From Irish Political Review: March 2007
Cathal O'Shannon At War
Part Two of a comment on Hidden History on Nazis in Ireland
Cathal O'Shannon's sensationalist exposé of Irish collaboration with Nazism (RTE Hidden History, 16.1.07) begins its narrative with the statement: "On the 1st of September 1939 the 2nd World War began when Germany invaded Poland".
But a German/Polish War could not possibly constitute a World War. The combined weight of the two as a component of the world in 1939 fell far short of the critical mass necessary to cause their own conflict to be in effect a world conflict.
Britain was the only state with the ramifications throughout the world necessary to bring about a World War. All the world wars of modern times have been brought about by Britain—the Seven Years' War in the mid-18th century, the 1793-1815 war against France, and the two wars against Germany. Britain fights its European wars as World Wars because its purpose always lies beyond Europe.
An accurate statement would be: Britain availed of the German attack on Poland to begin the 2nd World War. (And it did so without intervening, in support of Poland, in the German-Polish War.)
O'Shannon's account of the end of the World War was presented in the form of a statement by an Australian academic, Dan Leach:
"The situation at the end of World War 2, between the West and the Soviet Union was very fraught. The Western Allies were concerned that the Soviet Army had been so successful on the battlefield, and were certainly the largest Army in Europe at the time, that it could quite possibly overrun all of Western Europe and not stop at Berlin. At that stage both the Western Allies and the Soviet Union realised that in all likelihood they could easily come to blows."
And then, said, O'Shannon,
"Ireland, like most Western European countries, didn't see Nazism as the enemy, but Communism".
This is a long way from the German-Polish War, and it is inexplicable
in terms of O'Shannon's narrative.
Russia, like Ireland (and America), was neutral in the World War declared by Britain on 4th September 1939, a few days after the outbreak of the German-Polish War. But in 1945 Russia had been "so successful" in the World War, as an ally of Britain, that it had become a danger to Britain. And, at that juncture, with Nazism defeated, "Ireland didn't see Nazism as the enemy, but Communism". And the tone of the programme suggested that this was an unreasonable view of the situation.
How did it come about that Russia was "so successful on the battlefield" in this World War launched by Britain—a war in which Russia sought to be neutral—that in the moment of victory it was the pre-eminent threat to British interests? The short answer is: because Britain left the battlefield in June 1940, but kept Europe on a war footing by use of its Navy and Air Force, and manipulated European instability with a view to bringing about a German-Russian War.
It succeeded in this object, and then left Russia to do the fighting. When America was attacked and brought into the war it pressed Britain to return to the battlefield by opening a Second Front against Germany. Britain resisted this pressure in 1942 and 1943, but agreed in 1944 because by then it was evident that Germany and the Soviet Union were not engaged in a war of mutual destruction, but that the Communists were going to win. If the Second Front was not opened in 1944, 1945 might will see the Red Army at Calais.
England began a war in 1939 which it never for a moment had the intention of fighting with its own resources—as by way of exception it had done to a considerable extent in 1914-18. The decision to make war was effectively taken in March 1939, with the military encirclement of Germany, but preparations for war were ludicrous, and gave Hitler to understand that he could deal with Poland on its own. He did so, with Poland's Great Power military allies looking on.
Britain and France declared war on Germany but did not fight it in a way that was of any use to Poland. Britain intended that the French should bear the brunt of the fighting. But the French, whose realistic policy of European settlement had been sabotaged by Britain in 1919, had neither the will nor the means to fight after Britain left the battlefield in June 1940. That was when the necessity of World War presented itself in dead earnest.
There were only two possible bodies of cannonfodder in the world that were sufficient for the task after Germany had been brought to a position of dominance in Central and Western Europe: America and Russia. America was not going to be drawn into a war to save the British Empire and I doubt that in any case it could have locked horns with Germany in Europe after June 1940. So that left Russia.
Britain succeeded in bringing about the German/Russian War : but the purpose for which it had itself declared war was destroyed by that success. The Soviet Union was an ally of absolute desperation. It was Britain's fundamental enemy in the world, and was therefore a possible ally only when Britain was in a state verging on collapse—an ally which would revert to being an enemy in the moment of victory.
Britain has lived in Churchillian mythology ever since June 1940, when the dominant world position gained in 1918 gave way. But from first to last Churchill regarded Bolshevik Russia as the fundamental enemy. He was disgusted that bungled foreign policy by the Empire had made the Fascist ally against Bolshevism into an enemy. The war against Germany was repeatedly described by him as the unnecessary war. A war that got in the way of the necessary war. In 1920 he described the British position in the world quite accurately:
"The British nation is now in the very forefront of mankind. Never was its power so great, its name so honoured, its rivals so few. The fearful sacrifices of the war, the stupendous victory with which it closed, not only in the clash of arms but in the triumph of institutions and ideals, have opened to us several generations of august responsibility" (30 May 1920).
