Our problems remain epistemological.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Ireland and World War II

I am an American. I currently live and work in Ireland. But, I carry no special brief for Ireland and its people. When you wrote: “Ireland, like Sweden, has gotten a pass for behavior during World War II that doesn’t deserve a pass.” That’s true. But it is not the whole story either.  

Tens of thousands of Irish peoplefrom the Republic (albeit technically not a republic until 1949)volunteered to fight for the Allies and against the Axis. At the conclusion of the war, these people were not punished by the Irish legal system for what they did. (They might not have been publicly praised either, but have our troops returning from the recent Asian conflicts received parades?) That said, Irish citizens already serving in Ireland’s armed forces who deserted from the Irish armed forces to fight for the Allies and against the Axis are somewhat different. What do you think an American court would have done to an American soldier who deserted the U.S. armed forces just prior to the outbreak of WWII, who after the war ended, returned to the United States? He risked prosecution, jail, and, perhaps, worse. Much worse. The Irish did not jail such soldiers/deserters. They denied their former soldiers/deserters government work for seven years. That is hardly out of line with the practices of greater humanity.  

Ireland made every effort to stay (at least, formally) neutral. It is difficult for democracies to fight wars when not attacked. Ireland was not attacked by the Axis.* Its action here was not praiseworthy. But Ireland’s conduct was not much different from the United States, which also stayed neutral until actually attacked in 1941. It is true that even when neutral, the United States favored the Allies. But, so did Ireland. When Allied flyers bailed out over Ireland, they were escorted to Northern Ireland (then and now a part of the UK) where they rejoined their companies. Axis fliers (and naval personnel) were interned for the course of hostilities.  

The British did not exactly jump at the chance to fight either. By the time of British entry, Italy and Spain had already fallen to fascism, (former) Czechoslovakia had been abandoned by Chamberlain, and Japan had conquered large chunks of China. For millions, especially in Asia and Africa, WWII began long before 1939 and the Phony War of 19391940.   

The British delayed entering the war until they were ready and until they thought their most essential interests were at stake. Then they fought.   

Please keep in mind that the story you linked to is from the BBC. One would think that the first question the BBC should have asked is how did the post-WWII British government treat Irish and other expatriate soldiers who fought for Britain (and humanity) during WWII. That question might take some serious introspection, but don’t expect that from the biased BBC (http://biased-bbc.blogspot.com). It is so much easier for them to attack foreigners. Just think how the BBC reports on the United States: its government and its people.  

Again, the conduct of the Irish during WWII was not all one could have hoped for. There were (some) people here during WWII listening to radio reports and hoping Britain would fall: oblivious to the fact that they were next in line. Cheering Hitler’s victories. Old hatreds don’t die so easily. But, today, the Irish children and grandchildren of such people do not (at least, openly) praise their parents’ and grandparents’ behavior, and Irish society is reexamining its wartime conduct. (http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/ian-odoherty/ian-odoherty-im-proud-to-wear-the-poppy-for-the-fallen-kids-and-mad-larry-2932241.html) In America, we still have people who think Julius Rosenberg was innocent or praiseworthy, and others who believe that C.S.A. soldiers were patriots. There is a lot of room for self-improvement all around.  


The above was originally posted on InstapunditSee Glenn Reynolds, This Doesn’t Reflect Well on Ireland: Why Irish Soldiers Who Fought Hitler Hide Their Medals: Another Update, Instapundit (Jan. 2, 2012, 6:16 PM), pjmedia.com/instapundit/134529

For another take on these events and times, see Seth Barrett Tillman, Advice to the Allies—1945, 15(2) Claremont Review of Books 13, Spring 2015, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2478600,  http://tinyurl.com/pbhmrox

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SethBTillman ( @SethBTillman )  

My prior post: Seth Barrett Tillman, The Irish Courts, The New Reform Club (Sept. 19, 2016, 2:38 PM), http://tinyurl.com/j7qej3j

*Actually, Germany bombed Ireland on several occasions during WWII. The German government claimed these were accidents and, by mutual agreement, it paid reparations to Ireland during the war. On two occasions, the Germans bombed Irish areas with Jewish populations, not that there were that many Jews in Ireland during WWII. Make from that what you will. See http://tinyurl.com/z29cauq. 


Gilbert Ratchet said...

You can't talk about this without referencing De Valera's condolences to the German ambassador on the death of Hitler.

guiowen said...

I was attending a high school in Zug, Switzerland, in 1953. I remember my teacher (a Germsn-speaking Swiss) speaking to my class (all my classmates were French-speaking Swiss). He recalled that, during World War I, the Swiss generally divided (according to their language) in their support for the Germans or the French. During World war II, however, they almost all supported the Allies. This did not mean that they fought on either side.
Being neutral is indeed difficult.

