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Caru On May - 5 - 2011

While I know that everybody is busy contemplating recent events, I would like to ask you to take some time out so that I can share this little nugget of history with you. The paragraphs beforehand are merely condensed background material so that the Churchill quote and de Valera’s audio response, the main focus of this post, are in the proper context.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War on 1st of September 1939, the Government of the South of Ireland, which was at that time nominally a Dominion of the British Empire, immediately declared its neutrality. This policy, which was instigated by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, was chosen for three reasons:


  1. Because of the existence of partition between the North and the South of Ireland, Éire could not, in good faith, enter a war on the side of the British.
  2. The position of neutrality would reinforce the independence of Éire.
  3. Éire had neither the equipment nor the infrastructure to fight in a modern, mechanised war.


This policy was resented the British Government, which desperately wanted Southern Irish ports and airfields to protect against German attacks to their supply network and to ensure that Germany could  not invade Britain through Ireland. However, the Government of the South of Ireland steadfastly refused to entertain any offers to enter the war, despite consistent pressure by both the British and eventually the American Governments.

This policy was especially resented by the British Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill, who personally regarded it as a cowardly and unseemly position. During his victory speech following the collapse of the Third Reich Churchill made the following comments concerning the South of Ireland’s conduct during WW2:


“[…] Owing to the action of Mr. de Valera, so much at variance with the temper and instinct of thousands of southern Irishmen, who hastened to the battlefront to prove their ancient valor, the approaches which the southern Irish ports and airfields could so easily have guarded were closed by the hostile aircraft and U-boats.
This was indeed a deadly moment in our life, and if it had not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland we should have been forced to come to close quarters with Mr. de Valera or perish forever from the earth. However, with a restraint and poise to which, I say, history will find few parallels, we never laid a violent hand upon them, which at times would have been quite easy and quite natural, and left the de Valera Government to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives to their heart’s content. […]”


These comments provoked the following reaction from de Valera, who made his comments in a radio address to the Irish people:


Well, I hope you all found that interesting. I certainly did.


Winston Churchill’s speech, May 13, 1945: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/1945-05-13a.html

De Valera’s speech, May 16, 1945: http://www.rte.ie/laweb/brc/brc_1940s_a.html

Written by Caru

I don't really have anything of note to put in here... Oh, I won a bar of chocolate once.

44 Responses so far.

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  1. Caru says:

    From KT:

    “Caru, let me ask you this. If Hitler didn’t want war in western Europe, why did he invade and occupy nearly all of western Europe, and north Africa?
    Your claim that Hitler did not want war in the west is just not factual.”

    Well, Hitler invaded France because France and Britain declared war on Germany. It’s not like he could have just ignored their armies amassing on the German border.

    He invaded the Benelux countries because they were in the way of invading France.

    He invaded Denmark to prevent the British from invading Germany through Denmark.

    He invaded Norway at the same time the British were invading Norway to protect Germany’s vital iron ore trade routes.

    As you can see, it all comes back to Britain and France declaring war on Germany. If they didn’t, he’d have ignored them.

  2. KillgoreTrout says:

    Caru, in all fairness to you, you are both right and wrong. Hitler did want the east for, “living space.” But as I said earlier, he also had an extreme desire to eradicate international Jewry. In order to pursue this end, he had to occupy western Europe, as well as the east. And yes, you are correct that he wanted Great Britain to be a part of the axis of power. But his invasion of Poland put an end to any such hopes. But to say he never wanted to go to war and occupy western Europe, is just not true. There is debate among historians ans scholars about this, but most agree that Hitler did indeed have aspirations of world dominance.

  3. KillgoreTrout says:

    Hitler didn’t even come to power until 1934. Five years later he invaded Poland. But his first invasion/occupation was Austria.
    Hitler had a great resentment toward western Europe after the first world war, especially France.

  4. ADONAI says:

    I wanna get in on the Hitler talk.

    Everything Caru said is true. For about 3 years. Hitler wanted an empire. That’s for certain. He believed Germany had a “right” to the territory around it.

    I don’t think he ever originally intended on conquering Britain or America. Simply neutralizing them. Building a great German empire that would eventually overtake them culturally and economically. And you can’t forget Italy. Italy declared war in Africa and Italy moved forces to instigate confrontation with English forces.