But then came the Tory back-bench revolt of 1922, that deprived him of power, began the era of "the second eleven", and led to the absurdity of the Anti-Fascist War which brought the fundamental enemy to dominance in central Europe. (It is all there is his memoirs, though it plays little part in the Churchill mythology, which is mere escapist fantasy.)
Poland, urged on by the British offer of military alliance, refused to negotiate the transfer to Germany of the German city of Danzig which Poland had proved entirely unable to govern. Germany invaded Poland and the Poles were left to fight alone. Five years later German power was facing destruction and Poland was being liberated. And a Polish patriot in Warsaw wrote a poem of welcome to the liberating Army, which had arrived at the far side of the river:
"We are waiting for you, you red pest,
To deliver us from the black death:
A salvation to be welcomed with loathing…
We are waiting for you, power of the masses,
Dehumanised under the fist of your rulers.
We are waiting for you to crush us underfoot…
Do you know, hated redeemer,
The kind of death we wish on you,
And how we wring our hands in despair
Asking your help, you slimy slaughterers…"
Russia took half of Poland for itself (which it had grounds for doing), gave it a bit of Germany in exchange, and incorporated the new Poland into the sphere of interest which it gained by defeating Germany.
In 1939 the Poles had refused either to negotiate with Germany over Danzig, or to form an alliance with Russia against Germany, either of which could have secured its position. Britain, though not responsible for Poland's irrational conduct, encouraged it with its military guarantee, and with its own refusal to make an agreement with Russia. Then in 1944-5 it had to pretend that its pledge to Poland was redeemed by the Soviet occupation.
If Britain had remained a free agent in the course of this catastrophic war that it started but was unable to finish, it would have tried to retrieve the situation by nuclear bombing Russia—Or Churchill would have done so if he had remained in office and had the bomb. But it was not a free agent. It was entirely dependent on America. Churchill could only launch an ideological war on the powerful ally which had saved him. And, before America was ready to act according to his wishes, Stalin had made The Bomb for himself—so there could only be Cold War, with limited hot war fought by proxy on the fringes.
O'Shannon's tone suggested that it was self-evidently unreasonable for Ireland to have taken Nazism to be over and done with and to have gone along with the general Western Cold War preoccupation with the powerful position gained by Communism through having defeated Nazism.
He played some extracts from a televised interview with Albert Folens twenty years ago, but apparently never broadcast, and interspersed these extracts with comments by himself and by Senan Moloney, who had conducted the interview. (Folens had been a Flemish nationalist, who co-operated with the German occupation of Holland. He came to Ireland after the War and became a very successful book publisher—though I had never heard of him until this programme):
"Albert Folens had a plausible story made out, a script to which he attempted to stick as we went through what he did during the War, and as he was confronted with various things, he had a line of fall-back positions in relation to what he actually did. He denied that he was in the Waffen SS. He conceded that he was a mere foot-soldier in the Eastern Front, and had been invalided out. And then he claimed that he had lived quietly for the rest of the War."
Then there was a clip from the interview:
Folens: "So the Flemish Legion was formed on the understanding that we would have our own Flemish Legion, our own insignia, and everything would be independent."
Moloney: "And you're saying they were set up by the Waffen SS."
Folens: "And gradually they started to incorporate us in the Waffen SS."
"It later descended into a form of a rant. He made a point that from his outlook, that what had the Allies gained by waging and winning the 2nd World War. He made the claim that in fact they'd sewn the seeds of destruction, because they had given away too much territory to the Red Army.
Folens: "I still think that the Americans are stupid and criminal to have asked for a complete surrender. But, no, to please Stalin they wanted a complete surrender and a complete vacuum in Middle Europe so that the Hungarians and Czechs and so on, and so on, are now under Russian domination. And that's the stupidity of Roosevelt. A sick man with a sick mind and ignorant."
Even without making allowance for the fact that Folens was not fluent in English, I do not see how this can be described as a rant.
Perhaps "singleminded", rather than "stupid" was the word to describe Roosevelt. He was singlemindedly dedicated to the expansion of the American sphere of interest in the world. His concerns were not European. He was intent on getting rid of the British Empire and making it an American market. To achieve his own purpose he seemed willing to divide the world with Stalin. He had little patience with Churchill's covert anti-Stalinism. And he died before he needed to deal with the European outcome of this attitude.
