|Éamon de Valera inspecting his neutral troops|
How It’s New York: There’s a Jirish component here, which is very New York. Éamon De Valera, who infamously signed Hitler’s condolence book, was born in New York City.
How It’s Irish: Ireland was officially neutral during WWII, but that didn’t stop some men from crossing the border to fight with the Allies.
Ireland and History are closely paired. The post-Colonial movement in Ireland means ownership of history’s significance. Some less well known chapters of Irish history are coming to light: WWI and the Irish fascinate the students in Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (read Michelle Woods‘ review here). WWII is more recent, and therefore more contentious– which makes this pardon particularly significant.
Thanks to Mick Moloney for bringing the Irish Times article to my attention.
A pardon appears to be coming for thousands of Irish soldiers who crossed the border to fight with the Allies during the Second World War. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted on Monday to back the campaign for pardons, unanimously.
Minister of Defence Alan Shatter calls the soldiers’ dishonorable discharges “untenable.” 4,983 people (about 1/8 of the Irish army) deserted from the Defence Forces to join the Allies, according to the Times, but were barred from State employment when they returned.
A BBC radio documentary by John Waite demonstrates some of what happened to them. Irish Senator Mary Ann O’Brien (who recently visited NYC and won me over to her chocolates) is one of the politicians who have pushed for the pardon of soldiers who were treated as deserters and blacklisted.
Waite told the BBC:
They were put on this blacklist that you mentioned. It was, in fact, a book with all their names and addresses. It was handed around to all town halls, all those public buildings, where if they went for jobs, the people could look up their names and if they were on the list, they weren’t to be given a job, so they could get no work. They could get no pensions, they could get unemployment payment, they could get no widows benefits if their loved one had been killed in the war, their children were often taken into care into institutions which were quite wicked in themselves, state-run and church-run institutions where sexual and physical abuse was wright. They were punished beyond all measure for what, as you say in America and as we would think here in Britain, they ought to have been held as heroes.
Veteran John Stout, who fought at the Battle of the Budge, says in the documentary:
We fought for our nations and we liberated the camps. There were people being slaughtered. I would never regret it. I would do it again all over again.
Back in 2005, Mr. Shatter wrote an editorial for the Independent saying that Ireland must apologize for De Valera’s actions. Kevin Myers wrote a fascinating piece in the Independent today that defends Irish neutrality– up until 1945, when “Dublin becoming the only capital to erect a statue to a Nazi collaborator (Sean Russel).” Ireland provided shelter to Nazi war criminals, while closing the door to Jewish refugees.
Joseph Quinn, a doctoral candidate at Trinity College, wrote a strong editorial in the Irish Times on January 14, urging the pardon of the Irish deserters who fought with the allies,
citing the book Spitting on a Soldier’s Grave, by Robert Widders.
The Irish Times reports that, at the opening of The Shoah in Europe exhibition at the Department of Justice, Mr. Shatter pointed out the refusal of visa requests from German Jews during the 30s and afterwards, calling Irish neutrality:
“a principle of moral bankruptcy….At a time when neutrality should have ceased to be an issue the government . . . utterly lost its moral compass,” said Mr Shatter.
His speech can be read in full here. The exhibition takes place at The Atrium, Department of Justice and Equality, 51 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, through 10 February.
What do you think? Was neutrality justified?