    Hitler went crazy though. Maybe not clinically insane but at some point his reach began exceeding his grasp. Invading Russia was a stupid move. An INCREDIBLY stupid move. At some point Hitler became the comic book villain many of us think he is.

    He invoked the Final Solution, signed off on the complete decimation of Eastern Britain, and actually began planning an invasion of the east coast of North America. I don’t think he ever liked the Pearl Harbor bombing because it was a failure. He was smart. He always knew America would have to be dealt with at some point. I think he was hoping for a diplomatic resolution. Pearl Harbor ended any chance of that because America’s navy was still near full strength and we were super pissed.

    I think America’s entrance into WW 2 is what kept Hitler in Russia. One of us had to go. I believe he really did want a world led/ruled by Germany and the “Aryan race”.

    Now, as far as neutrality,

    “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
    ~Howard Zinn

    A lot of people in Europe didn’t want war for whatever reason but war was upon them regardless. There is no “sitting this one out”.

    • Caru says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Adonai.

      However, Hitler always wanted to invade Russia. That’s were a crapload of invaluable resources are. If the German army hadn’t been sent to rescue Mussolini’s forces from Greece, then Hitler would have invaded Russia a month or two earlier. The German army would have probably taken Moscow and beyond then before Winter set in. Because, while the Russians kicked the Germans out of their country, it was the Winter that turned the tide for them.

      As regards to neutrality, the South of Ireland managed to sit this one out. Since Ireland was a desperately poor island nation with a population of below four million and next to no war infrastructure, that was probably a good idea.

      • Khirad says:

        Indeed, this is almost a backhanded compliment, but I don’t know what good it would have done, unless Hitler had his eye on peat and Waterford crystal?

        And the only way to have contributed would be to have offered Irish regiments to the British army, as well as ports to the Navy, risking recolonization after the war, which was just not gonna be happening for the Irish--that was still ALL too fresh.

        So, I really don’t know how Ireland could have not been neutral, really.

      • ADONAI says:

        When Hitler’s first invasion of Russia failed, he insisted on still going to Moscow. Stalingrad is what defeated Germany. Resources or not, it was so fucking stupid.

        I was trying to understand Britain’s need to have South Ireland during the war. You want to be neutral and may stay neutral but the world is moving around you. You can’t completely avoid it.

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          Two major factors defeated the NAZIs in Russia. One is that the further the NAZIs went into the heartland of Russia, the longer their supply lines became. This was to great advantage for the Russians. The Russians weren’t very good fighters at the outset, but very quickly learned to be.
          The second factor was the extreme Russian winters, and Hitler had given no real thought about it. Until it was too late. He should have learned from Napoleon.

          • ADONAI says:

            No doubt KT. When you hear about Germany in Russia how can you not think of Hitler?

            The Napoleon story is funny though. They get to Moscow and the city is pretty much empty and frozen. Then Russia sets the city on fire!

            You’re never gonna beat someone that hardcore on their own turf.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              Hitler underestimated the ruthlessness of Stalin. Operation Barbarosa was doomed from the beginning.

        • Caru says:

          I agree, Adonai. Stalingrad was abysmal.

  5. KQuark says:

    The Irish of course should have remained neutral but they should have honored their treaties as well like Portuguese did. I mean I understand why Ireland didn’t want to help the UK because of their history but I would not make it out as any grand moment in history for Ireland. They were serving their self interests just like everyone else.

    Churchill resented the US as well because Republicans were isolationists and he wanted the US to enter the war sooner.

    Face it at one point before the Soviet Union was compelled to enter the war the UK was the only country preventing everyone in Europe from speaking German.

    • Caru says:

      1.) Ireland did honour its treaties. The ports were handed back to Ireland in 1938 under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to end the Economic War. Ireland was under no obligation during WW2 to let anyone use its ports.

      2.) Of course Ireland was serving its self-interests. It had no ability to fight in a war at all. No tanks, no aircraft, no navy, no anti-air defences. If Ireland let the Allies use its ports, then it would have been bombed to oblivion. It is the purpose of countries to serve the interests of its people.