The opinion that the unconditional surrender policy was ill-conceived from a European viewpoint is one I have seen expressed by people who could not be accused of being pro-German. I have seen it defended as being necessary to ensure that Stalin did not make a separate peace. By means of it Stalin committed the West to war on Germany until his army met theirs.
Europe had nothing to say in the matter. It had no presence within the counsels that were determining what should happen in the world, and it still hasn't. British balance-of-power strategy had in the end reduced Europe to a negligible quantity in the affairs of the world. And Britain itself was only hanging on.
For forty years after the victory of the Anti-Fascist Alliance, the antagonism between the Allies was such that the Western Allies justified an extensive range of political and military atrocities as being necessary to curb the influence of the Communist state which had defeated Nazism. Malaya had to be brutalised because it had played a part in the Anti-Fascist War along with the colonial power but not as its instrument. The independent anti-Fascist movement in the Malayan colony was judged to be Communist in orientation and therefore it had to be destroyed. And the Government of Guatemala had to be overthrown because it showed its Communist proclivities by a reform in the interest of its national capitalism, which interfered with the free international activity of US capitalism. The Cold War justified everything that was done in the cause of stopping the spread of Communism, and everything done in its name was held to be democratic in a larger sense, even though in a particular case it might involve the overthrow of a democratic Government, as in Guatemala.
Now I never came across a case where anything like this was done before 1939 for the purpose of curbing Fascism.
Fascism had been the accidental enemy and Communism the accidental ally—a deviation caused by the foreign policy bungling of the British Empire after it achieved world dominance in 1918.
This course of events is reflected in a series of about a dozen novels of contemporary history published during the War and the post-War years by Upton Sinclair, who was a world-famous American socialist writer. Shortly before 1939 he had a public dispute with American Communist, Eugene Lyons, who turned against Communism and began to depict Russia as the great source of evil in the world. Sinclair dismissed this as the hysteria of a Utopian idealist discovering that ideals get knocked about when they succeed in grappling with realities. But his series of novels reflected the prevailing liberal opinion of the West year by year during and after the War, and the final novel, published in the early 1950s, is thoroughly McCarthyite.
Hollywood produced a major feature film called Mission To Moscow in 1943 as a contribution to the war effort. Its subject is the Moscow Trials of 1937. It depicts the exposure of Bukharin and his associates as a Nazi Fifth Column. The message of the film is that Stalin saved the world from barbarism by rooting out the Fifth Columnists who had subverted the defences of other states. A very few years later Hollywood began its vast output of McCarthyite films about Communist infiltration and brainwashing.
The West—effectively Britain—brought about the historically absurd situation in which it had to turn to Communism to save it from Fascism, which had saved it from Communism, and then get back to its starting point of presenting Communism as the deadly enemy of civilisation.
O'Shannon suggests that, after 1945, after Nazism had been overthrown by Bolshevism, Western Europe should have continued to treat Nazism as the enemy, and should have punished, or at least ostracised, everybody who had played a part in it. If that had been done, what would Western Europe have been?
Brigitte Mohnhaupt, a survivor of the Baader-Meinhoff group, is about to be paroled from prison in Germany.
Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhoff and their colleagues were young West Germans, largely of Protestant middle class background, who came to realise in the 1960s that they were living in a state and a society that were largely staffed at crucial points by personnel from the Nazi regime.
John Bowman occupies a curious position in the Irish state. It would be wrong to describe him as the Irish Goebbels—if only because Goebbels has been reduced to a mere demon—but within a narrower sphere, in much less extreme circumstances, he has conducted a kind of broadcasting gleichschaltung. And one of his themes is the crucial importance of middle management in the life of the state. He says that Britain and America understood this in handling Germany in 1945, but forgot it in Iraq in 2003, hence the different outcomes.
In fact, the Western Allies understood little about either Germany or statecraft in 1945. (Hans Habe, a Hungarian Jew, with extensive experience of German life, who was a kind of press Commissar with Eisenhower's Occupation Force in 1945, suggests that Allied understanding was infantile.) What saved the Germans from the fate of Iraq at the hands of their conquerors was the looming presence of Bolshevik power. It was not the case that principled understanding was applied, but that principle was cast aside in the service of Cold War expediency. The Germans of the Western Occupation Zones had to be won as allies against Bolshevism, therefore the de-Nazification programme was aborted.
Insofar as the 'middle management' principle was applied with understanding, it was Adenauer. And, by doing it, he ensured extensive continuity at that level between the Third Reich and the Federal Republic.
