From Irish Political Review: February 2007
Nazis In Ireland And Other Stories
"When Cathal O'Shannon returned to Ireland after the second World War, he found a country which had little sympathy for Jews yet gave refuge to Nazis, he tells Shane Hegarty" (Our Hideout For The Nazis. Irish Times, 1st Jan.) He had joined the RAF and fought in Burma, and when he came home an unnamed "general in our own army" told him one night at a bar in the Shelbourne Hotel that he was a "traitorous bastard" for joining the British forces. "I had to be stopped from f•••ing belting him". And, "I was actually in physical fights" with others over it.
The item concludes:
"…what I say in this is 'let's admit that we did this'. I'm making excuses for the people that did this because I'd sooner make excuses for them than let them make excuses for themselves, because what they were doing in many ways was inexcusable. They had their reasons. But it was wrong."
Shane Hegarty does not ask him why it was inexcusable for people to be critical of him for serving with the RAF in Burma. Perhaps it is an improper question to ask in the present atmosphere, which is thick with the British glamour of war, and at a moment when the Prime Minister has officially restated a fact which has been obvious ever since 1690—that Britain is a warfighting state.
But there are things I cannot help remembering, and that I assume were well known to the General in the Shelbourne Bar. One of them is that Burma asserted its independence under the auspices of the Japanese assault on the British Empire, when the Japanese Empire proclaimed Asian liberation from the Western Empires.
Japan was defeated a few years later, and was reduced to subordination by the moral influence of the nuclear bombing of its civilian populations. But its effect on Asia was lasting. Britain got back to Burma, but couldn't stay. Its authority had been undermined by developments encouraged by the Japanese. Independence was conceded in 1947, with Churchill protesting that the Burmese leader, Aung San, should be prosecuted for collaboration,or treason, or war crimes, or whatever.
If Cathal O'Shannon was fighting with the RAF in Burma, he must have been fighting against the Burmese independence movement. He was fighting not only in a bad cause, but a hopeless one. Burma was regained, but could not be held.
But in letting go of it, Britain had a parting shot. It assassinated Aung San and his Cabinet.
Responsibility for the assassination was uncertain for half a century. But a few years ago that very good person, Fergal Keane MBE, was shown on British television discovering the archive files which proved British complicity in the affair.
I assumed at the time that the reason for the revelation had to do with British Foreign Office relations with Aung San's daughter, who was the leader of the Burmese opposition. I have seen nothing further about it.
Another of the leaders of the Burmese independence movement in 1942, Ba Maw, wrote in his memoirs that his party:
"…followed the example of the Sinn Fein Party in Ireland. Thus in imitation of Sinn Fein they used the name Dobama (We Burmese for themselves and everything connected with them)… They also called themselves Thakins (masters) in defiance of the colonialists who called themselves by that name when dealing with the Burmese: they read… such Sinn Fein publications as Dan Breen's I Fight For Freedom, Sun Yat Sen's Writings, Fabian Books" (Breakthrough in Burma, Yale 1968).
I have often remarked on the failure of all the historians in Irish Universities to produce a single history of either of Britain's 20th century World Wars. This means that Britain's account of both, and particularly of the second, is in practice accepted as true and adequate. (There was widespread scepticism about the first War, since the formation of the Irish state began as a rebellion against it but, in the absence of that scepticism being consolidated in written history, it is being dispelled and we are on the verge of wearing the Poppy.)
If the British account of the 1939 War is true and adequate, and stands in no need of revision, Ireland does indeed need to flog itself over its failure to take part in that war on behalf of absolute goodness. And we need to explain how it could be that we failed to see the obvious fact that Britain is the earthly agent of Divine Providence, even though it told us that it was as long ago as the time of Cromwell.
But what's the use of sarcasm?
If Irish neutrality had been followed through with a history of the war written in accordance with the sceptical view of British declarations that was at the basis of neutrality, Cathal O'Shannon's activity with the RAF in Burma would not have the appearance of unquestionable innocence.
And there are many other cases, in the very substantial margin of the war, from which the glamour cast by the central conflict between Britain and Germany should be blown away.
Norway was not a designated object of Nazi conquest. It was Britain that breached Norwegian neutrality and caused the German counter.
