How much does a person’s capacity to forgive relate directly to their ability to remember? Time heals all wounds, does it not? I can certainly attest that it does, if not completely, allow for a softening of the heart. If enough time goes by, the memory and pain of a bad experience will usually fade away in order to allow the process of rehabilitation to begin. It’s all part of the natural healing process. Even incidents of extreme tragedy and great atrocity can be forgiven if enough time passes.
I was born less than two years after the start of the Second World War. By the time I realised the significance of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September, 1939, the war had ended and I was reading about it in a Pres Cork classroom in secondary school. History was a subject I absolutely adored and I devoured as much of it as I possibly could through books and lectures.
I remember being fascinated by Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. I could not understand why an entire nation put this ugly little man in such absolute authority and acted obediently on his every word and whim. The more I read, however, the more I began to understand. Germany’s dependence on Hitler was not born out of fanatical love or devotion; it was a product of necessity.
There is a general consensus among psychologists that severe hardship can create a monster out of a perfectly sane mind. Every person has a threshold for pain and suffering; cross that line though and the consequences can be unpredictable and dangerous. Historians agree that the Germans embraced the Nazi regime out of desperation. Reparations placed on them following the end of the First World War were too extreme and taxing on a country that was struggling desperately with poverty and depression. Hitler offered them a way out of their problems and he presented them with a reason behind them. We all know what happened next.
Over sixty years have passed since the collapse of the Nazi regime and the end of the holocaust. Germany has risen out of the ashes of Hitler’s despicable legacy and developed itself into one of the world’s major economic forces. It has achieved this through prudent fiscal spending, careful budget control and an aggressive and dedicated work ethic. The Nazis may be long gone but some philosophies still remain strong in Germany; arbeit macht frei.
This week, Martin McGuinness met Queen Elizabeth II for the first time. The Sinn Féin President shook hands with the head of a monarchy he has been fighting against for over four decades. It represented a remarkable chapter in modern Irish history. As an Irish political party, Sinn Féin has never been so popular. The last general election saw party leader Gerry Adams take a seat in Dáil Eireann, along with another 13 elected TDs. Sinn Féin’s political momentum continues to grow as Ireland remains under a cloud of financial uncertainty and European dependence.
Sinn Féin’s current popularity is actually quite easy to understand. Its long standing association with the IRA is beginning to fade away for a younger generation that has no direct experience of Northern Ireland during the troubles. Fine Gael and Labour’s failure to adequately distance themselves from the litany of failures under Fine Fáil is costing them huge support. Banks continue to deny businesses and consumers sufficient credit, the public sector remains too large for a state that is unable support it and Ireland’s economic problems grow with each passing month. Sinn Féin now represents the only working class alternative to a government that has done very little to separate its agenda from that of its incompetent predecessors. The bombings and murders carried out by the IRA will never be forgotten by the people of Ireland or the UK. Too much blood has been spilled for this country to make forgiveness possible to the perpetrators of those heinous crimes. But time is passing. An increasingly frustrated working class is actively seeking a viable alternative to a political system that they cannot relate to. Fine Gael and Labour are not providing the answers and Sinn Féin’s popularity continues to grow steadily. The politicians and political commentators that continue to dismiss Gerry Adams party as nothing more than a bit part player in Ireland’s future do not understand the reality of the situation.
History books all over the world have documented radical shifts in political demographics for hundreds of years. A consistent pattern always emerges. In times of express hardship and financial strain, power moves from the mainstream to the radical. Ideals that were once frowned upon and scorned can become accepted and popular. Even negative associations, however harshly stained, diminish with the passing of time. The next general election in Ireland will be very interesting indeed.