January 1, 2012

THIS DOESN’T REFLECT WELL ON IRELAND: Why Irish Soldiers Who Fought Hitler Hide Their Medals.

Five thousand Irish soldiers who swapped uniforms to fight for the British against Hitler went on to suffer years of persecution.

One of them, 92-year-old Phil Farrington, took part in the D-Day landings and helped liberate the German death camp at Bergen-Belsen – but he wears his medals in secret.

Even to this day, he has nightmares that he will be arrested by the authorities and imprisoned for his wartime service. . . . They were formally dismissed from the Irish army, stripped of all pay and pension rights, and prevented from finding work by being banned for seven years from any employment paid for by state or government funds.

A special “list” was drawn up containing their names and addresses, and circulated to every government department, town hall and railway station – anywhere the men might look for a job. It was referred to in the Irish parliament – the Dail – at the time as a “starvation order”, and for many of their families the phrase became painfully close to the truth.

Ireland, like Sweden, has gotten a pass for behavior during World War II that doesn’t deserve a pass.

UPDATE: Like what? Like condolences for Hitler’s death.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Seth Tillman writes:

I am an American. I currently live and work in Ireland. But, I carry no special brief for Ireland and its people. When you wrote: “Ireland, like Sweden, has gotten a pass for behavior during World War II that doesn’t deserve a pass.” That’s true. But, it also is not the whole story either.

Thousands of Irish people – from the Republic (albeit technically not a republic until 1949) – volunteered to fight the Axis. At the conclusion of the war, these people were not punished by the legal system for what they did. (They might not have been publicly praised either, but have our troops returning from the recent Asian conflicts received parades?) But, Irish citizens already serving in Ireland’s armed forces who deserted to fight the Axis are somewhat different. What do you think an American court would have done to an American soldier who deserted the U.S. armed forces just prior to the outbreak of WWII, who after the war ended, returned to the United States? He risked prosecution, jail, and, perhaps, worse. Much worse. The Irish did not jail such soldiers/deserters. They denied their former soldiers/deserters government work for seven years. That is hardly out of line with the practices of greater humanity.

Ireland made every effort to stay (at least, formally) neutral. It is difficult for democracies to fight wars when not attacked. Ireland was not attacked by the Axis. Its action here was not praiseworthy. But Ireland’s conduct was not much different from the United States, which also stayed neutral until actually attacked in 1941. It is true that even when neutral, the United States favored the Allies. But, so did Ireland. When Allied flyers bailed out over Ireland, they were escorted to Ulster where they rejoined their companies. Axis fliers were interned for the course of hostilities.

The British did not exactly jump at the chance to fight either. By the time of British entry, Italy and Spain had already fallen to fascism, (former) Czechoslovakia had been abandoned by Chamberlain, and Japan had conquered large chunks of China. For millions, especially in Asia, WWII began long before 1939 and the Phony War of 1939-1940. The British delayed entering the war until they were ready and until they thought their most essential interests were at stake. Then they fought.

Please keep in mind that they story you linked to is from the BBC. One would think that the first question the BBC should have asked is how did the post-WWII British government treat Irish and other expatriate soldiers who fought for Britain (and humanity) during WWII. That question might take some serious introspection, but don’t expect that from the biased BBC (http://biased-bbc.blogspot.com/). It is so much easier for them to attack foreigners. Just think how the BBC reports on the United States: its government and its people.

Again, the conduct of the Irish during WWII was not all one could have hoped for. There were (some) people here during WWII listening to radio reports and hoping Britain would fall: oblivious to the fact that they were next in line. Cheering Hitler’s victories. Old hatreds don’t die so easily. But, today, the Irish children and grandchildren of such people do not (at least, openly) praise their parents’ and grandparents’ behavior, and Irish society is reexamining its wartime conduct. (http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/ian-odoherty/ian-odoherty-im-proud-to-wear-the-poppy-for-the-fallen-kids-and-mad-larry-2932241.html) In America, we still have people who think Julius Rosenberg was innocent or praiseworthy, and others who believe that C.S.A. soldiers were patriots. There is a lot of room for self-improvement all around.

Good point.

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