In 1940, Britain, having lost the battle in France, and looking to spread the war, pressed its assistance on Greece. It was governed by General Metaxas, who had supported the King in 1915 in refusing British appeals to launch an irredentist war on Turkey. Britain then invaded Greece and set up a rival Government under Venizilos, which declared war on Turkey as a British ally. When Greece went to occupy the promised territory in Asia Minor, it ran up against the resurgent Turkish nationalist movement and was defeated, and the Greek populations were driven out of Asia Minor. General Metaxas was still there in 1939, and was in command. He declared neutrality. When Italy went to war with Greece he conducted an effective defence with Greek resources. Churchill pressed him to make an alliance with Britain. He refused on the ground that it was unnecessary, and that acceptance would make it necessary for Hitler to intervene in support of Mussolini as a counter to British forces in Greece. But he died early in 1941. His successors bowed to Churchill's pressing offer of help. And the consequence foreseen by Metaxas came about. And, when Greece became part of the Anglo-German war, its internal life broke down into civil war, which carried on after 1945.
Iraq, invaded and conquered by Britain in 1914-1918, and constituted into a subordinate 'nation-state' through an election rigged by Britain, was given nominal independence in the early 1930s by means of a 'Treaty' which, like the Irish 'Treaty', gave British continuing military rights. The Iraqi Government declared neutrality in 1939. In 1941 Britain asserted its military right to pass an army through the country. Baghdad did not refuse, but asserted a right to monitor the passage of the Army. Churchill would stand for none of that nonsense from those jumped-up creatures of the Empire. He invaded, overthrew the Government and established a puppet regime which lasted until 1958.
His purpose in sending an army though Basra was to invade Iran. (It was at this time that Churchill expressed irritation in Parliament about countries that refused to go by their proper names. Iran and Iraq! Which was Persia and which was Mesopotamia?)
Britain and Russia had shared out Persia/Iran between them prior to 1914. They did so again in 1941.
The 1939-45 war is depicted in British ideology as an integral and coherent affair with a moral purpose. In fact it was neither. It was a thing of bits and pieces, brought about by Britain but not in the main fought by it, and the victorious alliance was so discordant internally that it was found impossible to conclude it with a Peace Treaty in 1945. (I believe there was eventually a Peace Treaty around 1990, but I took little interest in it because by then it was totally irrelevant. All I remember from it is an apology, offered with bad grace and sotto voce, by Czechoslovakia for the ethnic cleansing and large-scale killing of Germans.)
The glamour of the English war mythology is cast over all the bits and pieces, and they are sanctified by it and put beyond question.
If that is how it is to be, let's forget about history. But those of us who remember things from the time they happened—when the Irish public was very well informed about the war, thanks to the Censorship—must be put up with for a little time yet.
De Valera 'Refused To Save Jews' was a Sunday Times headline on 30th November 1997. It is a headline that recurs periodically in Irish papers and the Irish editions of British papers. And O'Shannon now says that, after 1945, Ireland welcomed Nazis but refused Jews.
A couple of hundred Germans passed through Ireland on the way to other places. A larger number of more important Germans went directly into the service of the United States for the purpose of continuing the war against the state that defeated Germany. And an astronomical number of Nazis never left Germany, but took part in the construction of the Federal Republic of Germany and the engineering of its economic miracle.
A handful settled down in Ireland and contributed to the business life of the country. And O'Shannon, who made war in Burma, is now 'exposing' these on RTE in a mode in which factual accuracy seems to be optional.
I notice that Otto Skorzeny is being revealed or exposed. A profound amnesia must have set in after the 1950s, because in the 1950s Skorzeny was positively famous in Ireland.
Another fact I know from memory is that German engineers were valued. A Co-op Creamery where I worked as a labourer in the mid-fifties installed a new boiler system. It was got from Germany, and the fitting was done by an engineer who had worked on the U-Boats. What better qualification could there be?
I cannot remember whether it was possible to commit a war crime by naval action. I know that it was not possible by bombing. The law was that whatever was done by Britain, Russia and the USA was lawful, and Germans who did the same thing could therefore not be prosecuted for war crimes. It was OK for Cheshire VC to go along to demonstrate British support of the extermination of 100,000 Japanese civilians in an instant, so how could the Luftwaffe be prosecuted for the lesser things it did?
It is true that the Germans were prosecuted in the Nuremberg Show Trial for a systematic massacre that everybody concerned knew to be the work of one of the judges, and therefore OK [the Katyn massacre, ed.]. But the bombing record of the Western Allies was so notorious that it was decided the only thing to do with the Luftwaffe was to exonerate it.
In 1939 the bombing of Warsaw was declared to be an outrage. The Polish State had collapsed, the Polish Army was scattered, and Warsaw was surrounded by German forces, and yet the city authorities declared that they would resist occupation by street fighting. After repeated appeals to reason were rejected, the city was bombed.
