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 is not the whole story either.
17 thoughts on “Seth Barrett Tillman: <i>Ireland and World War II</i>”
” the biased BBC … It is so much easier for them to attack foreigners.” Anyone who thinks the BBC “attacks” foreigners more than it does Britons can’t listen to much of its output.
I am stumped by his reference to fascist Italy. Was he really implying that Britain should have invaded Italy in the 1920s to impede the rise of Mussolini?
“It is difficult for democracies to fight wars when not attacked.” I snorted: every US war until Pearl Harbour was a war of US aggression. The two American Gulf Wars occurred when the US had not been attacked by Iraq. Did Vietnam attack the USA? Even the initiator of that war, JFK, made no such claim. Korea? Serbia? Libya? Syria?
Britain’s stupidest war (the Boer War) was a war of UK aggression. The War of 1870 started with a French attack on Germany.
Is he feeling quite well?
I am feeling quite well thank you.
I wrote: “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 and Africa, WWII began long before 1939 and the Phony War of 1939–1940.” I did not imply that the UK should have entered the war earlier, only that a democracy’s fighting a war is made easier (and more likely to be successful) if first attacked. Britain did not jump at the chance to stop aggression.
As to your claim that all of America’s wars were wars of aggression until Pearl Harbor–that is neither here nor there–the point is that it is less difficult to fight a war if one has been attacked. In the Mexican-American War, Polk claimed (rightly or wrongly) that Mexico invaded post-annexation Texas. He did that to mobilize the country’s support. Polk’s strategy was quite effective.
As for the 20th century wars you list–none of them depended on a draft and full national mobilization. They are entirely irrelevant to WWII and wars of that type–the type I was writing about. Even American entrance in the Korean conflict depended on Truman’s establishing that NK invaded the Republic of Korea and that the UN provided the US with a mandate to stop aggression. Although this aggression was not specifically directed against the US, many believed, rightly or wrongly, that world communism-USSR-Red China and their allies posed an existential threat to the US and the West. US actions were rooted in something akin to response to an attack. It was not a frolic, or merely a supererogatory act to protect a weak country which had been wrongly invaded by more powerful neighbors.
I did not say the BBC attacks all foreigners, but some foreigners do not do well with the BBC. The US is one such foreign country that the BBC lives to denigrate.
“Britain did not jump at the chance to stop aggression.” Nor did the US, nor even the noticeably undemocratic USSR. It seems to me silly to imply some sort of duty to fight wars on abstractions: I can picture W intoning some drivel about a “War on Aggression”. “What?”, half the world would enquire, “all aggression, everywhere, at any time?”
Countries, democratic or not, are likely to be run by groups who view their own self-interest as related, even if only weakly, to the vital interests of the country concerned. Britain’s case for fighting Hitler was not compelling while it seemed possible that he was a Bismarck; only once it was obvious that he was a Napoleon did it seem essential. That clarity was established when he invaded rump Czechoslovakia. The case for Britain, or France, or the US, to intrude in Spain was ridiculously weak. Only an inveterate warmonger like Churchill could be daft enough to plan to intervene against Soviet aggression against Finland while already at war against Germany.
Should Britain have intervened against the US’s various attacks on Mexico? On the Union’s war against the Confederacy, or vice versa?
The US-Mexican war had numerous causes and sources. Included in that was the Mexican repudiation of the agreement that Texas was independent. If Texas was independent, then their agreeing to be annexed by the US was not Mexico’s business. If it was not independent, then a state of war already existed between Mexico and Texas, and this was merely an extension of those hostilities. British policy vis-a-vis Mexico was governed by what it viewed as its own interests [“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow…” Lord Palmerston, March 1, 1848 speech to Commons]. Those interests drove it to join with the French and Spanish in October 1861 to form the Tripartite Alliance to invade Mexico. British troops joined the French and Spanish in January 1862 to invade and occupy Veracruz. They pulled out a few months later along with the Spanish, leaving the French to get their butts kicked and eventually Emperor Maximilian to face a firing squad. It must be noted that the triumph of Mexican forces over Maximilian was due to American aid once our own civil war was finished. Britain followed what they believed to be their own interests, and we followed what we believed were our own interests.