Unknown said...

A number of pilots/cadets effectively deserted and fought for Britai
n in both WW1 and WW11. They received slaps on their hands along with promotions

David said...

Being neutral is difficult, said no one who died on the shores France while freeing Europe from the scourge of Hitler.

As for the Germans bombing Jewish populations in Ireland, the Catholics of WWII Ireland never had any real love for Jews. There were a few Europeans who did what they could to protect Jews, but the rest were happy to take what property and valuables they could from Jewish victims of Hitler. Why should anyone believe that Irish Catholics were more protective than their European counterparts?

The BBC has been the radio equivalent of a fish-wrap for decades, there's little likelihood of that changing in the foreseeable future.

TBlakely said...

Well no 'neutral' countries in WWII deserve condemnation like the Swiss and Sweden who actually profited from working with the Nazis. Good thing for them that the Soviets were such an immediate threat after WWII.

Unknown said...

You said that the US didn't get involved until it was attacked. That isn't true. For months before Pearl Harbor the US Navy did convoy duty in the Atlantic, to help the RN fight submarines. The first American deaths in the war were the crew of USS Reuben James in October 1941.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the key battle of the war. And Ireland made it easier for the Germans. Patrol aircraft available in 1942 didn't have the range to cover the entire Atlantic, even including airbases in Iceland. If there had been airbases available in Ireland they could have closed the gap, but the Irish government refused to allow it. Churchill even wrote a letter to the Irish government saying that he understood why the Irish didn't want the UK operating from Irish soil, and instead suggested that the Americans build and operate an airfield there. "Surely you don't think the Americans would use it as a base to reconquer Ireland, do you?" well, the Irish turned that offer down, and it wasn't until the development and deployment of Escort Carriers that it was possible to give air cover to convoys all the way across the Atlantic.

During that period, hundreds of cargo ships were sunk which might not have been if only there had been adequate air support. A lot of the crews of those ships were Americans, too, who died when their ships were torpedoed.

There were a lot of things the Irish did that I object to, but this particular one I cannot forgive. There was no good reason for them to refuse to permit American airbases on Irish soil.

Robert Doe said...

Irish cities and towns were kept lit at night and acted as directional beacons for the Lufteaffe bomber crews.Whether or not this was deliberate the effect of doing so was known to the Irish govt.
Re. the comments that Britain allowed fascism to come to power in Italy and Spain. That statement is ridiculous. The Italians voted for Mussolini in 1922.What exactly was Britain to do? Spain was engaged in a Civil War. Even if Italy, Germany, and Soviet Union sent supplies, equipment, and troops should Britain have taken sides militarily? For what reason?
Finally though Irish nationals joined the UK forces are there actual numbers of these volunteers available. How many Irisk military deserted across the border to Ulster to join the UK forces?
And finally as was refrenced above Eire refused yo allow the USN or USAAF to set up airbases in Conh, formerly Queenstown. Such bases when joined with PBY and or B24 aircraft could gave saved thousands of lives lost to the UBoats with little or no chance of German rrtaliation.

Farts Gaily said...

In 1914 the British could see war looming on the horizon, not in Europe but in Ireland. British army officers from Ulster had resigned en masse, formed a militia and armed themselves, vowing not to accept Home Rule; something the rest of Ireland and the British government (and probably the British people too) were quite committed to. The UK had even upended its own constitutional order in 1911 to make sure that the third home rule bill could go through.

The outbreak of the first world war put all that on hold. The Ulster Unionists and a great many Irish Republicans recognised the mutual threat in Germany, and fought with the British. After all, if the Germans could menace Britain, what would stop them from menacing Ireland?

Despite all that, though, there were some Republicans in Ireland who simply couldn't get past their hatred for England. Some refused to fight. Some actually fought against the British, at Easter 1916. Some even tried to ally with the Germans: their hatred of the British being so great that they were willing to countenance German occupation just to see the Brits lose.

The big difference between Ireland in WW1 and WW2 is that these fanatics were in government in WW2. I did some quick googling and got 206,000 Irish volunteers in WW1 vs. ~100,000 in WW2. I think we can attribute the difference to the attitude of the Irish government, or the Irish ruling class, or whatever we want to call it: helping the hated British would've been more frowned upon.

I suspect that Ireland's stock of brave and virtuous men was greatly diminished in WW1; for the thugs and weasels that stayed behind, this created an opportunity, quickly seized. For a while there, Ireland was run by some very nasty people.

bruce said...