Compare that to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which could not have surrendered to the American Army, as it was hundreds of miles away. The purpose of the bombing was to precipitate the surrender of the Japanese Government by killing Japanese civilians en masse. After that the indiscriminate bombing of undefended cities had to be treated as lawful by the group of states that gave themselves the pretentious name of The United Nations.
There was a faint echo of that affair on the Pat Kenny Show on television on the day of the bombing of the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre (or the day after) when the masters of the earth were appealing for world sympathy as victims. It seemed that the sentimentality of the occasion got too much for Joe O'Connor, who tried to put it into perspective by mentioning Hiroshima. Katherine Holmquist (an American columnist on the Irish Times) was shocked by the comparison. Hiroshima was a legitimate act of war. This was too much for other members of the panel, including Tim Pat Coogan, and they demurred. Katherine immediately changed her opinion and said of course it was wrong. This was a moral judgment with the weight of a feather, and the discussion moved on.
But she was wrong to say it was wrong. Her Government has never made the slightest concession to the idea that it was wrong. The UN could not possibly find that it was wrong. And the Irish intelligentsia has never produced a history of this good war in which Ireland was neutral, justifying its neutrality by demonstrating what was wrong with it. And coffee table law exerts not the slightest influence on the course of world affairs.
The strange affair of Hubert Butler and Croatia was mentioned by Butler's publisher in a letter to the Irish Times (15.1.07), pointing out that O'Shannon's revelations about Artukovic are old hat. And so they are. Butler, a Protestant gentleman of Kilkenny, who unlike O'Shannon did not go to war for his principles, was invited to the reconstituted Yugoslav state shortly after 1945, when wholesale killings were being carried out by Tito's regime. Butler went over what was done in Croatia following its first declaration of independence from Yugoslavia (or Greater Serbia) in 1941. But, as far as I know, he never wrote a word about the first formation of the Yugoslav state (by Britain in 1919), about the bearing of this on Croat affairs, about the betrayal by Churchill of the Serb nationalism that resisted Germany, or about the reconstituted Yugoslav state within which he made his investigations.
Butler had tunnel vision. What he saw through it was the Catholic Church. What he did in Croatia was collect information about Catholic atrocities. But Croat culture was not merely Catholic. It understood itself to be European and civilised, and saw the Serbs as barbaric and Asiatic. And it did to them what civilised societies tend to do to barbarians. Croat culture is not something I ever found attractive. But that is no good reason to misrepresent it.
Butler wrote an article disparaging Germans who became uneasy about the Nazi regime through experiencing with it and praising those who were absolutely against it before it took power. The hero of the piece was Carl von Ossietsky. But Ossietsky, though interned, lived to recieve a Nobel Prize in 1935, while Fritz Gerlich publisher of a vigorous anti-Nazi paper, Der Gerade Weg (TheStraight Way) was rounded up and shot out of hand on the day the Nazis took power in his locality. And his paper is what one comes across if one looks for uncompromising liberal opposition to Nazism in Germany. But Gerlich was a Catholic, in fact a Protestant who became a Catholic, which did not suit Butler's purpose, while Ossietsky, a Catholic who became Protestant, suited it very well. One became aware that such things were important to Butler
I should admit a problem with genocide, arising from the fact that I grew up amidst the genocidal culture known as the cinema. "We need more men like you to exterminate these savages" is a line I recall from a John Wayne movie, made during the Anti-Fascist War. A few years after the war, Wagner's music caught my ear on the radio and wouldn't let go of it. An intellectual London cousin, visiting the swampland of her ancestors, noticed this and told me that Wagner was bad because he was against the Jews. I had been trying to figure out the rights and wrongs of genocide, and it seemed to me that it was right when a people of lower culture was exterminated. That was the idea I got from Hollywood. So possibly it was with the Jews as with the Indians, or with other Indians in the English films. On the other hand, I was not on the side of what was right, because it was the Indians that I sided with. So, when I saw reference to a book called Beyond Good And Evil, I thought that must be the book for me—but the good bookseller through whom I tried to get it refused the order.
I still can't see what was wrong with my reasoning. Clearly this matter, like so many others, has little to do with reason.
It cropped up a few years ago at a launch of some German translation by Athol Books. A very intellectual German said something very complicated. Grappling with it, I said the tacit approval of certain genocides, along with the extravagant denunciations of others, seemed to suggest that a race distinction was widely applied, from which it followed that the great mistake made by the Nazis was one of race classification, rather than genocide as such: i.e., the Jews were not an inferior race and therefore it should not have been attempted to exterminate them. That was not how I saw it, but it was how I saw it being seen.
