“Colonialism. The enforced spread of the rule of reason. But who is going to spread it among the colonizers?”Anthony Burgess
It has been said that “great” britain’s largest export is independence days, and in fact there are only 22 countries worldwide that have never been a victim of english aggression.
The song “Come out ye Blacks and Tans“, was written during the Irish war for independence and later recorded by the band The Wolfe Tones. The song details the struggles of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the royal Irish constabulary, called the blacks and tans because of their uniforms.
Note: out of respect for my Irish ancestry and name I refuse to capitalize any proper nouns relating to britain or england other than Ireland.
This song has a very simple thesis: the british army (Especially the royal Irish constabulary) is a bunch of losers and the Irish will beat them in the end. After this the song does go into some entirely justified depictions of English brutality, colonialism and hypocrisy.
“I was born on a Dublin street where the royal drums did beat
And those loving english feet they walked all over us.”
These lines emphasize the experience of living under an english-controlled city and contrasts their (supposed) intentions with their actual actions. As elegantly put by Anthony Burgess, the british thought that they were doing everyone they invaded a favour by making them more ‘civilized’ and European. The song uses ‘loving english feet’ to describe how english imperialism brutalizes and alienates a population under the guise of developing it. The song declares such actions to be ignorantly hipocritical.
The song also decries the english military as weak and overconfident in their numerous successes over native populations.
“Come tell us how you slew
Them old Arabs two by two
Like Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows
How bravely you faced each one
With your sixteen pounder gun
And you frightened them damn natives to their marrow”
For the Irish, they’ve had enough of these highfalutin anglo-saxons slaughtering countless populations across the globe and then bragging about it. The Irish argued that annihilating indigenous peoples with guns, germs and steel was not something to be proud of. The dismissive diction of the verse, ‘them old Arabs’ and ‘them damn natives’ mirrors the dismissive nature of english policy (and english historians) towards their numerous conquests.
Conversely, the description of bravery in the face of underwhelming odds is echoed in how ‘bravely’ english soldiers massacred countless natives in an instant, like what the english did when subjugating Ireland. This verse offers solidarity for the many victims of European imperialism while simultaneously calling the english losers. The rational is that england would not have it so easy against a modernly armed people, like the IRA. This reasoning is reinforced by the continued taunting in relation to the disaster of WW1.
“Show your wife how you won medals down in Flanders”
The ‘blacks and tans’ (royal Irish constabulary) which were know for their retaliatory massacres of innocent civilians and brutal killings of dissidents were mostly made up of english WW1 vets. The taunting depicted can echo the sheer inhumanity of WW1, and how winning medals in Flanders is a result of slaying numerous men for little to no reason, much like what they did in Ireland. The line can also be a reference to how superior english leadership and technology cannot get them very far when it comes to fighting actual modern armies like the Germans or the IRA, as the song posits. And while I cannot determine whether or not the song caused the outcome, the Irish war for independence happened just as the song posits.