A very serious post to start the week. At a U.K. family get-together over the weekend, I witnessed (yet again) an ugly Irish chauvinism and excuse-making for Ireland’s “neutrality” during the Second World War. It had come up amidst chatter in “taking sides” during Saturday’s Rugby World Cup match between Wales and England, which was playing on the TV in the background.
Rooting for Wales, the London-born person of Irish descent declared snidely, “We’ve always fought the English.” That is the core position that underscores everything. If that was all, I could have lived with it.
It wasn’t. What followed was a descent into a Celtic supremacist blathering that drifted into bordering on pro-Nazi – in terms of Irish residents in England having been drafted to fight the Nazis when they were Irish not British…. and the British had been horrible to the Irish over the centuries (like no one knows that?), but the Germans, well….
Wait. What? That dribbled out of an extremely “nice” person in most other ways in life, you understand.
As an American (and of part Irish ancestry myself, and possessing a “soft spot” for the country and its people), I could have jumped through my skin. That wasn’t the first time I have heard that from certain Irish. I also know not everyone in the room of Irish descent agreed either, but no one disputed the opinions.
At one point, as the ramblings went on, I thought to myself that this is indeed ironically exactly how fascism takes hold. It’s always led by a loudmouth justifying their own bigotries. Meanwhile dissenters, perhaps intimidated, sit fearful of speaking up and possibly creating “more trouble” in questioning what’s being said.
I thought of my late great-uncles as well, two of whom were in the U.S. army in Europe during the Second World War. They were men who had fought an enemy that was perhaps not technically “theirs” either, but who was clearly an enemy of civilization…. and this person ten feet away is now declaring arrogantly and smugly in my presence that the Nazis had not done anything to the Irish to justify Irish enmity. I felt dirty, even dishonorable, in not saying anything in response.
Silently, I thought: “Okay, the U.S. you say you so admire entered the war in 1941. Forget the accursed British. Ireland could have declared war on the Germans in 1942 or 1943 and contributed a few thousand soldiers and attached them to a U.S. corps on, say, D-Day – alongside Canadians, Free French and even Poles. Ireland would then have properly defined itself as a free and independent country, and under Ireland’s national flag joined in the defining global moral moment of the 20th century. Even Brazil had an expeditionary force fighting in Italy – and magnificently, too. But no, Ireland as a state sat it out, so shut the hell up with your ignorant ‘British war’
sh-t stuff and just hope all the rest of us out here forget….”
As a novelist, you also “love” any sources of new material. Many years ago I had heard a Frenchwoman disparage Ireland’s neutrality in a way I’d never considered before. I expanded on it and put it into “Béatrice’s” mouth in Frontiers:
In recent days, though, I had also been wondering about some of what I have also written in the upcoming Distances about that general subject. I know full well other Irish don’t hold such nasty, parochial views. The country has undergone its own World War II “soul-searching” in recent years:
So I’d thought, should I tone it down a little perhaps?
No. Not after that idiocy I had heard spouted (yet again) the other night. If I couldn’t speak up because I would have created a scene, and that attitude is still bouncing around out there, I will at least “speak up” on my pages.
Have a good Monday.