Around 1960 the Democratic Republic (East Germany) published extensive exposés of the Nazi presence in the apparatus of Adenauer's Republic. I did not disbelieve them. I did not think that the Baader-Meinhoffs were at war with phantoms. What I concluded was that Adenauer was one of the outstanding democratic statesmen of the 20th century, who understood that Justice is a thing to be pursued with moderation and discretion in matters of statecraft in times of political upheaval.
It appears that O'Shannon brooded for half a century over slights that he suffered in Dublin because of wearing a British military uniform, and that he is now getting his own back. And I do not deny that it is highly moral for him to do so as somebody who served the British state. Supporting the winner has to be moral—else where would morality be? The British state treasures old animosities, keeps them simmering, because one never knows when they mightn't be useful again. There is endless pursuit of Justice for the victims of the vanquished—and no Justice at all for the victims of the victors. But I do not see why the Irish state, which was not amongst those victors, should play it that way.
A handful of European nationalists, at odds with the states that held them, co-operated with the Germans for their own purposes. A handful of them came to Ireland, where they seem to have made very useful contributions to Irish economic life.
If one wants to find very large numbers of actual Nazis in public life after 1945, the place to find them is in the Federal German Republic, the vanguard of the free world— until the Soviet collapse.
Adenauer conducted a functional German state from the materials available, and those materials were Nazi in great part. Nazism was almost as integral a development of German society (out of the chaos induced by Versailles arrangements_ as Imperialism was of British society (in pursuit of world dominance) after about 1880. It would have been as difficult to construct a German state without Nazis after 1945, as it would have been to construct a British state without Imperialists if Britain had been defeated in 1918.
Adenauer, as Mayor of Cologne, had pioneered the variant of Christian Democracy with which he took Western Germany in hand in the late 1940s. He was sacked as Mayor of Cologne in 1933, and in 1945 was untainted by collaboration with Hitler—as, for example, Britain was: which he always bore in mind in his dealings with it. But he recognised that the Nazi state was, for all his rejection of it, a legitimate state for the most part.
In Iraq in 2003 there was no hostile Great Power in the offing to exercise
a restraining influence on the morally self-righteous destructiveness of
USUK. Nor was there any equivalent of Adenauer's movement to take the country
in hand if USUK had been half-sensible. (Eoghan Harris's friend, Chalabi,
was only a confidence trickster.)
Anyhow, there was continuity of Bowman's "middle management" in Germany. Which meant that wherever idealistic young anti-Nazi Germans looked, they saw Nazis in positions of power. And that was the situation that gave rise to the Baader-Meinhoffs.
They were of course denounced as mindless terrorists by right-thinking people who didn't want to know—who didn't want to see what they saw. But what they saw was there.
They had some marginal connection with the Communist Party as far as I recall. The Communist Party was the force that destroyed the Nazi regime And, in the freedom of the Federal Republic, which existed only because of the power of the Red Army, the Communist Party was made illegal, and there was a comprehensive Black List of Communists who were legally excluded from an extensive range of occupations—many of them ex-inmates of Concentration Camps on account of their Resistance work.
In that period, when the Baader-Meinhoffs were being denounced as lunatics, there was at the same time a rich literature, in fiction and pseudo-fact, about Neo-Nazism, and films like The Odessa File and The Boys From Brazil. (One of those films was about the danger posed to the world by the cloning of Hitlers in South America from some fragment of him that had somehow been got hold of, by Martin Bormann no doubt. With this film Nazism was removed altogether from the arena of historical development.)
But Nazism had served the function of creating a German State out of the chaos of the Weimar ultra-democracy, and much of the State was continued into the Federal Republic. So what basis was there fore Neo-Nazism?
The Russian Occupation Zone became the Democratic Republic after the Western Zone was made the Federal Republic. It was governed by the Party which the Nazi movement had saved Germany from in 1933, and which had saved Germany from the Nazi movement in 1945: the Communists. Despite being recognised as a legitimate state by the Federal Republic after the death of Adenauer, the Democratic Republic was treated after unification (and after the collapse of the Soviet State which defeated Nazism) as having been nothing more than a criminal conspiracy. Those who served the regime established by the liberation continue to be punished in unified Germany in various ways, while those who served the Nazi regime are treated as servants of the legitimate German Government, with continuity of pension rights, etc.
When the Cold War of attrition finally led to the collapse of the Soviet Union around 1990, Bolshevism began to be described as the most monstrous criminal conspiracy known to history, and I did not hear a single public voice raised in dissent. European history was thereby rendered senseless.