In the American Civil War, Britain actually leaned towards the Confederacy until later in the war, almost coming to open war with the US over the TRENT affair, and because Britain’s mills in Lancashire used Confederate baled cotton. In the first case, it got to the point where British troops were sent to Canada to prepare to invade the US. The economic interests probably were paramount when HM Government looked the other way when British shipyards built, fitted out, and supplied Confederate Navy commerce raiders such as the ALABAMA and FLORIDA, allowing HM subjects to join the crews.
Every nation does as it feels it must, even if it means screwing over another country. That includes Britain, the US, and every other with the power to do so.
This post and these comments are the first time at Chicago Boyz that I’ve wished I had my time back…
“every US war until Pearl Harbour was a war of US aggression”
The War of 1812 ? The American Revolution ? Did the North fire on Fort Sumpter? Hmmmm…
I’ll give you Mexico. Lincoln opposed that war in Congress. The French took over Mexico in the US Civil War and Britain seriously considered entry in some fashion aside from assisting the Confederacy as it did.
I shocked my British army doc friend by suggesting, semi-seriously, that we should have stayed out of WWI. Had we allowed a second Frank-Prussian war and defeat, we might not have had to fight Hitler.
Lots of alternate history, which is a bit of a hobby with me.
Subotai Bahadur writes:-
….’and because Britain’s mills in Lancashire used Confederate baled cotton.’
I would beg to differ with the words of the commenter, on the grounds of historical fact.
That Britain which he so casually dismisses, and the Manchester and Lancashire cotton mill workers proved to be a slightly more difficult blockage to the mill owners, along with many English politicians than is either suspected, or acknowledged. The ‘Cotton Famine’ which brought destitution and near starvation to the cotton workers, came about BECAUSE the Government knew that the strength of feeling for the North, and their absolute determination never to spin a single foot of yarn from cotton which had been picked and processed almost exclusively by black slaves in the South. The fact that proud men watched as their families existed on slop, rather that spin ‘Slave Cotton’ was a deciding factor in the Civil War: because the Confederacy knew that the might of the Royal Navy could have swept aside the blockade imposed by the North, if Britain had actually taken sides.
The fact that ships such as the ‘Alabama’ were built and furnished in Liverpool’s Birkenhead shipyards, and outfitted with British guns in the Azores to comply with ‘neutral’ designations was a sore point with the British Government, but they were given no indication of the Alabama’s intentions until after she had sailed.
As a final note, to give some indication of America’s feelings towards the Lancashire workers who had literally starved so that Secession and Slavery be overcome, I would copy the letter from a certain Abraham Lincoln, which said:-
“I cannot but regard your decisive utterances on the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.
“It is indeed an energetic and re-inspiring assurance of the inherent truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity and freedom… Whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.”
The Trent Affair almost caused Britain to take sides and break the blockade. They sent thousands of combat troops to Canada. Relevant to the original discussion, thousands of Canadians went south to fight for the Confederacy, and later there were even cross border raids involving Irish Republicans.
After Secretary of State William Seward wanted to respond to the escalation by declaring war on Britain and France, Lincoln, ever the pragmatist, famously told him, “one war at a time.” That didn’t stop Seward from allowing the Russian Imperial Fleet to come to America in hopes of deterring European designs on intervention. Russian ships may or may not have had much influence on the unfolding events, but they were greeted with enthusiasm in San Francisco and New York.
Even Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, who knew otherwise, was hard pressed to restrain his enthusiasm. “The presence in our waters of a squadron belonging to His Imperial Majesty’s navy,” he wrote the Russian ambassador, Baron Edouard de Stoeckl, was a “source of pleasure and happiness.” He opened the facilities of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the visitors, and later concluded a diary entry with “God bless the Russians.”
Yes, it was the British government which sided with the Confederacy, not the people who had already banned slavery.
Seward had a good relationship with Russia which had already given up any interest in Alaska and northern California.
“The War of 1812 ? The American Revolution ?” Of course.
“Did the North fire on Fort Sumpter?” I don’t suppose the generalisation (I can’t remember where I first saw it) is intended to apply to the Civil War, but perhaps it does anyway. The Union was determined to suppress the secession by warfare. It was presumably helpful that the Confederacy was foolish enough to fire the first shots, but the notion that if the Confederacy hadn’t done so there would have been no war seems unlikely, doesn’t it? Lincoln’s declared aim concerned preserving the Union, not freeing the slaves. I suppose that claim might have been false, but I’ve never seen anyone argue the case.
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.
