2nd. Editorial from Irish Political Review, July 2004

A Just War—Or Just A War?

Radio Eireann had a reporter on the invasion beaches at Normandy on 6th June—sixty years after the event. Here is how it reported the invasion:

"From Normandy, our Europe reporter Tony Connolly: 'Sixty years ago an invasion force of 150,000 men landed on the beaches of Normandy. Although the Allies had wrong-footed the Germans with their choice of Normandy, the German defences were formidable. There was no guarantee that Operation Overlord would be a success. But it was the sacrifice and courage of the soldiers who fought and died on the beaches in their thousands which turned the war against Hitler'." (1pm News.)

This was not a news report but a British propaganda statement. What was wrong with it was not that it was British, but that it was false.
The Normandy Invasion did not defeat Germany. Germany was already defeated in substance in June 1944 and the object of the Normandy Invasion was to engage an Ameranglian army in battle before Germany was rolled up by the Stalinist advance.

Martin Mansergh published an evasive comment on D-Day in the Irish Times on June 5th. Professor Geoffrey Roberts of Cork University took issue with his evasions in an Irish Times article, Neutrality Left Ireland Isolated In A Just War (24.6.04), accusing him of trying "to defuse the debate about Ireland's neutrality by suggesting that it is all right to be both enthusiastic for the allied cause and proud of Irish neutrality". Professor Roberts holds that "there remains an unfinished debate about the Irish State's neutrality during the war", and it is clear that he feels that the moral order of things will remain in a state of chassis until the debate is resolved by an Irish admission of guilt.

Roberts cites two defences of neutrality. Denis Johnston, who served as a BBC war correspondent, wrote in 1942 that he went to war in support of Ireland's right to be neutral—to give himself the right to say that it must stay neutral. And De Valera said that small states which enter major wars risk their existence without the possibility of gaining influence on either the course of the war or the ensuing peace. But:

"The problem with this defence of neutrality is threefold.

"First, the difficulties entailed by Irish participation in the war should not be allowed to obscure the moral and political issue confronting the country. Both national interest and morality demanded the defeat of Nazi barbarism. But the Irish state kept an equal distance from all the combatants. Even when the war was over, de Valera refrained from publicly endorsing the justice of the allied cause. The morality of Irish wartime neutrality was summed up by de Valera's infamous visit to the German Ambassador in 1945 to present his condolences on the death of Hitler…" [Robert Fisk is quoted at this point.]

"Second, while the case for maintaining Irish neutrality in the early years of the war was very strong, it made less sense as the war progressed. In 1941 the Soviet Union and the US entered the war. In 1942 the tide of the war began to turn in favour of the Allies. The military danger to Ireland was now minimal, and there were opportunities to participate in the allied struggle at relatively low risk, or at the very least to modify the neutrality policy towards the allies. This was the choice exercised by a number of neutral states during the war. Indeed, the great allied coalition of 1945 was largely made up of formerly neutral states…" [He does not name these states. They include the masters of the post-war world, the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as Norway, Greece, Yugoslavia etc.]

"Third, wartime neutrality cost the country dearly in the post-war years. For North-South relations, neutrality was a disaster. Neutrality reinforced partition, strengthened unionist rule in Ulster, and ensured the post-war isolation of the northern Catholic community… The historical trajectory of North-South relations would have been completely different had de Valera accepted the British offer in June 1940 to work for Irish unity in exchange for a modification of Ireland's neutrality policy. Some historians dismiss this offer as a desperate British gesture which had no practical reality given the Ulster Unionists' implacable opposition to any dealings with Dublin. But, as Dennis Kennedy has argued, 'in June 1940 the Unionist position was more vulnerable than at any time since 1921. Had de Valera taken up the British offer… then the Northerners would have come under irresistible pressure'".

