It’s the end of reading week and, surprise, surprise, I’m doing some non-work reading. Specifically, I’m finally digging into a colleague’s recent book The Black & Tans: British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence.
It’s quite a good read, even for someone whose knowledge of modern Irish history comes and goes after the Gladstonian era. In many ways, it reminds me of Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, not that the types of sources or particular situations are much the same, but insofar as both Browning and Leeson write with particular interest in how the situations put unique stress upon the men involved.
Black & Tans takes the conventional wisdom that the Royal Irish Constabulary was a motley group of thuggish WWI vets just looking to spill some blood and cause maximum mayhem (or, conversely, that they were the tools of thuggish English politicians determined to brutally oppress the Irish through terror tactics carried out by the police). His argument, is that it wasn’t a fatal flaw in the people but that the situation of trying to enforce impossible police directives in what was constantly hostile territory where the Black & Tans found themselves virtually under siege (and their challengers vice versa).
You come to see this argument emerging early on. Dr. Leeson’s not in any way an apologist for the forces, but he’s a dab hand with archival sources and elegant argumentation. I’m just over 100 pages into the book now and have a hard time putting it down as I’m encouraged to read just one more section as I learn about the Auxiliaries and their somewhat chequered as well as occasionally inglorious pasts.
I’m proud to call him a colleague and recommend the book which comes out in paperback next month.