Chancellor Kohl wanted to subsidise Gorbachov, to make possible a gradual reform of the Soviet regime. His proposal was brushed aside by Thatcher. Instant collapse into market democracy became the only policy, even though the student of Edmund Burke (as Thatcher affected to be) should have known that neither functional democracy nor a functional market are things that could be collapsed into. The collapse of the Soviet Union was soon followed by the collapse of Christian Democracy, which is now only a name. NATO, a counter to the Warsaw Pact, was given a new object after the Warsaw Pact was disbanded. It became an instrument of USUK world domination, and British Socialists who opposed it in the days of the Warsaw Pact are now running it. And hostility to Russia as the centre of the Communist system has been transferred to Russia as a capitalist state which has begun to tend to its national interests, instead of leaving itself open for its resources to pass into American ownership. And world war is now a more practical project than ever in the era of the conflict of social systems. (Stalin was of the opinion around 1950 that world war was unlikely because the system of capitalism, rather than the particular interests of capitalist states, would be at stake in it. But he also thought imperialist war remained a probability, i.e. war to decide which capitalist state should be top dog.)
The surprising thing about press comment on O'Shannon's programme is how critical, even dismissive, some of it has been, e.g. Emmanuel Kehoe (Sunday Business Post, 21 Jan), and T. Ryle Dwyer (Irish Examiner, 13 Jan).
Kim Bielenberg (of the Cork University stable of revisionists, who was part of the pack that tried to howl down factual criticism of Peter Hart's inventions) wrote in ominous terms about "the cead mile failte extended to Skorzeny, a key figure [!!!] in Hitler's tyrannical regime" (Irish Independent. 6 Jan). A reader, R.G. O Domhnaill, replied that—
"Skorzeny was tried as a war criminal, but the only thing the Americans could charge him with was having his men wear American uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge. The trial soon fell apart when it was pointed out that the Americans had also worn German uniforms to infiltrate enemy lines".
And he rejected Bielenberg's assertion that Skorzeny had tortured the would-be Hitler assassins of July 1944. Bielenberg replied that by virtue of being in the SS Skorzeny was a criminal; and that, if he did not torture the conspirators, he helped to round them up, "demonstrating his Nazi zeal by the way he ripped off their badges" (11 Jan).
Regarding Skorzeny, O'Shannon interviewed an English officer who met him after the War and asked him why the Nazis had not made allies of the Ukrainians etc. in 1941. He claims that Skorzeny replied, "Because they are sub-human".
I was at a public meeting in London around 1960 at which the British attempt to return to Egypt in 1956 was debated. An MP said it was necessary to return because, when the English left the previous year, they were seen off by "wogs jeering on the jetty". "Wog" was a normal descriptive term, in ordinary British political discourse, for a large section of humanity for at least a generation after the defeat of Nazism. And it carries much the same meaning as sub-human.
According to the Sunday Times (7 Jan):
"Brian Girvin, a historian, says de Valera was well aware of the extermination of Jews by Nazis during the war but still identified with Hitler's Army" (De Valera Helped Nazi War Criminals by Nicola Tallant).
I don't see how De Valera could have been "well aware", but I don't suppose an extravagant revisionist needs much persuasion that he was. The Allies never made Nazi Jewish policy a war issue. Jan Karski was given the brush-off in London and Washington after he made the dangerous journey from Poland to present evidence of the Extermination Camps, gathered at great risk by the Polish underground (which was anti-Semitic to a considerable extent, but did not support extermination). And I have heard a Hungarian Jew, who became a well-known rabbi in England, say that, when they were rounded up in 1944, they knew nothing of the exterminations. The SS wanted it kept secret, and it had not even got into the Jewish grapevine. And then there was the fact that British propaganda had discredited itself thoroughly within living memory by its 1914-18 atrocity claims, which were later admitted to have been concocted—and even boasted of. So how could anybody who heard a rumour tell if it really was a wolf this time?
As for Dev identifying with Hitler's Army, that is something I never heard of before.
Britain launched a European war with no serious intention of fighting it. That War was lost, as far as could be seen, by the collapse in France in 1940. People began to adjust to the situation of German victory—which is what Britain has always required people to do in the case of its own victories. In the event, Germany was defeated, but not by the states that declared war on it, and the victorious state was less acceptable to many people (who would have welcomed a British victory) than the state which it defeated.
Life is not lived but in the particularity of time and place. And decisions were reasonably taken in Europe after June 1940 on the assumption that the Battle of France had set the political framework of things to come for a considerable period.
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