Let us consider the last point first—that Irish neutrality isolated the Catholic community in the North. This journal and its precursors have been dealing with the isolation of the Northern Catholic community for more than thirty years. That isolation has been the enduring subversive element in the entire Irish set-up since the end of the Treaty War in 1923. We spent more than twenty years doing our utmost to end that isolation within the structure of the British constitution, and we never got a word of support or encouragement from Dennis Kennedy, who is a narrowly-focussed, communal, Ulster Unionist. He is now a member of the fundamentalist Unionist Think Tank, the Cadogan Group, on the ultra-fundamentalist wing of the Group. He thinks up Unionist debating points and has never grappled with the basic flaw which made Partition dysfunctional—the isolation of the Catholic community in the Northern Ireland set-up, which deprived it of democratic outlets for its political energies. And we never noticed that Professor Roberts took any active interest in the isolation of the Northern Catholics before raising it as a debating point now. We are therefore willing to believe that he knows no better than he speaks, and that he thinks the isolation of the Northern Catholics began in 1939 as a consequence of Irish neutrality. In fact that isolation was structured into the Northern Ireland set-up.

As to Churchill's "offer" of June 1940: it was no offer at all. It was much less of an offer than was Asquith's offer of 1914, when at least there was a Home Rule Act on the Statute Book and people at large did not appreciate that the contentious Home Rule Bill could be sidelined into an Act from which no action need follow.

De Valera ascertained that Churchill was offering nothing before he rejected the offer.

Churchill was offering all things to all men in June 1940, knowing that if Britain lost it would not be called on to deliver while, if it won, it had many able diplomats who—backed by the power of the victor—would explain away any promises it would not be possible, or even expedient, to redeem.

In the hope of persuading the French Government to continue the war by terrorist methods, he offered to enact a Union of Britain and France. If he had enacted a repeal of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, had made the Ulster Unionists consent to Irish unity in the cause of saving civilisation with the threat that if they did not do so voluntarily they would be compelled, and had lifted the prohibition on the formation of a strong Irish Army, and had come to De Valera with the proposal that these measures would instantly take effect, then it could be said that an offer of Irish unity in return for participation in the war was made. But all that was actually offered was pie-in-the-sky.

As to the Northern Catholics: they enlisted in large numbers for the 1914 War, and when they came home they were treated like dirt by the Unionist administration. Fewer enlisted in 1939 (as did fewer Protestants): they met with the same treatment on returning home after the war. And Catholic ex-servicemen from the British Army, responding to the kind of esteem in which they were held in Northern Ireland, played a crucial part in bringing about disintegration in August 1969.

Redmondites and Carsonites enlisted in great numbers in 1914. This fact was presented in the propaganda as an alliance against evil which augured well for the future in Ireland. In fact they enlisted for mutually contradictory motives, aspiring to outdo each other in service to the Empire, each hoping that the Empire would reward it at the expense of the other. Their alliance was an entirely external thing, without even the common element of authentic hatred of Germany—the Ulster Unionists having declared a few months earlier that they would switch allegiance to the Kaiser, rather than come under a subordinate administration of the Crown in Ireland headed by John Redmond—and it never generated a political dimension, or even a sense of fellow-feeling except when they were thrown together on the battlefield.

Roberts charges De Valera both with failing to act in the national interest, and with acting in the national interest:

"De Valera's failure to countenance such course of action [shifting away from neutrality as the German position weakened] was informed more by party politics than the national interest. His main concern was the split in Fianna Fail that would occur if neutrality was abandoned. More importantly, de Valera's priorities were domestic rather than international."

When there was a possibility that a small, unarmed state might influence international affairs, De Valera availed of it. Britain brought his efforts in the League of Nations to nothing. The British priority was Imperial rather than international. It downgraded the League in favour of the Empire right at the start. When, after six years of supporting Nazi Germany, it suddenly decided to make war on it, it did not attempt to do so through the international organisation. It declared war in the old-fashioned way, as an independent Empire with entire freedom of action. De Valera concluded before 1939 that the existence of the League had exercised a delusory influence on international affairs by inhibiting independent action by states with the illusion of collective security. When Britain by-passed the League in going to war there was not even a semblance of an international forum in which he might have acted and he therefore decided to tend to the domestic affairs of his state.