It rarely says anything bad about Barack Obama’s government. The Beeb’s anti-Americanism – hateful, dishonest and sometimes mindbogglingly petty – is directed almost exclusively at white conservative America, but as an above commenter points out they also spew venom towards the wrong kinds of British people too, as we’ve seen in this referendum year.
Since Ireland is on topic I’ve read that in Northern Ireland most Unionists (Protestants for the most part) and Nationalists/Republicans (almost all Catholics) watch different local news broadcasts. The former prefer UTV (ITV) whilst the latter overwhelmingly prefer the BBC slant on the news. Even IRA supporters recognise a British friend when they see one.
“I suppose that claim might have been false, but I’ve never seen anyone argue the case.”
Well Dearie, you’ve come to the right place.
Lincoln was indeed personally opposed to slavery, believed it to be immoral, and rejected the idea that it could be allowed according to local custom and governance
Moral issues weren’t the only concerns. Lincoln correctly understood that slavery in the South destabilized the entire United States and its democratic system. With recent court rulings sanctioning slavery, the judicial necessity that it would spread to free states was fast becoming a reality
However, when war arrived the urgent matter of winning took precedence over everything. Lincoln refused early attempts at emancipation because he knew that we couldn’t win without the border states and loyal Northern Democrats
Lincoln is often portrayed by Revisionists as a tyrant intent on extinguishing states rights, and they try to point to his supposed disinclination to end slavery to justify it. In fact, contrary to acting dictatorial Lincoln was unsure about the legal and constitutional powers to act, as was the entire nation since a war had just broken out over the dilemma.
He believed he had to act incrementally. He signed the law to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia in April of 1862. The next month he signed the Homestead Act which opened up the West to independent farmers instead of large plantation owners that would own slaves. He signed the Land Grant Act to promote and advance agricultural sciences away from the types of manual methods that slavery fulfilled. The Confiscation Act soon followed which finally provided the legal basis that Lincoln needed for emancipation.
He issued the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation shortly thereafter. Union defeats and a crisis in his cabinet delayed the final order until the next January.
After that the most important agenda in his tragically short second term was to be the 13th amendment. He laid out his plans in the State of the Union
This was what Lincoln always wanted. He was overjoyed when he was finally able to make it happen.
“if the Confederacy hadn’t done so there would have been no war seems unlikely, doesn’t it? ”
Why would the Confederacy want to leave but for slavery ?
The Missouri Compromise was intended to solve the issue and it did for 20 years. The Confederacy was far more concerned about expanding slavery to new states that had no history and did not have the geography to make use of them.
It was all about slavery, Dearie.
Lincoln was a skilled lawyer and politician and if he had been able to save the union and not extend slavery, he could have done so. He said so.
He delayed the Emancipation Proclamation to avoid losing the border states. If Jeff Davis and the others had been willing to see slavery restricted to the slave states, there would have been no war.
If I may interject my view as an amateur historian, slavery was but one of the issues between two very culturally different nations within one set of borders, and in part used as a proxy for other issues.
Until the end of the Civil War, the linguistic usage was “The United States are” rather than the post-war “The United States is”. It was recognized that states were [as envisaged at the time of the Revolution] separate, sovereign entities. And that they were different from each other. On a broad scale, look at the names of the southern states, largely initially settled by Royalists in the English Civil War. Virginia, for the Virgin Queen [Elizabeth I], The Carolinas [for King Charles], Georgia [for King George], Maryland [Queen Mary and also the Virgin Mary as it tolerated Catholics]; all basically High Church Anglican. The original northern states were settled by variations of Protestants, including some who were sufficiently hard core about it to have to leave England, Quakers, Anabaptists, and German Lutherans.
Politics is downstream of culture, which truth is being enacted again on a different stage today.
The Civil War started in 1861. Within the living memory of some present then, the New England states [the very ones so adamant about keeping the South in the Union against their will] attempted to secede from that same Union.
During the War of 1812, which the New England states fiercely opposed, New England was blockaded by the British and its economy devastated [shipping and fishing being the basis of their economy].
From December 15, 1814 – January 5, 1815, at the call of Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong [who had already engaged in secret negotiations with the British] and the Massachusetts legislature, 26 delegates from the legislatures of Masssachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont met at the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut. Most of the records were destroyed for reasons that will be explained below; but from correspondence from and with the delegates it is clear that the object of the meetings was succession from the Union and a separate peace with Britain.