      3.) Hitler had no desire to takeover Western Europe. His designs were always in the East, always towards the resource rich Crimea. If Britain and France had honoured their promise to help Poland, then Hitler would have ignored the West.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        ” Hitler had no desire to takeover Western Europe. His designs were always in the East, always towards the resource rich Crimea. If Britain and France had honoured their promise to help Poland, then Hitler would have ignored the West.”

        What is it that makes you think this is true? Do you have anything that would support such a belief? Hitler had conquered nearly all of western Europe.

        • KQuark says:

          I agree that sounds like revisionist history to me. Hitler miscalculated and thought the English would continue to capitulate and let him roll over Poland.

          There are even notes in his diaries he would eventually want to attack the Eastern US.

          • Caru says:

            First of all, you got your facts wrong with regard to Ireland’s treaties and used it to make a judgement on the nation. Now your accusing me of revisionist history for stating that Hitler did not want to take over the entire world. Something about stones in glass houses?

            Second of all, da Vinci included a sketch of a submarine in his diaries. Does this mean that he was going to build a submarine?

        • Caru says:

          I’ve read extracts from Mein Kampf and other quotes and such. Hitler actually admired the British Empire and did not want to go to war with it.

          • KQuark says:

            He wanted England to ally with Germany and join his antisemitic cause because he the thought they were a natural ally. If England and Western Europe did not want to ally with Hitler like Italy or even be sympathetic to Germany like Spain he would have attacked them nonetheless.

            Overall it was not morally acceptable to let Hitler even take Eastern Europe so he could more easily commit genocide. That’s the revisionist history I’m talking about when folks try to downplay the threat Hitler posed on all of Western Civilization.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              Caru, let me ask you this. If Hitler didn’t want war in western Europe, why did he invade and occupy nearly all of western Europe, and north Africa?
              Your claim that Hitler did not want war in the west is just not factual.

            • Caru says:

              That’s just wrong. Hitler did not want a war in the West. Talk about a waste of war resources.

              Furthermore, when we talk about morally acceptable, let’s keep this in mind: There were nearly ten years in which Hitler’s broadcast his intentions and could have been stopped by almost any moderately powerful nation in Europe.

              They did nothing until in was too late.

              Lastly, Hitler posed an immense threat, but he was not a world-conquering super-villain ripped from a comic book strip. He had realistic limitations.

          • KillgoreTrout says:

            Mein Kampf was written several years before Hitler came to power. He was very insistant on wiping out international Jewry. He also wanted all the natural resources he could get, to keep the Third Reich on the offensive. He even had grandiose plans of conquering America. In short, he wanted the world. He would have betrayed even the Japanese had the war gone differently.

            • KQuark says:

              Exactly that’s why his first goal was the East in Mein Kampf. But the very thought that capitulation to Hitler was somehow honorable is a bit distorted. Sure some countries had to remain neutral for their own survival but it was not the brave choice.

  6. jkkFL says:

    Fascinating, Caru! I loved his remark “I will try to reply as dispassionately as possible!”
    Mission accomplished.
    Did you research this yesterday? 😉
    “Much Boredom abounded.”

    • Caru says:

      Well, I knew the background. If I didn’t I’d be a terrible student. :)

      I’d heard of the exchange between Churchill and de Valera, but I’d never actually read or listened to them until the day before yesterday.

  7. Mightywoof says:

    I loved de Valera’s speech, Caru -- thanks for ferreting out this nugget of history! I especially loved de Valera’s congratulating Churchill (paraphrasing)for resisting his temptation to invade the 6 counties -- what delicious sarcasm.

    I have to come clean here -- I’m a Canadian but born and raised in the south of England; I left those shores 3 months before my 24th birthday. I had an absolutely English view of Ireland but left the UK before the IRA campaign so my views had not been coloured by that. I changed my views after reading a novel -- Leon Uris ‘Trinity’ -- I had never read or been taught the other side of the story and I was blown away! As repellent as I now find Churchill’s views on Empire, he was a man of his time and the English in me is grateful he was there through WW2 but what England did to Ireland is -- forgive the saying -- beyond the pale -- but then, England did that to so many countries on this earth.

