I have had several conversations recently about Irish neutrality during WWII. I am curious about the opinion of The Wild Geese community.
In case you are not familiar with this piece of history: Ireland, under Taoiseach Éamon de Valera maintained neutrality throughout WWII. In discussions behind the scenes, representatives of the Irish government made statements indicating tacit support of both sides of the conflict. 50,000 Irish citizens volunteered to fight as part of the British armed forces. However, there was also sympathy towards Germany, with Fine Gael founder Eoin O'Duffy facilitating links between the IRA and the Nazis, and de Valera famously signing the book of condolence at Hitler's death. It was revealed in a 1970 biography that de Valera refused a British offer to end the partition of Ireland in exchange for Irish support of the Allies.
Secretary of the Department of External Affairs Joe Walshe, 1941:
"... small nations like Ireland do not and cannot assume a role as defenders of just causes except [their] own ... Existence of our own people comes before all other considerations ... no government has the right to court certain destruction for its people; they have to take the only chance of survival and stay out."
So, what do you say: Was Irish neutrality in WWII principled, pragmatic, or cowardly? Did "Dev" miss a chance to unite Ireland, and come out on the morally "right side" of history?
Reference for Walshe quotation: Collins, M.E., 1993, Ireland 1868-1966, Dublin: the Educational Company of Ireland. p. 371
Well said, Geraldine. I concur with everything you've said above.
I have trouble believing that the majority, or much of a minority, felt neutral. I am thinking that it was the Irish Government that wanted to be 'neutral' and maybe had more Hitler leanings. The idea that they passed up on the chance to unite the island is what makes me think that the government leaned toward Nazi sympathizer, and decided to stay neutral to avoid making enemies of those around them. Otherwise, there would be ONE Ireland today.
Officially they could have been green people from Mars. But when we were backing Britain with the things that we were.....there was nothing neutral about America before we got into the war. We also had stopped selling raw materials to Japan before they attacked. As a matter of fact, that was the big reason that they DID attack. So we had already turned away from having anything to do with the Axis.....and were still supporting Britain's war effort. I understand the 'official' part....but nevertheless, it just wasn't true. This is all things that we know AFTER the fact....and 76 or so years later.
Oh forgot another reason for the Neutrality: It would have been an incredibly stupid move, strategically, for the British to open themselves up to the threat of an invasion and eventual attack from behind via Ireland. The Germans pulled off the first mass airborne invasion (of Crete in May of 1941) and they could have done it again in Ireland and then used U-Boats to resupply them and land more and more troops. With Ireland secured the British would have been surrounded. So declaring openly for the Allies would have done more harm than good really. Just sayin'.
Just looking at some of the comments about various things. Let's not forget that here in the US we had the Friends of the New Germany founded in 1933 and then the German American Bund started in 1936 to replace it. The American Bund had Nazi rallies and training camps here. In Britain there was the British Fascists formed as early as 1923! There was also the British Union of Fascists from 1932 right up to 1940 which had some pretty prominent members:
Despite the short period of operation the BUF attracted prominent members and supporters. These included (from wiki):
Now please believe me - I'm not trying to excuse fascism in Ireland then or now. (As a matter of fact I blame the Fascism of Collins for my family having to leave Ireland). But that aside, I'm just pointing out that if all of these prominent, wealthy, conservative British politicians etc. were members of a fascist party - IN BRITAIN right up until the outbreak of war - how in the name of God could you possibly blame DeValera for being neutral during this fiasco? The British themselves, were fairly confused on the whole issue and, let's not forget, allowed Hitler again and again to consolidate his power: remember Chamberlain and "Peace in our time"? (There was also some question as to whether or not the British would be able to actually win a war with Germany without American intervention and that was a very serious reality to consider.) Therefore to blame DeValera or the Irish for not somehow preventing the Holocaust is just absolutely ludicrous Revisionism. What if Ireland had sided with the British and America had not entered the war? Would the Allies have won? At the time, even the British did not think they could win without American aid. Why would DeValera want to fight on the side of a nation that only 20 or so years before had wanted to kill him and did in fact murder many of his friends? Again, it's fine to Monday morning quarterback with all the facts and figures at hand that the Irish did not have but lets not lose sight of the much bigger picture. You can't judge the small picture (Ireland) by comparing it to the big picture (Europe) but then ignore the big picture in the process (Europe of which Ireland is a part). That's just selective reasoning or confirmation bias.
Some points to consider when discussing Ireland’s ‘neutrality’ during WWII.
