reading the WaPo coverage of another attack in Iraq against civilians, this time a group of trainee policemen. And as I have done numerous times over the last three years, I thought to myself “Michael Collins lives on.”
Much of what Americans might know of Mr. Collins comes from the movie Michael Collins, but that gives an incomplete picture.
Michael Collins was the defacto leader of the Irish Independence movement after Eamon de Valera went to the USA to raise funds. His innovative guerilla tactics ulimately brought the British government to the negotiating table, where the Irish Free State was created. This step caused an estrangement between Collins and de Valera, who would accept nothing but Irish independence as opposed to the near dominion status created by the agreement. After the Irish legislature accepted the treaty, de Valera and his followers broke off and began the Irish Civil War. Collins ultimately led the government forces to victory, but was killed shortly before the end of hostilities in an ambush in County Cork at the crossroads of Béal na mBláth.
There are numerous books and websites that provide the details of Mr. Collins life and impact far better than I can in this blog. What continues to captivate me is how his tactics have survived and proven effective for almost a century. The Israeli guerilla leader Yitzhak Shamir, used “Michael Collins” as his code name in fighting the British, and the conflict to establish Taiwan (in the face of the Communist revolution in China) was called Operation Michael Collins.
The tactics? First, his men did not wear uniforms. Earlier generations of guerillas of all counties in revolt (including colonial america) saw themselves as being part of a national army and were uniformed as if in an army. Collins felt being able to move unnoticed was of far greater value tactically than claiming national pride in a uniformed force. In fact, the British did not have a verifiably accurate photograph of him until Collins was sent to England with Archie Griffith to negotiate with Winston Churchill over the creation of the Irish Free State. Today this tactic is such an accepted point that no one thinks to question it…but Collins was the first to do it.
The second and more pertinent tactic was silencing sources of information. Collins realized the British were able to track down IRA figures adn Dail politicians was that they had impeccable sources of information stemming from their work with the Irish police. Collins created an assassination team called the Twelve Apostles. This team first warned potential targets to stop collaborating with the British, then killed those who continued to do so. This group also carried off the Bloody Sunday executions of fourteen British intelligence offers sent to Ireland to eliminate Collins and his team. This spread fear among potential informers and cut off the flow of information to the British, who then found it difficult to operate.
This interdiction of intelligence is the tactic that he founded, and the fruits of it are seen to this day.