Dev’s Ireland dodges a bullet
Amid the perpetual turmoil of Brexit, a historic occasion passed by almost unnoticed in the Irish public square. The Emergency Powers Act passed through the Oireachtas on the 3rd of September 1939 de facto commenced Irish neutrality, as German tanks were blitzkrieging through Poland and British evacuees were dispatched to the countryside.
At the time enrapturing members of the Anglo-America leadership caste both sides of the Atlantic, who in the words of Winston Churchill came close to invading Ireland, it was the greatest act of Irish geopolitical assertion in the 20th century. While battering Anglo-Irish relations and relegating Ireland to a semi-pariah state post-1945, Ireland avoided some of the negative consequences of the war as well as post-war social engineering.
Following the remarkably swift return of Treaty ports and burying of the hatchet with Britain over the Economic War, Ireland had a clear path in 1939 to maintain at least nominal neutrality at the commencement of hostilities.
While to a certain extent Irish neutrality was phoney, considering tacit collaboration with the Allies as well as the sheer scale of Irish involvement in the British army, the twenty-six county state avoided formal involvement in the conflict. Despite dubious promises made by Churchill regarding unification during the darkest days of the Battle of Britain the country stuck to the path of neutrality for the six years of the war.
Materially and politically there was nothing to be gained from joining the Allied war effort. The only use we could have been would have been as an over glorified Allied aircraft carrier flooding the country with foreign troops and making our vulnerable, undefended cities liable to aerial bombardment in the process.
A few years ago prior to Brexit the more Anglophile elements in Irish life would have aired overt disgust at the 26 county state refusing to participate in the conflict on this anniversary. However as Anglo-Irish relations sour in the face of Brexit and a sub-Churchillian British Prime Minister, this faction of Irish life has quietened down.
A forgotten chapter in The Emergency period was the heroic actions of the Irish Merchant Navy tasked with the duty of protecting supplies, At a mortality rate of one in five for its seamen, the sacrifices made by these men safeguarded vital supplies to the country throughout the war. Their work is commemorated by the “Seaman’s Memorial” along Dublin’s quayside.
A vocal supporter for Ireland’s participation in the war was TD for Monaghan James Dillon, who regardless of Ireland’s war readiness or political interests desired Free State involvement in the war. One can imagine that reading this there are many contemporary James Dillons mournful of Ireland’s neutrality, as perhaps being a shameful moment of fascist appeasement born out of Anglophobic distaste. The simple fact of the matter is that by default Dillon and those of the same opinion were happy to risk Irish lives and sovereignty for the sake of bad geopolitical logic and the appeasement of Britain and America.
A timeline whereby Ireland joined the war (willingly or not) is one of military occupation as well as post-war reconstruction under the auspices of the Anglo-American order. The gains made post-1922, however fickle, would have been submerged as Ireland became a mere military garrison for the war effort. The dividends of our actions would not be a seat at the table for the post-war liberal order as proponents say, but bombed out cities and body bags of young Irishmen.
De Valera’s wartime actions are often summarised in two speeches made during The Emergency, “The Ireland that we dreamed of” speech of 1943 and his response to Churchill’s derision of Irish neutrality. While scoffed at today, De Valera’s 1943 articulation of an agrarian Ireland was simply the zenith of the Gaelic Revival’s ideal at a time when industrial society was tearing itself apart. His VE-day response to Churchill remains however the most dignified speech given by an Irish Taoiseach now or ever to a blatant threat by a foreign would be aggressor.
Like most of the Irish 20th century experience the Emergency was complex and rife with its own hypocrisies but was a noble time for Irish statecraft in which De Valera lived up the Machiavellian ideal of protecting his state and his people.
Britain defeat in victory
Walking through modern European societies and cityscapes, you begin to grasp the scale of the physical damage, as well as subsequent social engineering done to participant nations by the war. Ireland, through its neutrality, dodged this bullet and for that De Valera must engender the respect of any Irishman despite prior misdeeds.
For Britain, despite the Blitz era comradery it was relegated to position of a junior Atlantic partner as its Empire was decommissioned and welfare state enacted, remaking British society in the image of Fabian intellectuals.
The Britain of hate speech laws and an over bloated dysgenic welfare state emerged as a direct by-product of the war. Britain was certainly wealthier than Ireland for the post-war period, but morally and geopolitically bankrupt and with the social engineers gradually undermining her social fabric. The faith of Eastern European nations was to languish under the Stalinist yoke for the best part of fifty years, as Western Europe was integrated to an equal extent into the American sphere.
Ireland was something of an exception, with the ability to remain non-aligned, at least on paper, for some decades after 1945. We were able to pursue our own distinct path of state building separate to the liberal order until the effective collapse of the protectionist regime in the late 1950s.
In avoiding a rather aimless war contrary to Irish interests, we managed to buy our society some time to defend ourselves against the changes overturning Christian morality, particularly post-1968. The creation of an omnipotent welfare state, sexual revolution, relegation of the family as a building block of life, and most recently mass immigration came out of the post-1945 world dispensation.
De Valera’s half formed clerical state can be seen in retrospect as a sincere attempt to buttress Ireland against these negative changes, despite the fact it is long since vanquished and Ireland is embedded in this liberal order. For that alone the Long Fellow of Irish politics is owed our respect.
80 years ago Irish diplomatic independence was safeguarded by a mixture of De Valera’s fortitude against a bellicose Churchill, and by pure circumstance that didn’t put the Allies in a situation where they were forced to annex the entire island under Plan W.
Today, lizard tongued charlatans from an array of neoconservative linked think tanks wish us to forsake our legacy of neutrality in favour of NATO membership or a role in a common EU Defence policy. Their arguments are as fickle in 2019 as they were in 1939, with Ireland’s interest best served by herself and not some interventionist liberal order.
As someone whose Irish ancestors left long before WWII, but with a passion to learn about them and their culture, county and country, I read this story with great interest. While I agree that participation in the policeman-to-the-world neoconservative movement is to be avoided, I do not see a modern benefit. As you note, in some ways, Ireland today seems even more a part of the European modernist, globalist, progressivist, elite-led culture than even England.
I would love to be wrong on this and welcome correction, but I do not think that you convincingly spelled out the present benefits of this past policy.