Britain's last action through the League was the expulsion of the Soviet Union from it in December 1939 for a crime against civilisation. (That was the message of a radio broadcast by Churchill in January 1940.)

The "great allied coalition" of 1945 had similarities with the Carsonite/Redmondite alliance of 1914, in that it was composed of deadly enemies. The war, therefore, had not been brought to a conclusion that was in line with the purpose for which it had been launched. And the reason for this is that Britain brought about the 2nd World War of the 20th century without having the will to bear the main burden of fighting it.

Roberts gives Irish enlistment and casualty figures for the two wars. Irish enlistment in the 1939 War was half that in the 1914 War, "with, thankfully, only 5,000 fatalities, compared with the 30,000 who died in the trenches". That is to say that while the 1939 enlistment was half of 1914, the fatal casualties of 1939 were only one-sixth of the 1914 figure, even though the 1939 War lasted a year longer. This is indicative of the fact that England entered the European War of 1914 with a will to fight, while it brought about the world war of 1939-45 without the will to fight. If it had fulfilled its Treaty obligations to Poland in September 1939, it is extremely unlikely that there would have been a world war. The reason there was a world war was that Britain, having incited the Poles to refuse the moderate German proposal for a border settlement by offering them the appearance of a powerful military alliance against Germany, reneged on the Treaty when the German/Polish conflict broke out, and then pursued its own separate war on Germany as a world war, i.e. a war which would entangle the world and which would be fought mainly by others.

As things turned out, the main burden of defeating Germany was borne by Britain's major enemy in the world—Communist Russia. And D-Day, twice deferred by Churchill to allow for the possibility that Germany and Russia would reduce each other to a condition of exhaustion, had to be undertaken in 1944 to establish an Ameranglian military presence in Western Europe before the Russians got there.

Although Roberts is a Professor in Cork University, and he has been condemning Irish neutrality since moving to Cork, the roots of the matter for him have nothing to do with Ireland. They lie in the Communist Party of Great Britain and a disagreement about the character of the war in 1939-41 which arose there about 30 years ago.

The Soviet Union did not declare war on Germany when Britain did. It could not have joined the alliance to defend the status quo in Poland because Poland (which had defeated it in 1920) absolutely refused to have it as an ally. And Britain was not eager for it as an ally either and dragged its heels in negotiations, and there were grounds for thinking that it was aiming to somehow bring about a war against Russia.

In the Summer of 1939 the Soviet Union, seeing that Britain was encouraging the Poles to intransigence on the Danzig issue without making serious preparations to fight in alliance with the Poles, made a non-aggression Treaty with Hitler. When the Polish state collapsed in September, the Soviet Union occupied the eastern part of Poland (which had been conquered in the war of 1920) up to a line which had been agreed.

The Soviet/German Treaty of late August upset whatever plan there was at the back of Chamberlain's mind. And it included a secret agreement about occupation zones in the event of the collapse of the Polish state.

The Soviet/German Treaty was a counter to the British foreign policy departure launched in March 1939. If that Treaty had not been made, a Polish collapse in a German/Polish War, gaining for Germany territory which Poland had conquered from Russia in 1920, would have had the distinct possibility of bringing Germany and Russia into collision. And perhaps that was the object of the strange British foreign policy of 1939.

When the Communist Party of Great Britain came to discuss these matters thirty years ago, one tendency argued that the CPGB should have dissociated itself from Soviet foreign policy in 1939 and supported Chamberlain's war policy, as the General Secretary of the time, Harry Pollitt, wanted to do. It held that the war declared by Chamberlain was from the start a People's War, and not an Inter-Imperialist war. We do not recall whether it went as far as to condemn the Soviet neutrality of 1939-41 as "morally unjustifiable". But there is no doubt that the Professor Roberts argument about Irish neutrality is only a displacement of that CPGB dispute of 30 years ago.

