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
I've heard the reasoning behind why Ireland remained "neutral" in World War 2, but it doesn't hold water in my opinion. There is no such thing as genuine neutrality when we're talking about 11 million people being slaughtered systematically in death camps. You're either against that, or you're not.
Ireland, in my estimation, still has blood on her hands for the cowardice displayed in the 1940s. De Valera's letter of sympathy to the German people after Adolf Hitler's death sealed the deal, for me.
Ryan,you have summed it up very clearly and I totally agree with your opinion. As you say "De Valera's letter of sympathy to the German people after Adolf Hitler's death sealed the deal" and showed the duplicity of De Valera.
A well argued case, John, with which I on the basis of a strong interest in history over many years, concur. On top of which I think the disparagement by revisionist elements of the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, the constant glorification of the "Great War" and the never-ending criticism of our neutrality in WWII, which, while regarded by the victors as the "Good War" - quelle suprise - goes down as the single greatest bloodbath in human history - are all part and parcel of a campaign to ideological pave the way for Ireland's integration into the NATO and EU security architecture.
Hadn't heard that O'Duffy facilitated links between the Nazi government and IRA. In fact, I thought that O'Duffy's Blueshirts and the IRA nearly went to war with each other in a famous confrontation in the early 1930s. But that aside, my sense is that Dev felt the Allies couldn't protect Eire from Nazi bombing runs and so saw no advantage to actively opposing Hitler.
I'm also surprised to hear of a serious British offer to end Ireland's partition. I have little doubt that the offer may have been made, but perhaps Dev was quite reasonably wary that the offer came with far too many strings attached to be palatable. Fascinating conversation. Only wish I was better informed on it.
War, like politics, makes strange bedfellows. Dev has used Daniel O'Connell's tagline,"England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity", and perhaps saw neutrality as the best course for a fledgling nation. His signing a letter of condolence on Hiter's death, an act that drew the condemnation of none other than Mike Quill, a.k.a. Red Mike, is perplexing.
But perhaps the Pope should have forcefully condemned the Nazis as their shadow loomed over the world. Perhaps the U.S. and Canada should have welcomed the Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, rather than sending them back out to sea. Leaders do strange things at or near wartime.
One fact I discovered while doing research on World War I. As the Great War's end neared, Kaiser Wilhelm received asylum in the Netherlands. As Hitler's army moved through Western Europe 20+ years later, and Holland was about to be overrun, Churchill offered the Kaiser political asylum in England.I find it hard to understand how the man responsible for the death of so many Tommies in the Great War could have been offered that opportunity. But then again, Wilhelm was Queen Victoria's grandson......
Nearly the whole of the Free State was fascist after Kevin O'Higgins became Minister of Justice and External Affairs. He set up the Garda Siochana in 1924 led by renowned fascist Eoin O'Duffy as Commissioner (who later started the Blue Shirts) and fascist David Neligan as Chief Superintendent. Their detectives used the methods of Michael Collins including straightforward murder. This was mainly in opposition to Britain who had executed those who had approached the German government during the First World War to propose an Irish-German pact.
It's always been pretty apparent deValera was pretty much pro-Nazi and anti-American.
Being pro-Nazi is being anti-American. Sorry that was apparently somehow lost in the post. From his actions, he likely would have welcomed an Axis victory.
First I wasn't saying the Irish were. We were far from neutral. We were building weapons and vehicles for Britain and sending them across the Atlantic. We even allow pilots and soldiers to fight with Britain before we declared. After Pearl Harbor, we would have been in Europe sooner than later. Hitler just put it on the fast track. Roosevelt was already looking for a reason to help Churchill. Americans, sort of like today, were in no hurry to get back into a war, and hoped it would find it's on conclusion. But after we were attacked, we knew that isolationism was out of the question, again, just like WWI. But in our case, the government WANTED to get into the war...but the American people had to be convinced...again. My thinking was just based on small things like signing Hitler's condolence book. The war was basically over in Europe. It was known that it was a matter of days, if not hours. And the man that brought most of Europe to rubble, was deserving of a public signature of condolences on behalf of the Irish people? That is my issue....
The problem with many of the people living in 2014 who look back on this decision by the Irish government to stay neutral have is that, unlike the Irish in 1939, we have the crystal clear hindsight of what Germany was going to do in the years to come. In order to understand the decisions people in a different time in history made, we need to avoid taking the knowledge we have, and they did NOT have, and placing it in their heads. Doing that will usually end up with us wondering how could do what they did, knowing what WE know. But quite often they did NOT know what we know. Yes, everyone in the world knows that millions died in Nazis death camps now, in 2014. But could anyone anticipate such an incredibly bizarre thing would happen in 1939? The nations of Europe had fought war after war for centuries without anything like it happening.
We should try to remember that in 1939, when the war began, there were no death camps operating. And for years after that very few people knew they were doing what they were doing in those camps. Today we've all read the history books, so we can look back and say, "my God, how could the Irish remain neutral while that was going on." Simple, they hadn't read the history books detailing it yet, because they wouldn't be written for another decade. We've all read them, and seen "Schindler's List," etc., but no one in Ireland, or at least no one in the general public, knew any of this while the war was going on. And anyone in the government who found out also wouldn't have known until FAR into the war. The Irish were not clamoring for their government to join the fight against the monsters who were slaughtering millions in death camps because they didn't know it was happening.
The Irish did not refuse to join "the war against the Holocaust," which is how most people see it today, because no one knew that's what was THEN. This is how we see it NOW. They refused to join another "European powers getting together to slaughter each other" war, which is all they anticipated it being at the beginning. And for a nation that had just given up hundreds of thousands of her sons to be killed and maimed for the British Empire barely more than 20 years earlier, and who's sons had been cannon fodder for that empire (by keeping them on the edge of starvation) for several hundred years, is it really surprising that there was no public support for joining what appears at the beginning to be just the "same old, same old" for Europe? If we judge Irish neutrality based on the knowledge they actually had in the early 1940s, the issue can be seen in a far different light. My opinion is that, based on the knowledge they had when they made these decisions (and that is the only fair way to judge historical decisions), remaining neutral was perfectly understandable.