Everyone on the margins of British Society was hostile to the metropolis at various times. No doubt many more on the mainland would have done what the Irish did if they were allowed to. Wellington's London house was smashed and he was attacked by British proletarian supporters of Napoleon. You didn't have to cross the Irish Sea, the line between Devon and Cornwall marked hostile territory where London ships were fair game and more recently Cornish terrorists blew up Londoner's holiday homes. Churchill was very unpopular in Australia, the suffering of Australian soldiers was felt due to his WWII and II decisions and he is still regarded in many veteran's families as overrrated and incompetent or worse. Seen in this light, perhaps what made Ireland stand out was the greater freedom to express what mots felt. After all Churchill was soon out, socialists in, and many felt "Uncle Joe" had actually won the War, with some justification. The Irish expressed what everyone was feeling.

jmc said...

Well as an American in Ireland, so an outsider, you will be completely unaware of all the national family secrets that the locals are so embarrassed about that they are almost never discussed among themselves let alone in front of strangers.

Here are a few. The Irish Free State was never actually neutral in the 1930’s. Not in the sense of Norway, Denmark or the Netherlands. Firstly its could not defend its neutrality. DeValera post 1932 systematically dismantled the Irish army as it was the only real center of resistance to his creeping constitutional coup. Completed in 1937. The 1937 Constitution is pure Franco Falangist. Christian Fascist.

So in 1939 the Free State was utterly defenseless. The only totally unarmed "neutral" in Europe at the time. You will see very few photos from that era because, guess what, the Irish army was wearning German style uniforms. Including that distinctive German helmet..

During the 1938 Treat Port negotiations DeValera made clear his price for supporting the UK in the coming war. The UK had to hand over Northern Ireland to the South. A united Ireland under duresse. In the summer of 1940, after the collapse of France, the offer was made again and the UK sent Malcom MacDonald (who they usual sent in these situations) to see just how realistic DeValeras position was. So in the summer of 1940 Dev wanted the UK to force the NI Unionists, at gunpoint if necessary, to join a “United Ireland”. The same Unionists who had signed up in their hundreds of thousands to defend their country in the fight against the Nazis. Only then would Dev “consider” joining the UK in its fight against the Nazis. Maybe.

DeValeras "neutrality" was always for sale. Its just that the UK was not willing to pay the price.

Add to that the fact that from the mid 30’s onwards the Irish Free States Dept of Foreign Affairs was systematically realigned so that only pro fascist / anglophobe officials got promoted. Anyone sympathetic toward the UK was sidelined or pushed out. So by 1939 the large majority of senior foreign affairs officials in DeValeras government were at best pro fascist if not actively pro Nazi.

The French Vichy government of 1942 was less Anglophobe and pro fascists than DeValeras government during WW2. Remember, DeValera was also the Foreign Minster all of this time. If you know how Merrion Sq works thats all you need to know.

If the UK had fallen in 1940 DeValera would have made a very good Father Tiso style collaborationist with the Nazis. The priest who ruled German Occupied Slovakia. DeValera would have been quite happy dealing with Nazis much like the German occupation of Denmark until 1943. Denmark did not have a good war.

There is a very good reason why the Rep of Ireland was not allowed to join the UN until 1955. At the same time as all the former Axis countries. Because the actions of the Free State government during the WW2 were disgusting and reprehensible in the extreme. Little better than an Axis fellow traveler. More than 100K southern Irish people served honorably in various Allied armed forces during the war but they were without exception treated shabbily and worse if the returned to the 26 counties after the war. So all kept it secret for many decades, afraid of the abuse or worse they might receive from the Republican gobshites that are part and parcel of life in the South.

There are no feel good stories in the history of the 26 counties since 1916. None. They are all like this one. Only usually much much worse.

Enjoy your stay in Ireland. You dont know the half of what goes on in the country.

Which is a very good thing for peace of mind.

Anonymous said...

This is one ridiculous article, if not totally stupid.

The Swedes saw what Stalin (who exterminated 20 MILLION !!! souls before anyone had ever heard of Hitler) had done to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Eastern Poland; all these nations were invaded by Stalin with the full connivance of Hitler by virtue of the Hitler Stalin Pact.
It was this pact that gave Hitler the APPROVAL to invade Poland in Sept. 1939 which set off WWII in Europe.
Stalin was a far, far greater threat to Sweden than was Hitler and unfortunately for Sweden, it "lived" in a very nasty neighborhood. By allying itself to Stalin, Sweden would have committed suicide and they would have wound up like Finland or the other Baltic nations (recall the term "Finlandization" and look what happened to the many nations of Eastern Europe that were forced to live for 45 years under the tyrannical/fascist murderer Stalin and his successors. It was no better than having to live under Hitler's Nazi's for 45 years !!).
And by ANY measure, Stalin was a far worse murderer and tyrant than Hitler (and Hitler was one very, very bad character). Some sources indicate that Stalin had exterminated upwards of 50 MILLION !!! souls (recall Hitler tossed 12 million into the gas chambers).
Sweden had NO CHOICE but to stay neutral; they had no capacity to wage a war against either Hitler or their much bigger potential threat, Joe Stalin.