His second point makes strange reading in such a highly moral document as this. It is that Ireland might have made war on Germany with little risk to itself after 1942, when "the tide of the war began to turn in favour of the Allies"—and that the moral obligation to do so increased as the need for Irish support against Germany diminished!!

Professor Roberts does not say why "the case for maintaining Irish neutrality in the early years of the war was very strong". If the moral imperative to make war on Germany lay in the danger posed by "Nazi barbarism", then surely the moral obligation was strongest when Nazi power was strongest, which was "in the early years of the war"—in the second year to be precise: from June 1940 (within the first year) to the Winter of 1941. After Stalingrad, at the end of 1942, Nazi barbarism was in severe difficulty. After the Battle of Kursk in July 1943 it was doomed. From 1942 to the Summer of 1944 the war consisted predominantly of the systematic advance of Stalinist power. If the moral obligation on the Irish state to make war increased as Nazi barbarism retreated, it can only have been as an obligation to help the Western Allies against the Ally which had actually overcome Nazi barbarism. Perhaps a case could be made on those lines, but it would be a pretty convoluted one—however that should not be something that would deter a CPGB intellectual from undertaking it.

A D-Day ceremony was held at the Great War memorial at Islandbridge in Dublin, and complaint was made that the state sent no representative to it. Since the Irish state was proclaimed in military action against Britain during the Great War, which those who founded the state saw as a war of Imperial aggrandisement and plunder, the Irish state could only take part in an Islandbridge ceremony by condemning itself. (If Michael MacDowell and Mary Harney had their way, it would probably come to that.)

Britain allows no official distinction to be made between its wars, and it is particularly insistent that both its World Wars in the 20th century should be swallowed in one gulp—with all its little wars blended in. Professor Roberts needs to address this practice.

If he applied his moral callipers to all British actions in the world since 1914, perhaps classifying British action in 1914 as a great evil which led to decades of evil consequences, and then claimed that Britain made some partial amends during its second World War for the evil it had done hitherto, though it soon reverted to its evil ways after 1945, he might deserve a hearing. Since he does not do that, what he requires of us is a submission on these lines:

"'There was a nation in the world', they said, 'which at its own expense, with its own labour, and at its own risk, waged wars for the liberty of others. And this it performed not merely for contiguous states, or near neighbours, or for countries that made part of the same continent; but even crossed the seas for the purpose, that no unlawful power should subsist on the face of the whole earth; but that justice, right, and law, should every where have sovereign sway'…" (Livy, History Of Rome, Book 23 a speech elicited from the Greeks by Titus Quintilius).

The practice of praising the victor and jumping on board his bandwagon is moral only if one takes triumphant power to be the source of morality (a view for which a strong case can be made—a case which Britain makes when it is strong), or if one believes that Britain is the Special Agent of a transcendental Providence in this world. Otherwise it can only be seen as the morality of the jackal.

A whole raft of states declared war on Germany in the Autumn of 1918 at the demand of the United States. They did so out of the narrowest self-interest. What the victorious Allies got from it was the sanctification of their victory, and the absence of an influential body of world opinion critical of their post-war settlement. They gained the freedom of action which enabled them to make a catastrophic settlement.

De Valera's refusal to act the part of a jackal in 1945 was wholly admirable. What is deplorable is the failure of Irish academia to develop the wartime neutrality into a critical history of the war.

A factor entirely ignored by Professor Roberts is that Ireland in 1939 did not have the means of making war. It had no Army. It had only a lightly armed Defence Force. It was not allowed to have an Army under the Treaty, and Britain prevented De Valera from acquiring armaments after he broke the Treaty.

Ireland remains unarmed. Maintenance of neutrality as a meaningful position in European and world affairs today requires a strong Army. The earnest neutrals of Europe, whose neutrality elicits the respect of others—the Swiss and the Swedes—are armed to the teeth.

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