5 years after the invasion of Iraq and we are still in the midst of a “war on terror”. A war that covers so many countries with so many languages and so many persons, we might as well be fighting gravity. Whatever becomes of Iraq won’t matter. This war will never end. This war will define the geopolitical spectrum for the rest of our lives.

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

That phrase never meant that much to me until 9/11. I gave it more serious thought after the IRA at that time announced that it would disarm. My family being very Irish and one step off the boat, was or is, very pro-IRA depending on who you ask. Mom gets pretty fired up when discussing the injustices to ancestors beginning a 800 years ago. And while I can still physically cringe at family stories and British indifference during the Potato Famine, that isn’t enough anymore for me to get up on soap box and start ranting about it.

My family is in this country because my grandfather and his brother blew up a railroad station in Ireland during final days of the War of Irish Independence. A lot of people died. His priest ratted him out to the British after he confessed. He was then smuggled out of the country to Liverpool, England (amusingly enough, the last place they’d look for him) before heading to Canada.

Grandpa then entered the States in the grand old tradition of hanging onto the underside of a train heading out of Canada into Buffalo. From there, he made it to Detroit and his first stop was the Gaelic League where he secured employment, connections, and found a community to belong to. Enter Grandma, whose own father raised money in the US to support the IRA, and there you have it. Welcome to America.

When I say a lot of people died in that train bombing, I mean a lot of people died. Yes, they were mostly Black & Tans, but innocent people were killed in that blast as well. At this time of year, I can’t help but wonder if that weighed on Grandpa throughout his life. That loss of innocent people by his own hand.

But again, I didn’t come to think about those things until last 10 years. Prior, I was raised that is was good and right to kill Black & Tans. They were effer’s after all. Even today, most people, Americans, tend to agree with that sentiment. And why is that? Is it because we have an affinity for the Irish? Is it because we understand the history a little better? Because we find St. Patrick’s Day a grand old time and the Irish to be agreeable drinking buddies?

A friend from college is Palestinian. His family lost their business, home and all their possessions in the war, or one of them anyway, with Israel. A house his father built on land his father paid for and lemon trees his mother had planted are all gone. My friend spent a good deal of his youth in a refugee camp. His family got out and they came to America. He has a life here now and has moved on, but he admits, he has his moments, when he would have done anything to get that land back. To get back the citrus groves. I have to admit, I get it.

My grandfather and his brothers all started with the IRA (or the IRB as it was then known) at the ripe age of eleven. He became a sniper at the age of 16. He blew up the railroad station at 19. Being Irish, he wanted his land back and would do anything to make it so. The land in this case being his country.

The IRA since the peace accords in the late 1990’s had become little more than an organized crime unit. Ireland still wasn’t united but it was time to put down the guns and some people just didn’t know how to do that. But they realized the value of bad PR and after 9/11, I imagine they saw their support money dry up pretty quickly because people were rethinking terrorism. The IRA splinter groups are still out there, but their community support is little. People determined to have peace are determined not to tolerate terrorism there any further. They tried the guns and bombs and now they’ve decided on more amicable solutions and are trying to fix the social systems.

Around the world we have areas where people live in utter exile and disenfranchisement. These are also the places where terrorism flourishes. The world response to terrorism is an absolute militaristic response with little thought towards the underlying problems. I’m not saying ditch the military response because there are people out there who want to do Americans serious harm, but where’s the measured approach? When do we start trying to fix the problems that create desperate people resorting to desperate actions? Do we even know or understand the underlying issues? Do we even care?

In a really weird way, I wish my grandfather had lived to see 9/11. He’d be over a 100 if he were alive today. But still, I would love nothing more than his perspective on the world since 2001. He picked up a gun to secure his inalienable right to plant a potato. I can imagine the circumstances that led to picking up that gun, but I wonder if he would have ever put that gun down had he not been forced to flee. I wonder if he could have found a way to remain in Ireland and live in peace. We have a joke about Irish Alzheimer’s: where you forget everything but grudge. Well, having a grudge and acting on a grudge are two different animals. I wonder which one he would have become.