    Trinity has left me very conflicted though ………. I can understand why Scotland wants to be a country in its own right and I can understand why Quebec wants to separate from Canada -- heck, I can understand why the Cree want to separate from Quebec if Quebec does indeed separate from Canada -- my conflict comes from my not liking it and I can’t separate the part of me that can see the perils of larger countries fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces in this era of global corporatism from the part of me that is a member of the dominant group so I don’t know whether my feelings are simply logically concerned or jingoistic. In the end, though, it is not my decision and that is good and right -- I will never approve of violence to keep a people within national borders if they have no desire to remain.

    I don’t think I’ve expressed myself very well here -- it’s a bit rambling and I apologise. I do hope you continue writing articles here -- especially about Ireland and it’s history and struggles

    • Khirad says:

      I forgot where I got this, but Chomsky had a great observation, if I may paraphrase.

      He was doing radio interviews. One with English radio, and the other with Irish. He was trying to explain something about the effects of imperialism on so-and-so, and it took something like 14-20 minutes to explain it to the English. When he got to it in Ireland, they looked annoyed, and said, no, we get it, move on.

      Such is the diametric perspectives of those whom have cracked the whip for hundreds of years, and those whom have been under its yoke for hundreds of years.

      Now, since it was brought up… I’ve been sympathetic to Scottish Nationalism ever since I jumped into my roots in High School, so here’s my (very brief and incomplete) case for Scotland. I sometimes hear the poor comparisons that they should just “get over it” like the South. Well, the Confederacy was not a country of its OWN for a THOUSAND YEARS before being sold out by its nobles, and had its own languages (Gaelic and Scots), etc. One could argue the South had its own culture, so, I’ll let that one comparison slide.

      I wonder how Caru would feel if it were proposed that Ireland should have just “gotten over it” during the Pale, etc? Not to say I’d compare Scotland’s subjugation with Ireland’s. I can recount litanies of injustices done upon the Scots, but in the end, Scots went from the abused themselves, to collaborators in Ireland’s subjugation, just as the Welsh had against Scotland before. The Communist anti-war (and also WWI neutrality advocate on similar grounds as de Valera) noted these ironies in The Irish Tragedy: Scotland’s Disgrace..

      But oh, there’s still grievances against England, oh yes… not against the English people, but Westminster. For the very lack of such perspective that would make Scotland akin to the sore losers of the Confederacy, or would simply pat it on the head and ask it to stop acting up and making a fuss. Well, that infuriates me — that condescension. The very interchangeability of ‘English’ with ‘British’ irks me to no end, as well. Maybe Scots and we of Scottish extraction (which I’m sure you’ve gathered by now about me), want independence if for no other reason than a fear of being subsumed into English identity in another few hundred years.

      Lemme take as another hypothetical: Poland has been conquered by Prussia. It stands that way. “Too bad, get over it?” Are there flaws with that comparison, yes, but it’s meant to be illustrative. Of the natural right of a peoples to their own self-determination.

      …By the way, you don’t even need to get me hammered. No, this song only takes 2-3 beers and I start with the waterworks like a wee baby. --I’m not kidding. I just did it Friday, with the news of the SNP win still fresh.

      • Caru says:

        That was a really good post, Khirad. You’ve kinda hit the nail on the head with regards to my views.

        I quite like British people(English, Welsh and Scottish), but Westminster could be swallowed up by the earth and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

        Also, I want to ask you about the SNP, since I don’t know much about them:

        I assume that they’re rather popular. Is this just because of their nationalism or is it a combination of things?

        • Khirad says:

          People are SNP for different reasons, but Independence is their founding plank. This go around it was partly the state of the LibDems and Labour which helped cushion their unprecedented gains. That being said, everyone voting for them would know they’ve long pushed referendums for Scottish Independence (or as it’s referred to by some press south of the border, ‘secession’ -- forgetting it’s a Union of Kingdoms, perhaps).

          But there appears to be a pattern, too, if I can be that hopeful. After devolution (which the SNP pushed), the Scottish parliament elected 35 SMPs, after only Scottish Labour. In 2003, this fell to 27. But in 2007, this went to 47 and they formed a minority government. Now they have 69 and were able to form a majority government all on their own. The worst they’ve placed as a party since devolution in Holyrood (the Scottish Parliament) is second, behind Labour.

