DEMOCRACY AND REPRESSION 1939-45 & AFTER
In the last edition of the INC periodical, we said that we would consider herein the second Global Inter-imperialist War (GIW II) of the Twentieth Century. In so doing, it will be seen that it was a fight for democracy only to a limited extent and repression remained the fate of multitudes at the hands of the main allied victors.
GIW II began on 1st September 1939 when the third German empire (otherwise styled the Third Reich) invaded Poland, and the British empire (along with its dominions), and the French empire (otherwise styled the French Republic) then declared war on Germany. Britain and France became known as the Allies. Initially they did little to counter Germany apart a limited French engagement on the Western front. Within weeks of the German attack on Poland, the Soviet empire (otherwise styled the Soviet Union) stabbed that country in the back when it launched an assault from the East and then committed atrocities such as Katyn Forest. In November, the Soviet empire also crossed into Finland.
In April 1940, war seriously commenced in the West with a German invasion of Denmark and Norway. The next month, Germany struck at Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg and advanced into France. On 10th June, fascist Italy declared war on Britain and France.
Germany and Italy constituted the Axis and, to one degree or another, extinguished democracy in the occupied countries. On 22nd June, France surrendered to Germany; however, Italy had made no credible incursion into France. It thus agreed to an armistice on 25th June with very limited territorial gains.
Also in June, the Soviet empire annexed the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; in addition, it seized northern Bukovina, Hertsa and Bessarabia from Romania. At the end of September, a Tripartite Pact united Germany, Italy and Japan, which augmented the Axis. Further expansion of the Axis took place when Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria joined the Pact. In southern Europe, the Axis next attacked Greece and Yugoslavia in 1940 and ‘41 respectively.
Then in June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet empire.
In December 1941, war in the Pacific broke out with the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour in the American colony of Hawaii. The following day, the Japanese formed an alliance with Thailand. Subsequently, the Japanese threw the Americans out of the Philippines. It next proceeded to expand generally in southern Asia. Already It had been at war with China since 1937 after attacking Shanghai (some date that war from 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria).
There was, as well, the north African theatre of war involving the Axis and the AlIies.
Other minor belligerents, on one side or the other, included Mongolia, Iraq, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico.
With an allied victory, democracy was restored in western and, to some extent, central Europe (Austria). Likewise, in southern Europe (Greece).
However, the result was also the establishment of dictatorships in central, eastern and southern Europe (Yugoslavia). As for Poland, in particular, whose democracy and sovereignty France and Britain supposedly went to war for, it was simply, along with others, abandoned to its Stalinist fate.
Moreover, France, the Netherlands and Britain attempted to maintain or reassert control in a number of territories - France in Algeria (freed in 1962) and Indochina (with the Americans gradually taking up the cudgels in Vietnam after French defeat and until 1975); the Netherlands in the Dutch East Indies (freed in 1949); while Britain fought counterinsurgency wars in Malaya (freed in 1957), Cyprus (freed in 1960), Kenya (freed in 1962), Aden (freed in 1967), and, along with the French, sought unsuccessfully to redominate the Suez Canal in 1956. America had retaken the Philippines in 1945, but granted independence the following year. Belgium eventually withdrew from the Congo in 1960.
Getting rid of Hitlerite nazism, Japanese militarism and Italian fascism was undoubtedly to be welcomed, but to portray GIW II as simply a war against totalitarianism is thus a false interpretation.
An issue for the Irish in GIW II was that of neutrality, although they had to be discreetly benevolent towards the Allies for pragmatic reasons, because of the danger of a German invasion.
Unfortunately, the repetition from GIW I of Irishmen fighting in the British Army brought the same considerations. They may have been motivated in various ways, including by the notion that they were in a battle for freedom, but they were actually serving a polity that intended to defeat the Axis so that it could re-establish its empire.
One cannot but feel compassion for the Irishmen in question, yet they were once again imperialist cannon fodder and misguided in not staying in Ireland to defend their own country, especially as a British invasion was as much on the cards as a German one.
This is something that is either not understood or acknowledged by pro-British elements on the right or anti-national elements among the ultra-left.
The neutrality of the twenty-six counties was the correct stance for a state that had just emerged from colonialism, which was still a threat to it. Moreover, the state could otherwise have left itself open to devastation by the Luftwaffe as was the case in Belfast.
Irish neutrality in 1939-45 is therefore not a matter of shame, but of courage and wisdom.
Daltún Ó Ceallaigh, Eagarthóir,INC NEWS