Friday, January 18, 2008

No Red, nor White,
Blue pencil

There are few things that bring Malcolm to the eye-bulging stage. This one did (but, as usual, there will be a longueur before he explains why).

He was re-reading bits of Tim Pat Coogan's rightly-celebrated biography of Éamon de Valera, and found something that his previous reads had missed.

For St Patrick's Day, 1943, de Valera made a broadcast on Radio Éireann.

As Coogan says:
This was the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Gaelic League by Douglas Hyde. Hyde was still President of the Twenty-six Counties but had suffered a stroke, and de Valera was active throughout the country in attending Gaelic League commemorations of various sorts. In between these activities, bending laws, signing death warrants and internment orders, and fending off Churchill, Hitler and Roosevelt, de Valera went on air ...

Nothing in de Valera's entire public career ever drew anything like the comment and ridicule that that speech, made in those circumstances elicited over the years.
a land ... with cosy homesteads

The most celebrated passage of the speech is:
The Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as the basis of a right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit; a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youth, and the laughter of happy maidens; whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.
Malcolm's belief is well and truly beggared that de Valera could produce such fatuity. It was, after all, the historical moment of Stalingrad, the Montgomery-Rommel dance-of-death across North Africa, the Battle of the Atlantic, and Guadalcanal -- for only a few instances. Irishmen, and Irish/Irish-American gore were being expended in at least three of those theatres.

De Valera, of course, also chose to ignore the emigration from Ireland to war-work in
British factories. This amounted to 200,000 as the outflow was studiously recorded by the Irish Civil Service. Later, in 1953, when it suited him, he could just as easily rediscover concern for the economic and moral plight of the Irish working in England.

... the laughter of happy maidens

The "transhumance" (a word Malcolm recollects from his Geography classes, now half a century gone) of Irish men to jobs in England was well established. War-time brought something new: not just an increase in men leaving their families (who were now no longer permitted to accompany them), but the steady out-flow of Irish single women (de Valera's "happy maidens", indeed) -- not to menial jobs and "service" any more, but to skilled employment in the blitzed cities of Britain:
in 1940 a total of 15,542 females were issued [exit] permits of whom 1,634 were going to employment in the field of nursing.
And this was the start of a continuing trend. Month by month, William Norton of the Labour Party seems to ask the same question, and receive a similar reply:
in March 1945 1,234 travel permits were issued to women.
On a previous occasion, Malcolm suggested there were "push" and "pull" factors at work here. The "pull" was obviously financial, though we should not dismiss the risks and personal circumstances that involved. The "push" was the climate back home, and a choice to liberate themselves, again at personal cost.

De Valera's 1937 Constitution had awarded women a special place, which was "duties in the home". Article 41:
... the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.
What had been a commonplace for Kaiser Wilhelm II, by the time Hitler came to pronounce it to the National Socialist Women's Organization in September 1934 it was a trifle shopsoiled. Yet, Kinder, Küche, Kirche remained de Valera's view of a stable society. Or, in more recent unvarnished redneck:
I'll tell you what we do up there when one of our women starts poking around in something she doesn't know anything about. We get her an extra milk cow. If that don't work, we give her a little more garden to tend. And if that's not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.
... the basis of a right living

On 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and all European hell broke out. De Valera, next day, put two Bills through Dáil Éireann. The first amended the Constitution to allow an "Emergency". The second was the Emergency Powers Bill. By the 3rd September both were enacted; and de Valera had awarded himself:
administrative power over everything in the state: censorship, military matters, supplies, agriculture and transport.
It is the first item on that list which might cause us to diagnose Malcolm for Graves' disease.

..the life that God desires that men should live

De Valera's St Patrick's Day fantasy was so unworldly it belongs in the farthest reaches of rationality, and was severely dislocated from the blood and mud of 1943. It severely provoked the US Minister in Dublin, David Gray, who was Roosevelt's personal appointee and friend.

Gray, as Cormac O'Grada recounts, was wholly frustrated by de Valera's notion of Irish neutrality:
If Britain completely cuts off coal and gasoline, this place would be a disorganised and howling wilderness in three months ... it probably would be a wise thing to do to explode this nationalistic dream of self-sufficiency.
The relationship between de Valera and Gray quickly became one of mutual antipathy. This may have inspired de Valera's infamous visit to the German ministry, on 2nd May 1945, to express his condolence on Hitler's death. De Valera did so on a personal decision, and categorically against the advice of his own officials, to acknowledge the "irreproachable" behaviour of German Minister Hempel throughout the war years "in marked contrast" to that of Gray.

On the other side, Gray could have become aware (via the British eavesdroppers) that in 1940 Hempel had cabled Berlin, relaying de Valera's disapproval of Roosevelt's re-election. For certain, Brian Girvin refers to a November 1940 letter by Gray to Roosevelt:
[Gray] thought it queer that not a single member of Fianna Fáil offered congratulations on the election outcome, while noting that the papal nuncio had predicted that Roosevelt would lose. All of this puzzled Gray and he speculated, there has been some dirty work at the crossroads.
... devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit

Now, to our frustration of any hope of him reaching his point, Malcolm diverts to the cinema.

By 1943 Hollywood was fully mobilised to winning the war. Casablanca was just one of the earlier, though certainly the greatest of these celluloid bloodless assaults on the foe. A few months after Casablanca came the deservedly-less-celebrated Good Luck, Mr Yates:
... a teacher at a military school is derided by his students because he has not joined the military. The man is deeply disturbed by their ridicule and disrespect and so pleads with the draft-board to reconsider his "essential" status and allow him to join. He is allowed to enlist, but still, because he has a punctured ear-drum, is not allowed to join. Unable to face his students, the teacher gets a job at a shipyard, then deceives his students into believing that he is at war by having a buddy at boot camp forward their letters to him. Soon ugly rumors begin to circulate amongst the suspicious students. One is that their teacher went AWOL. The other is that he is really a Nazi spy. The students' actions threaten to destroy the teacher's new romance with a female welder. In the end everything comes out hunky-dory when the teacher proves himself a courageous hero during a shipyard fire.
The punch-line! (At last!)

The Emergency Powers Act, the fuel shortage, de Valera's neutrality all came together in an explosion of Gray's fury,
in a letter to Roosevelt:
Meanwhile the Censor is loose again. The American flag was recently cut out of a film called Good Luck Mr. Yates ... Meanwhile I am surrounded by mountains of turf, some two hundred and fifty thousand tons, all brought from the interior with American gasoline. If I go nuts can you blame me?
The Irish dared to censor Old Glory? No wonder Malcolm went pug-eyed.

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