Before I go on I must declare that I had three uncles who served in the British forces during WWII. One served because he believed that ' Fascism was the common enemy'. One, because he was pro-British in outlook and one because he wanted to get out of the Free State army.
There was no neutrality for those that could not find work in Ireland and ended up in the munitions factories or the British army, navy or air force. For them the much-vaunted ‘neutral’ Ireland was a myth. There is the story of the mostly Irish crew on a British bomber over Germany when something nasty came through the fuselage and the pilot roared ‘Well boys.Thank God DeValera kept us out of this lot’. On that topic the great RAF Spitfire pilot ‘Paddy’ Finucane was the son of Thomas Finucane who along with my grand-uncle had been part of the Boland’s Mill Garrison under DeValera in 1916. (Look him up on Google)
There was rationing in Eire as it was then called. Ration books were issued for essential items like tea, sugar and white flour. Things like petrol, tobacco or any commodity not grown or produced in the country was exploited in a black-market and many shopkeepers did well in the ‘emergency’.
People knew of the persecution of the Jews, but not at that time, of the full extent and horror of the gas chambers and concentration camps.
One cannot blame Michael Collins for the fascist element that took control of the country after his death. As I have written before, that he might have prevented it, is tragically something we will never ever know. And for the record my grand-uncle took the anti-Treaty side but our family were never pro ‘Dev’. For myself I do not believe we should have been neutral I share the view that ‘ fascism was the common enemy’.
de Valera did not visit the German Ambassador at the German Embassy to sign a book of condolence. There were no ambassadors and no embassies in Southern Ireland in at that time because of the relationship/ties that Ireland still had with Britain and its King (who was still responsible for the appointing of diplomats) as defined in the External Relations Act (Executive Authority Act 1936).
Eduard Hempel was the German Minister to Ireland, in the same way that David Gray was US Minister to Ireland, rather than Ambassador, and John Maffey was the British Representative to Ireland. For the same reason these Ministers were not based in an embassy but in a Legation. Dev, though, did not visit Hempel in the German Legation, but instead visited him in his private residence.
Dev DID NOT sign a book of condolence. There was no book of condolence (do people seriously believe that the German legation opened a book of condolence so that lines of self indulgent people, wallowing in a vulgar outpouring of public grief similar to that seen following the death of Princess Diana, could sign their names? Such things are a recent phenomenon). Dev went to verbally pay his respects to Hempel and offer his condolences to the German people, he did not sign a book of condolence.
Why all the hypocrisy regarding de Valera's tactless act in visiting Hempel? Dev and Southern Ireland in no way helped Hitler and the German war machine. Irish industry did not supply the Wehrmacht with tanks and guns and ships and aircraft, did it? Compare the way Dev and Southern Ireland behaved towards Germany compared with the way Britain, and later the USA, behaved towards Stalin and the Soviet Union.
Stalin and his regime was responsible for more deaths than Hitler and his regime. Although Britain and France protested Stalin's bully-boy invasions of Poland and Finland in 1939, and even threatened war against the Soviet's in the latter case, by the summer of 1941 Britain had snuggled up to good old Uncle Joe and began shipping thousands of tanks and planes and other war materiel to the Soviets. When the USA entered the war, they too allied themselves with the monster that was Stalin and shipped vast quantities of supplies to the Soviets, who having survived the German onslaught then went on to rape, pillage and enslave their way across eastern Europe.
It is interesting to note that when the Stalin, the man who had the blood of tens of millions on his hands, died in 1953 his former western allies were quick to pay their official condolences and heap praise upon him:
President Eisenhower authorised his Secretary of State to release the following message, "The Government of the United States tenders its official condolences to the Government of the U.S.S.R. on the death of Generalissimo Joseph Stalin, Prime Minister of the Soviet Union."
Marcus Checke, Head of teh protocol Department at the British Foreign Office and Vice-Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, was sent to the Soviet Embassy to present the condolences of Anthony Eden, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Sir Alvary Gascoigne, the British Ambassador in Moscow, was instructed to present the British Government's condolences at the Soviet Foreign Ministry. Gascoigne also attended Stalin's funeral in an official capacity.
President Auriol of France released the following message, "I have received with emotion the news of the death of Generalissimo Stalin. In the name of the Republic I send your Excellency the condolences of France." The French Ministry of Defence also decreed that for 3 days all flags in French military and naval establishment should be flown at half mast.
Forty foreign countries were represented at the funeral of Stalin!
So why should de Valera be hauled over the coals because he merely offered his condolences following the death of Hitler, yet Britain, America, etc get a pass for actively supporting Stalin?
Well, this thread has now gone full-fledged anti-American. That's unfortunate.