From Irish Political Review: August 2008

What was the Somme?
1916 . . . 2008

This Leaflet was distributed on 12th July and at the National Commemoration (Kilmainham Hospital) on the 13th July


it has no disrespect or quarrel with the legions of dead Irishmen who lost their lives at the Somme.However we feel it is necessary to be clear about the cause then and the context now within which these commemorations are being held......


What was the Somme about ...then and now....?

A gruesome battle in the war of the British Empire for world conquest.

Why is it celebrated so piously and ominously, three generations later? Because British Imperialism, having come close to extinction, is undergoing a revival.

Former Prime Minister Blair said in his retirement speech that Britain is "a blessed country". Nobody in Britain disagreed. And Britain's moral hegemony has been restored in Ireland to such an extent that no public figure took issue with the statement.

British blessedness historically has meant war—war of conquest, war of extermination, or war of destruction. And Blair reminded Britain when leaving office that he had restored it to its proper status as a war-fighting state.

The British war-fighting state has been busily embroiling Irish people in the Orders of the British Empire in recent times, as OBEs, CBEs, MBEs. The retention of Imperial Orders is not due to forgetfulness to abolish them. A generation ago it was considered setting up a new honours system of a pacific kind, outside the Imperialist framework. Then Mrs. Thatcher took office and scorned the idea that the Churchillian era was dead. Her successors have followed in her footsteps.

Do you think that the Somme was fought for the freedom of Belgium? In 1915-16 Britain violated Greek neutrality, invaded Greece, overthrew its constitutional Government, and set up a revolutionary puppet Government. Why? Because Greece refused to become its militarist ally despite being offered a large piece of Turkey if it did so. When Turkey was defeated a Greek Army invaded, at Britain's instigation, in order to re-establish a Greek colonial Empire in 'Asia Minor' as part of the new order of Europe. When the Greeks were slaughtered by the Turkish resistance, the British Empire (of which Free State Ireland had become a part) washed its hands of its responsibility and left them to their fate.

That is one of the things the Somme was about. Another is that Italy was lured into the War with British offers of Austrian territory. Italian Fascism began in Mussolini's militarist irredentism of 1915 which Britain encouraged. But, when victory was won, Britain told the Italians they could not have what they had been promised because Britain needed some of it for other purposes.

The involvement of children in war is condemned as reprehensible when it is done in Africa. But it is glorified when it is done in the cause of the British Empire. A monument is being erected to the heroism of a Waterford child who enlisted to kill Germans in the Great War and was killed in doing so. The heroism of child soldiers is now being celebrated in Ireland—provided they did their killing in the service of the British Empire.

But these are just irrelevant details. There is no thought conveyed by these celebrations. Their purpose is to cultivate the feelings that respond to the beat of the drum, and to stifle thought. They sanctify British militarist activity in the world, regardless of its particular object at a particular time.

The British Legion presented an "anti-Fascist" face after the British declaration of war on Germany in 1939. Before that declaration of war it was an admirer of Hitler. In 1938 it offered to police the Czech Sudetenland for him.

Celebrate British militarism if you wish. Restore its hegemony over Irish public life if you can. But spare us the humbug.

Aubane Historical Society
July 2008

Further reading:
1 The Origins and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland 1920 by Brian P Murphy OSB
2 James Connolly Re-Assessed: the Irish and European Dimension by Manus O’Riordan
3 Six days of the Irish Republic (1916) and other items
by L. G. Redmond-Howard
4 Envoi—taking leave of Roy Foster by Brendan Clifford, David Alvey, Julianne Herlihy, Brian P Murphy
5 Was 1916 A Crime: A debate from Village magazine, July 2005–July 2006 by various authors
6 What is revisionism? (Leaflet, October 2006)
7 The Killings at Coolacrease – the true story by Paddy Heaney and others
8 Seán O’Hegarty, O/C 1st Cork Brigade IRA by Kevin Girvin
9 Fianna Fáil and the decline of the Free State by Brendan Clifford
10 Myths from Easter 1916 by Eoin Neeson
11 The Battle of Crossbarry by Eoin Neeson
12 Canon Sheehan: a turbulent priest by Brendan Clifford
13 Sean Moylan: in his own words. His memoir of the Irish War of Independence
14 Elizabeth Bowen: "Notes On Eire". Espionage Reports to Winston Churchill, 1940-42; With a Review of Irish Neutrality in World War, by Jack Lane and Brendan Clifford
15 Propaganda as Anti-history: an analysis of Peter Hart’s ‘The IRA and its Enemies’ by Owen Sheridan
16 Troubled History: A 10th anniversary critique of Peter Hart's ‘The IRA
and its Enemies’ by Brian P Murphy osb, Niall Meehan, Ruan O’Donnell


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