A number of people present rejected any comparison of the Nazi genocide with the liberal genocides (America etc.), and the opinion was expressed that the latter had occurred in the course of nature. Which bore out my point, that it depends on who is being exterminated, and by whom.
Both the American and German genocides are history, in that they happened a long time ago. If we cannot treat both as historical genocides, that means we are applying race standards, just as the Nazis did. And if we treat them on a par, I don't see how the German genocide appears more repugnant morally. It was conducted secretly over a period of four or five years in a war situation, and mostly over three years in the obscure hinterland of the greatest war ever fought, the German-Soviet War of 1941-45. And it was conducted on the supposition that Jewish influence had played a leading part in the undermining of European civilisation in the Great War and after—an assumption that Churchill shared with Hitler. He saw Bolshevism as a Jewish conspiracy, and he was an active Zionist for the purpose of clearing the Jews out of Europe.
That element was entirely missing from the American genocides. The Indians played no part in European life. They were exterminated, out of sheer predatory greed, by popular action continued over many generations.
Butler praises Ossietsky as an "absolutist", and makes the extravagant statement that "Effective German resistance collapsed with Ossietsky, for only relativists were left". But his absolutism was not specifically concerned with Nazism, as Gerlich's was. His position was anti-Army. The Weimar democracy was unarmed, though surrounded by armed states, and it made some efforts to arm itself behind the back of its Versailles overlords. It was for exposing this that Ossietsky was imprisoned in the first instance—by the Weimar authorities.
""The ghost of the relativist delusion still haunts us, corrupting history as it once corrupted politics." [Which is certainly the case in the matter of genocide.]
"When it is finally accepted that Hitler was wholly evil and Stalin's most effective ally, Ossietsky and the thousands who died with him will be remembered again. They were the men who would have saved us—had we supported them—not only from Hitler, but from Stalin as well" (Carl von Ossietsky in collection, The Sub Prefect).
Which is a fine piece of rhetorical nonsense. Armies were not going to be got rid of. Utopianism is not a policy. A disarmed Germany amidst armed states in a disturbed Europe would not have ensured peace. Gerlich's absolutism was much better targetted, which is why he only survived for a day, while Ossietsky survived for five years.
And "Hitler… Stalin's most effective ally"! Both Fascism and Bolshevism were different kinds of elemental politics that emerged from the destruction of functional order in Europe by Britain's decision to intervene in European War in 1914, make it a World War, and wage it in the form of total war—called peoples' war. Churchill was not mad when he supported Fascism as the effective defence against Bolshevism, or when he described the war with Nazi Germany as an unnecessary war brought about by the crazy foreign policy of the British Empire after 1922. But, given how Britain used the world power which it won in 1918, the situation it had brought about by June 1940 required a strict relativism of one kind or another: either with Hitler against Stalin, or try to bring about a war between Germany and Russia in order to gain Russia as an ally. The latter was Churchill's policy. It succeeded. But it brought Bolshevism into central Europe. And when Germany was defeated Churchill wanted to nuclear-bomb Russia. But he didn't have a bomb, he lost the election, and Truman wouldn't play.
With regard to the Jews, it is quite true that Ireland did not save them. But I don't see how it could have saved them, given that Britain wouldn't allow it to have an army; or why it was somehow its duty to save them after Britain had placed them in jeopardy.
The state that saved most Jews from Hitler was Bolshevik Russia. It opened its borders to them after the collapse of Poland in 1939. And of course Jews played a prominent part in the conduct of the Bolshevik state—so much so that Churchill saw it as virtually a Jewish state. And, though it saved large numbers of Jews in 1939, used its influence to carry the resolution at the UN in 1947 to establish a Jewish State in Palestine, and armed the Jewish State for consolidation by means of terror and conquest, it suited certain purposes to depict it thereafter as an anti-Semitic state.
During this whole period, the Jews were no longer merely a dispersed people, privileged here and oppressed there. Britain constituted the Zionist Organisation into a kind of state for war purposes in 1917, gave it a seat at the Versailles Conference, helped it to establish hegemony over the dispersed Jewish populations, and gave it a land which was already peopled to be a "safe haven" with consequences that we still live with.
What Britain committed the Jews to in Palestine was of a kind with Hitler's plans for Eastern Europe, was in operation before Hitler took power, and was a factor in the working out of the world situation as determined by Britain in 1919. And Hitler's Jewish policy was not an issue in the World War that Britain started in 1939 (using the German-Polish War as a detonator), but soon lost control of because it was determined not to do its own fighting.
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