No. 15 NAI DFA Washington Embassy File 121
DUBLIN, 28 February 1941
The general line adopted by anti-Irish writers and speakers in America is that we are standing aside from the great fight which is being made by the democratic countries against dictatorship and all its evils. These people chide us for attaching excessive importance to grievances of the remote past. They try to make it appear that our main reason for staying out of the war is based on historic hatred of England. They generally avoid the issue of what would happen if we handed over the ports to Great Britain or otherwise joined in the war against Germany. They pretend to assume that no particular evil for us would follow the surrender of the ports to Great Britain. In fact, the anti-Irish propagandists in America show a particular cleverness in avoiding the real issues for the purpose of drawing facile conclusions likely to depreciate us in the minds of gullible people. They avoid most carefully any reference to the continued occupation by Great Britain of a substantial part of our territory, and most of them avoid any reference to the period between 1916 and 1922. They assume that, if Germany wins the war, Ireland will be taken over and run by the Nazis. This assumption is intended to make their propaganda more effective. It is unfortunately also for us the most difficult point to answer owing to the anti- German atmosphere in America and the child-like belief that England is fighting for exclusively selfless aims. However, the problem has to be faced, and the only way we have discovered of answering without provoking the accusation of pro-Nazism is to say that there is no certainty of a German occupation of this country should we remain neutral and Germany win the war. On the other hand, if we go into the war, there is no doubt whatever about the immediate and extensive destruction of life and property in our country. It is also the duty of the Government to direct its external policy in a major European crisis like the present towards securing the ultimate survival of the nation.
The Government is, therefore, obliged to consider rather the immediate certain consequences for Ireland of entry into the war than the possible or probable effect of that entry in determining the victory of the democratic States. We should be exchanging the present certainty of immunity in neutrality for the certainty of destruction in war. When the Americans refer to the example of the European countries which waited, as the Americans say, too long before joining the Allies, they imagine they are presenting us with a very cogent reason for taking time by the forelock and joining Britain now. But the saner conclusion is surely this:– If the small European countries now occupied by Germany, especially Holland and Belgium, had made a pact with Britain and had gone into the war as her Allies, they would have no chance of regaining their complete freedom in the event of a German victory. As things are, in the eyes of Germany and in those of the world, having maintained their neutrality until it was violated by aggression, they have a right to the restoration of their freedom. I can well imagine those same Americans who are now opposed to us saying ‘Ireland did not deserve to keep her freedom because she leagued herself definitely with one side’.
Our chance of survival in the present war is greater than that of the Continental neutrals because we are not in the direct line of battle between the two belligerents. If England seizes our ports, she will be doing something quite as bad as if she had seized the ports of Calais and Boulogne before the war. Indeed, Calais and Boulogne would have afforded Great Britain much more real security than the Irish ports. The Irish ports could only be seized on the assumption that great Powers can invade the sovereign rights of small nations to serve their own purposes. Britain would thus be in exactly the same moral position as Germany.
The Americans have given up talking about the refuelling of German sub- marines in Irish ports. That was too easy to refute, but it was the type of propaganda which revealed the complete unscrupulousness of the writers in their desire to blacken this country.
Our stand against American propaganda can be summed up as follows: Neutrality is of the very essence of Irish independence. It is based on the fundamental and universal will of our people so much so that no Government could depart from it without at once being overthrown. It was not adopted as a bargaining factor but as the fullest expression of our independence in time of war. We are determined to defend it against all invaders to the bitter end. The hostile attitude of certain Americans to Ireland is completely opposed to America’s usual attitude towards small nations and self-determination. Ireland is fully alive to her real position in the Europe of today. Her Government is in a better position than any distant on-lookers to decide the policy which is most likely to save the independence of the nation and the lives of the people from destruction. By her 700 years of resistance to the aggression of a great Power, she has done more than any other nation to keep alive in the world the principles of liberty and justice on which the American Republic was founded. Her neutrality is a manifestation of her continued resolution to save the remnant of our race from destruction.
An argument which has not yet been used could be based on the situation in which a small (and still declining) country like Ireland would be placed if, in the course of history, she had to take sides in every struggle between the great European Powers which is part of the inevitable evolution of history towards a federated Europe. If we were to fight for the side to which the balance of justice appears to move, we should have been in at least three wars since the end of the Great War. America herself did not make a serious effort to save Manchukuo1 and her right to dictate to us what we should do in the present war, into which she has not yet entered, is by no means clear. It must be emphasized that the work of the Minister and the Consular Officers in combatting anti-Irish propaganda is beyond all praise. Their vigilance in ‘nailing’ false and mischievous stories has prevented the propaganda from spreading beyond all control, and their personal contacts with the Editors have in many cases resulted in a change of attitude. The work done by the Minister personally through prominent Irish-Americans has, of course, been invaluable.
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
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