As for Switzerland, it was totally surrounded by Nazi occupied nations; look at a map folks !!! NOTHING could get in or out - food, coal, petrol,nothing at all etc., - of that nation unless the Nazis allowed it. Hitler had no reason to invade Switzerland because he already had it totally surrounded and he forced the Swiss to bend to his demands in terms of supplying needed products. The Swiss could comply or starve; it was that simple.
The Swiss were totally screwed and they know it. They had NO CHOICE.

And the Irish Republic had every right to remain neutral if they chose. After all, they had suffered greatly for several hundred years under the British. But the Irish remained neutral and many of their citizens joined the fight against Hitler.

This notion that WWII was black and white, good against evil, etc., is total BS. The USA - land of the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence - allied itself with (up to that time) the WORST MASS MURDERER IN WORLD HISTORY; and that was "Uncle Joe Stalin."
The fact is that the allies sacrificed Eastern Europe, the Baltics and Finland to save Western Europe and then allowed !!! the USSR into the UN and to dominate (Nazi-like) all of Eastern Europe, the Baltics, etc for 45 years.

This idea that all nations should have lined up to join the "good" fight is crap. There was NO GOOD FIGHT. The USA should have never, ever helped Stalin and allowed Stalin and Hitler to annihilate each other. Two incredibly evil empires - Stalin's Bolsheviks and Hitler's Nazis - were on different sides of the conflict. They should have been allowed to finish each other off while the USA, the UK, etc., let them go at it.

Why Stalin and the USSR gets a free pass for their atrocities, for their alliance with Hitler, for seeking WORLD DOMINATION AS DID HITLER, for exterminating 20 MILLION to 50 MILLION souls - simply escapes me. And to criticize those nations residing very near that conflict for remaining neutral is asinine.
If both your neighbors have the capacity and the WILL to murder you and your family, you will not go out of your way to encourage them to do so.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous- So you're saying cowardice in the face of obvious evil is a legitimate excuse? Britain saw all the horrors of the Hitler/Stalin pact, but it didn't shirk its duty. Sweden, Ireland and Switzerland could have joined with Britain and stemmed the tide much earlier, but they didn't. They left it all to Britain, because fighting was too hard and there was money to be made.

Neutrality in Europe in the early 40's was a moral evil.

TBlakely said...

Given the incredibly mountainous terrain of Switzerland the Nazis would had paid a hellacious price to conquer Switzerland assuming they could do so. Given that even if Switzerland had joined the allies the Nazis would have settled for 'containing' the Swiss while they went after their real prize, Russia.

The Swiss faced evil and blinked. Their cowardice can be explained and rationalized but in the end it was cowardice. That they worked with the Nazis and profited puts them beyond the pale. Like I said earlier both Sweden and Switzerland were damn lucky that the Soviets were an immediate and major threat to the west.

Gringo said...

The Swedes saw what Stalin (who exterminated 20 MILLION !!! souls before anyone had ever heard of Hitler) had done to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Eastern Poland; all these nations were invaded by Stalin with the full connivance of Hitler by virtue of the Hitler Stalin Pact.

There were many ethnic Swedes in Estonia, which used to belong to Sweden. Many Estonians of ethnic Swede background fled to Sweden during and after World War II.

Rich Rostrom said...

"The Ulster Unionists and a great many Irish Republicans recognised the mutual threat in Germany, and fought with the British."

Um, no, the Irish Nationalists agreed to set aside Home Rule for the duration and support the war. This ultimately led to the collapse of the Nationalists and their replacement by the Republicans as the dominant force in Ireland.

One point: the Republicans were republican: opposed on principle to the sovereignty of the British crown over Ireland under any circumstances, and thus to any allegiance to Britain.

Anonymous said...

But as is still touted today regarding Second Amendment rights, the "Swiss" have guns in their homes and will fight to defend their homes and homeland!" Yeah, right! But for the right price, "come right on in Buddy!"

Their apologists make being a Neutral something heroic when all they did was make money off all sides of the war. Typical slugs.

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