Those studying international peace and security tend to look for the origins of violence in differences, whether among economic interests, ethno-cultural groups, or clashing ideologies. Arguing from the Girardian perspective (described in an appendix to this essay), Bland argues that it is the similarity of the warring camps in Northern Ireland that underlies cycles of violence and retribution. Over the past two centuries, periods of relative calm and socioeconomic equalization in the region have been followed by outbreaks of inter-group violence and rapid social polarization.
Bland shows that symbolic displays of "marching and rising"--in which Protestant and Catholic extremists reassert their respective roles as triumphant masters and defiant rebels--are generative rather than merely symptomatic of differences and violence between the two sides. Acts of terror beget more than retaliation: they permeate the entire fabric of society and become self-perpetuating, as each person becomes a potential victim and a potential killer in the eyes of the other side. The only protection and "justice" in Northern Ireland was that offered by the very perpetrators of violence. Whereas social scientists have argued for security guarantees and constitutional engineering as solutions to internal wars, Bland shows that a "hurting stalemate" of violence and retribution can persist indefinitely as long as making peace with the enemy is unacceptable.
Bland argues that protacted inter-group conflicts are best resolved in ethical and interpersonal terms. Combatants on each side must transcend their conflict by recognizing and affirming publicly their common humanity, and by unilaterally renouncing the principle of retributive justice. To paraphrase Anwar Sadat, whom Bland cites as such a "transcender," peace is won not by signing agreements but by embracing enemies.