The final report and demands of the Convention can be summarized as:
1) Prohibiting any trade embargo lasting over 60 days;
2) Requiring a two-thirds Congressional majority for declaration of offensive war, admission of a new state, or interdiction of foreign commerce;
3) Removing the three-fifths representation advantage of the South;
4) Limiting future Presidents to one term;
5) Requiring each President to be from a different state than his predecessor. (This provision was aimed directly at the dominance of Virginia in the presidency since 1800.)
2) was the key point for them. 3) was aimed at NOT counting slaves as people at all, which was a reversal of the compromise at the original Constitutional Convention. In 1787, the southern states wanted to count slaves as whole people for apportionment of the House which would give them more Representatives, and northern states wanted them not counted at all. If they had not settled on 3/5, the southern States would not have joined the Union at all. Reversal of that compromise would have split the country in 1815 as the South would have left then.
The alternative to acceptance of these terms by the national government was New England secession.
3 Commissioners were sent to the District of Columbia bearing the demands. They arrived in February 1815, just after news of the end of the war arrived. So they turned tail and left, realizing that the Federal army now had nothing else to do but march north to kick New Englands’ collective gluteal musculature. And all official records were destroyed, but word got out and the Hartford Convention was instrumental in the fall of the Federalist Party. But in those days, the right of states to secede was a given.
Another difference was financial. Until the income tax was first temporarily introduced during the Civil War, the only source of revenue for the Federal Government was import tariffs and excise taxes. No taxes were allowed on exports. The North did not import. The South had an agricultural economy based on cotton and tobacco; which were exported products. When delivered in Britain, France, or wherever; they were paid for there. Financial institutions were not such as to allow crediting the money in this country, so the funds were deposited and spent overseas and the purchased goods imported into the South. And it was the people of the South who paid the import tariffs as the goods arrived. More than 2/3 of the income of the Federal government of the time was paid by the South. The majority of the population was in the North, and that is where the money was spent.
Part of the argument over admission of slave and free states was a tacit argument over control of the Federal budget.
Slavery was a motive, but it was one that arose largely after the Second Great Awakening religious revival that gave rise to the abolition movement of the 1830’s-40’s. Even during the Civil War, slavery was legal in the North. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to those states that were in rebellion. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia had several slaves, one of which always attended him during the war. They were not freed until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865, 8 months after the end of the Civil War.
Abolition of slavery was a potent motivator for some in the North, but most people in the South never owned a slave. And most people in the North regarded Blacks with the same prejudice as those in the South. We had what were two different, hostile “nations” inside one set of borders, one of which felt with some justification that it was getting scrod, and a culture that regarded the States as sovereign.
Add in the fact that in the 1860 election, not only did Lincoln become the first Republican president, but also the Republicans and their even more radical allies had more than a 2/3 majority in both Houses of Congress. The Democrats [most people forget that the Democrats made up the Confederate government, after the war created the KKK, and were the ones fighting the Civil Rights Acts. The Civil Rights Acts of the 1960’s were passed by the Republicans and a minority of Democrats mostly from the Northeast and Midwest.] had no reason to even show up in DC, because they were guaranteed to be outvoted in everything.
Secession, with the hope that it could be done peacefully and successfully, was AT THE TIME a seemingly rational response. It did not work, and the population of the South was demographically crushed, as noted above.
Looking back in history, we have to remember that we do so with hindsight. They had to deal only with the facts, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge [or lack thereof] of the time. We do not have to approve of what they did, but we cannot blame them for doing the best they could at the time. Hopefully, we can use our hindsight to avoid repeating some of the same mistakes.
Sorry to go on and on, but this is kind of a specialty area of mine, having been a living history re-enactor on both sides of the Civil War, and the pre-Civil War Army in the West for schools and the National Park Service. Noting that the NPS is now so politically correct that they deliberately ignore history in favor of indoctrination.
Subotai, I don’t disagree with any of your points but much of this was settled by 1860. The Slave States, which became the Confederacy, were determined, for many of the reasons you give, to expand slavery to all new states admitted. The Missouri Compromise had tried to solve this but failed. For all the reasons you state they feared being overwhelmed by the North and its economic and population growth.
The Whig Party collapsed on the issue of slavery, not tariffs or the Federal Budget.
The Democrats divided on the same issue.
Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech raised the issue clearly.
