Lessons from the Irish Republican Army’s Green Book

Editor’s note: this article contains extensive excerpts from the Irish Republican Army’s Green Book, one of their key training documents during their 20th-century struggle against British occupation.

Written by Liam Campbell

“Don’t be seen in public marches, demonstrations or protests. Don’t be seen in the company of known Republicans, don’t frequent known Republican houses. Your prime duty is to remain unknown to the enemy forces and the public at large.”

Like all successful underground organisations, the Irish Republican Army maintained a strict firewall between their aboveground and underground movements, this ensured that publicly identifiable individuals could not be pressured into revealing underground militants, providing a certain level of safety for both groups. The Irish Republican Army also emphasized the importance of abstaining from alcohol or other drugs, which they identified as the single greatest threat to any guerilla organisation.

“Many in the past have joined the Army out of romantic notions, or sheer adventure, but when captured and jailed they had after-thoughts about their allegiance to the Army. They realised at too late a stage that they had no real interest in being volunteers. This causes splits and dissension inside prisons and divided families and neighbours outside.”

When recruiting, the Irish Republican Army recognised that successful underground members had certain characteristics; they were intelligent, reliable, and they were capable of giving their total allegiance to the cause. These characteristics ensured that they would consistently obey often difficult orders from the chain of command, regardless of the personal cost, and despite any personal issues they may have with their superior officers. Certain qualities could disqualify a person as a candidate: emotionalism, sensationalism, and adventurism were among them.

“The enemy, generally speaking, are all those opposed to our short-term or long-term objectives. But having said that, we must realise that all our enemies are not the same and therefore there is no common cure for their enmity. The conclusion then is that we must categorise and then suggest cures for each category. Some examples: We have enemies through ignorance, through our own fault or default and of course the main enemy is the establishment.”

One of the most essential features of the Green Book was the precision with which it defined enemies. You cannot wage a successful war if your targets are poorly defined. The Irish Republican Army identified three categories of enemy:

Enemies through ignorance are those individuals who can be cured through education. Tactics included marches, demonstrations, wall slogans, press statements, publications, and person-to-person communication. The Green Book stressed that self education was essential, which included ideological understanding and also tactical knowledge about how to organise large groups of people and how to successfully execute different actions.

Enemies through our own fault are the ones created by the Irish Republican Army’s actions, which includes personal conduct and the collective conduct of the movement. These enemies vary greatly. The elderly woman whose door was pulled off its hinges by an IRA member evading capture who doesn’t receive an immediate apology and recompense, the family and friends of an informer who has been punished without their being notified of the reason, and also the collateral victims of violence.

Members of the establishment who consciously take actions to maintain the status quo in politics, media, policing, and business. Although some of these enemies are clearly identifiable, most of them operate with various degrees of anonymity as bureaucratic cogs in a vast machine of oppression; this means that one of the greatest challenges is accurately identifying establishment members. Surprisingly, execution is not always the best way to make a member of the establishment ineffective, often it is better to expose them as liars, hypocrites, collaborators, or subjects of public ridicule.

“Many figures of speech have been used to describe Guerrilla Warfare, one of the most apt being ‘The War of the Flea’ which conjured up the image of a flea harrying a creature of by comparison elephantine size into fleeing (forgive the pun). Thus it is with a Guerrilla Army such as the I.R.A. which employs hit and run tactics against the Brits while at the same time striking at the soft economic underbelly of the enemy, not with the hope of physically driving them into the sea but nevertheless expecting to effect their withdrawal by an effective campaign of continuing harassment contained in a fivefold guerrilla strategy.”

The Irish Republican Army’s strategy included a war of attrition, the destruction of high-value assets, to make large regions ungovernable, to sustain a propaganda campaign, and to protect the movement against criminals, collaborators, and informers. The Green Book emphasized that volunteers need to achieve more than just killing enemy personnel, they must also create and maintain support systems that would not only carry the movement through the war, but would also facilitate a smooth transition after military victory had been achieved.

“Most volunteers are arrested on or as a result of a military operation. This causes an initial shock resulting in tension and anxiety. All volunteers feel that they have failed, resulting in a deep sense of disappointment. The police are aware of this feeling of disappointment and act upon this weakness by insults such as “you did not do very well: you are only an amateur: you are only second-class or worse”. While being arrested the police use heavy-handed `shock` tactics in order to frighten the prisoner and break down his resistance. The prisoner is usually dragged along the road to the waiting police wagon, flung into it, followed by the arresting personnel, e.g., police or Army. On the journey to the detention centre the prisoner is kicked, punched and the insults start. On arrival he is dragged from the police wagon through a gauntlet of kicks, punches and insults and flung into a cell.”

Capture was one of the greatest fears that volunteers lived with on a daily basis, so the Green Book addressed these concerns in detail and prepared volunteers for that possibility. This section was broken down into the actual arrest, the interrogation, and the legal process. There were three categories of torture that volunteers could face: physical, subtle psychological, and humiliation. Physical torture often took the form of beatings, kicking, punching, and cigarette burns. Psychological torture could include threats to family, friends, and self, or threats of assassination and disfigurement. Humiliation included being stripped naked, remarks about the prisoner’s sexual organs, and removing symbolic defense mechanisms.

One of the ways the Green Book prepared volunteers was by reminding them that they could only be held and tortured for a maximum of 7 days. Although the experience would likely be horrific, it could only last for a relatively brief duration; if they confessed or capitulated during their interrogation they could easily face a lifetime in prison where they would experience much of the same torture. One of the coping strategies they employed was to form images in their minds or on the surrounding walls, directing their concentration away from the interrogators and diverting it toward positive or neutral ideas, even something as simple as a flickering candle or a leaf.

Overall, what the Green Book does is it clearly lays out the ideological foundations of the movement, the requirements of its volunteers, the methodology for identifying and categorising enemies, the tactics that should be employed, and it also addresses the greatest fears of volunteers and teaches them how to cope in the event that they must face them. These are the foundational psychological requirements that are needed to recruit and retain effective underground guerillas. They must know why they are taking action, what their actions will achieve, how to behave, who they are targeting, and they need to know that they will be able to overcome their fears should they need to face them.

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