Until recently US Representative Peter T. King was the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. As the New York Times has reported Mr. King was also once a fervent and vocal supporter of the IRA.

In 1982 when he was Nassau County’s comptroller, Mr. King spoke at a pro-IRA rally:

“We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” …

Three years later he declared,

“If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

Congressman King’s familial relationship to Ireland is at least a couple of generations distant (he’s the son of a New York policeman).

I was living in Birmingham, England in 1974. On November 21 of that year, twenty-one people were killed and a hundred and eighty two injured by bombs planted in two pubs in the city centre by the IRA. Most of the dead and wounded were between the ages of 17 and 25.

These attacks were unusually barbarous. Both pubs were well known to be favoured by young people. One of them was in a basement: no windows, so the blast careened back and forth, contained within the concrete cube, shredding and co-mingling all the wood, glass, flesh and bone in its path.

My employer at the time would later act as counsel for one of the alleged bombers in preliminary hearings. And yes, we received death threats for doing our bit to uphold the presumption of innocence (which as it turned out 16 years later, the Birmingham Six were found to be).

In addition to savage attacks on the population in Ulster and England, the IRA’s ‘mainland’ campaign included the bombing of the Old Bailey and Scotland Yard, the assassination of the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street, the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister, the bombing of the Houses of Parliament and the ‘execution’ of the Queen’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Based on the history of the past decade it is difficult to imagine how America would respond to such a sustained assault on the real and symbolic fabric of their institutions.

The IRA received considerable financial support from Americans like Peter T. King, primarily from the Irish communities of New York and Boston. My guess is that many of the contributors had never set foot in Ireland.

Confronted by the seeming contradiction between his role as the Homeland terror Tsar and his previous support for IRA terror in Britain, King’s response amounts to little more than “that terror was against Britain, but this terror is against the US. And I’m an American”. Now that’s a special relationship.

Adopting the cruel calculus of the current war on terror (and had the technology existed at the time) Congressman King and the ‘militants’ attending the 1982 rally on Long Island would surely have been suitable targets for a British drone strike. Not to mention the odd pub in the Bronx or Charlestown; collateral casualties regrettable, but sadly unavoidable.

Transposing the logic of America’s war on terror (however facetiously) to Britain’s decades long struggle with the IRA simply reinforces for me the random barbarity and ultimate futility of the former.

I abhor the violence of the IRA and all its metastatic sub-malignancies (as well as their equally malign Unionist counterparts), even though I sympathise with the republican cause in Ireland. My countrymen caused incalculable misery, suffering and death on that benighted island over the centuries. It is possible to understand the hatred without condoning the terror.

My intent is neither to compare nor diminish the horror of recent events in Boston, but rather to suggest that when it comes to terror, contradictions abound. In the right circumstances we’re all susceptible to the irrational, jingo-blind embrace of our perceptual tribe.

Or put another way, for every act of terror there is more often than not an equal and opposite perspective.

This is an edited version of the original post