          Now, general elections are a bit different and they still don’t fare nearly as well sending MPs to Westminster. So, in this regard, I think people see the SNP as a regional party--though they still show reasonably well in percentages of votes gotten and it’s not as if they’re a non-actor. They can still be competitive in many Scottish Westminster constituencies. But in these people are probably voting more against the Tories, and so make a calculated Labour or LibDem vote.

          Still, it’s nowhere as universal as Irish Republicanism (and as a side note, there’s different camps in the SNP on outright republicanism, as well). I can’t say how many Scots are still Unionist, but it’s probably a soft majority--with a middle ground that could be convinced, ’cause even a staunch Unionist will say they’re Scottish first, British second, and certainly not English!

          So they play to nationalism, but it’s not a chauvinistic type. And they’re careful not to be solely ethnic in their appeal. The story of Scotland is also about immigrants, whether Irish, Ukrainian, or South Asian, etc. Nevertheless, they have been accused of being Anglophobes by Scottish Labour supporters like Billy Connolly, and maybe sometimes it can seem that way.

          But they’re also, one could argue, a little to the left of Labour, and Scotland is a left-of-centre nation where the Tories (or “English National Party”) only really plays a minimal role on the Borders. I think their economic and social policies, which focus on “Scotland First” also appeal to voters, even if some are still anxious on the Independence question. So, that too, is nationalism, in its lesser sense.

          For a long time in Scotland there was a self-loathing. An inferiority complex. One can see it even in movies such as Trainspotting. It may seem odd, but a new confidence and optimism was the result of the success of Braveheart. As trivial and ridiculous as this all sounds, I think it plays a part into the SNP’s new successes, though they’ve been around since the time of nationalists like Hugh MacDiarmid.

          To bring this rambling to some sort of conclusion, it is a combination of things, but nationalism undergirds it all.

          In any case, here was a spot they ran in 2010. You be the judge.

    • KQuark says:

      I thought his speech was pretty feckless. I think if you have to come up with two hypothetical invasions it’s a pretty weak argument.

      • Khirad says:

        Really? I thought it was definitely ‘oh, snap’ worthy.

        If England wanted them to join in, how about this? Cede Northern Ireland first.

        I thought it was a brilliantly crafted hypothetical. Those in Empires tend to not be quite as capable of placing themselves in other shoes without them, and after Churchill’s comments, it was the PERFECT rejoinder in its symmetry.

      • Caru says:

        It was a pretty strong argument, KQ. It flipped the British position in on itself and showed just how hypocritical it was.

        • kesmarn says:

          And if De Valera had really wanted to go with a punchy, inflammatory, 21st century American form of argument, he could have always delivered the brief sound bite speech:

          “What do you think, Mr. Churchill, that we could possibly have had to fear from Germany after having dealt with England?”

    • kesmarn says:

      Caru, my apologies that it has taken me this long to get to reading this most interesting article.

      de Valera made a stunning speech there. I mean — really — people just do not speak that way any more, and I wonder if a modern audience would even be able to comprehend it.

      Your article piqued my curiosity so I set about learning a bit more about de Valera. I learned than in 1916 he was in prison with other Irish rebels. 12 were executed and de Valera was next in line. Then the British government changed its policies on execution. He was that close to being a dead man in his youth!

      Woof, I share your feelings of ambivalence about larger countries being fractured into tinier and tinier ones. I think the US Civil War was fought partly about that idea too — besides the main issue of slavery. I think, to Lincoln, the idea of the South becoming a separate nation was just so “not on” that he was willing to draw blood over it. Was that attitude — slavery aside-- correct? I wonder.

      Ireland has certainly been through some awful stuff. I recall reading that during the great Potato Famine there were “righteous” types in England who resisted the idea of sending aid to Ireland on the grounds that “doing too much for people causes them to become weak.”

      Sounds awfully familiar in present day America, doesn’t it?

      • Caru says:

        Thanks for reading and a further thanks for reading into this more!

        De Valera probably wasn’t going to be executed anyway because he was born in America.

        Small world, isn’t it. :)

        • kesmarn says:

          I didn’t know he was born in America, Caru. Thanks for that bit of info.

          This article has really made me want to learn more about de Valera — a very interesting character.

    • Caru says:

      Thanks for reading (and listening), MW!

      I haven’t read that book that you mention. I guess that’s another one on the list. :)

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