Had the Confederacy succeeded in the war or avoided it, they were economically on a death march. Slavery was viable only in the cotton economy of the slave states which were about to be devastated by the Boll Weevil which came from Mexico. Had the South won or avoided the Civil War, most believe that it would have tried to ally with Mexico or to overcome it.
There have been interesting arguments about what would have happened then.
There was even a popular but unrealistic book about it.
The North was the economic powerhouse, as it proved during the rest of the 19th century. Had Britain intervened to aid the South, does anyone think the Union would have sided with the British in WWI ?
“Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech raised the issue clearly.”
And everyone paid attention to it, especially in the South. When Lincoln was elected, the southern states could see the writing on the wall and acted preemptively. Setting aside the legal and constitutional problems slavery was causing free states, I agree secession was (and still is) technically legal. However, justification for preemptive attacks is a whole other, murkier issue. In 1861, everyone knew the only way to free the slaves was by force of arms. Would Lincoln have acted first militarily had the opportunity presented itself?
Lincoln was elected president not tyrant. I don’t believe he would have, but the legislative agenda in 1862 was clear. He was going to attempt emancipation incrementally and legislatively if war hadn’t forced his hand.
Oh, economically slavery was doomed. In Virginia and the Carolina’s, slavery was on the decline because it was no longer feasible. Soil exhaustion had reduced crop yields to the point where it simply could not be supported. While to the North, the frontier of expansion was mostly to the West, to the South in the early 1800’s the frontier was Mississippi and Alabama. There, fresh soil made slavery feasible.
When I picked my persona for Confederate re-enacting for schools, I chose a simple farmer in western [not West] Virginia in an area where slavery was not economically feasible. Historically, that area was attacked early in the war by a Yankee general named Pleasanton, who more than presaged Sherman’s tactics by burning houses and farms and killing civilian women and children. The surviving males buried their dead and went across the mountains to join Jackson’s Corps. My character joined the 47th Virginia Infantry, which was in the battles I wanted to explain to the students.
From the beginning, this was a war of two separate, hostile “nations” and cultures even excluding the issue of slavery. One way or another, it was as inevitable as the English Civil War, for many of the same reasons. There are those who argue that our Civil War was the historical continuation of the English, for the reasons I have mentioned.
If Britain had helped the Confederacy, probably the South would have won independence. And Britain would have been on its own in Europe.
I am somewhat more dubious [and here we are deep in the realm of pure conjecture] about the Confederacy having any sort of good relations with Mexico. Aside from Texas being a thorn in the side of such relations; the South had its own version of Manifest Destiny that envisaged an extension to the Pacific Ocean through New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California with a swathe of the adjacent Mexican territory. No, it was not realistic, but it was part of their thinking.
That aspect of the war is little known. The only battle in Colorado was Glorieta Pass, but it was part of that strategy, and there was more to it than generally known. The goal was on one hand to take the Colorado gold fields, but it was also to push the Confederacy west towards the Pacific. There was a lot more Confederate activity here in Colorado than in the major history books.
The daughter of Charles Bent [one of the founders of Bent’s Old Fort, where I have portrayed a member Kearney’s Army of the West] was the wife of a rancher in Colorado. She and her husband were Confederate sympathizers, and as the daughter of a “martyred” Federal governor of New Mexico she and her husband had an honored place in Union society in Colorado. Operational security was not invented yet. They would get information and pass it on to both the Confederate government, and to a Confederate guerilla regiment based where the current town of Beulah, Colorado is. And the regiment would raid yankee supplies.
When Sibley came west, the plan was for the guerilla regiment to raid and take Fort Garland, which was a poorly defended supply point that kept Slough and Chivington’s Federal forces supplied. If they had been successful, the tables would have been turned on what happened historically at Glorieta Pass when the yankees destroyed Sibley’s supply trains. In fact, the guerillas were attacked and scattered just before they were supposed to leave for Fort Garland.
Southern Arizona had voted to secede from New Mexico and the United States in March of 1861 and were admitted to the Confederacy on Valentine’s Day 1862, with representation till the end of the war in the Confederate Congress. In fact, the Confederate troops who had come from Texas to support the seceded Confederate Arizona territory were withdrawn after Glorieta Pass, and the territorial government was in exile. But Confederate ambitions in the area would have made relations between an independent Confederacy and Mexico dicey at best.
By the way, I read “If the South had won the Civil War” as a kid, when it was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post. ;-)
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