Your last editorial

Published in Issue 5 (September/October), Letters, Volume 22


Sir,—Your last editorial (HI 22.4, July/ Aug. 2014) is puzzling. How could ‘the political leaders . . . of Ireland . . . stand indicted’ for the Great War? Carson wasn’t in cabinet until 1915 and Redmond declined his appointment, so your concern must be with both men’s advocating enlistment to fight their country’s enemies. This is what politicians usually do in war, especially against such a dangerous aggressor as the Second Reich. 
Your ‘moral appraisal’ likewise invites challenge. Defence of Belgium was merely a casus belli for Britain, one that served to unite a Liberal government, which saw its brief as social reform. No country goes to war for anything other than national interest, but while German interest was in dismembering France, Belgium and Russia and establishing continental hegemony, British interest was the prevention of such hegemony. 

Thus any suggestion that all the imperial combatants were equally bad does not withstand scrutiny. Imperialism was, at best, ‘annoying harmless people in order to improve their habits or their health’, but there’s no moral equivalence between, say, mismanagement of Boer concentration camps and mass murder in Südwestafrika and Ostafrika. Imperial and Nazi Germany were not so distant from each other as you think: check The Kaiser’s holocaust: Germany’s forgotten genocide, by David Olusoga and Casper Erichsen. 

There was nothing ‘inevitable’ about German aggression. Bismarck, creator of the Reich, knew that its prosperity and very survival depended on good foreign relations, and had Kaiser Frederick lived Germany might indeed have become a ‘more progressive society than the UK’, which you claim it was; but abolishing the constitution, which Wilhelm II considered at least once, is hardly progressive. That, and things like the Zabern affair [where in 1913 the German military had acted arbitrarily and illegally in Alsace-Lorraine], reveal a reactionary, oppressive, militaristic country.

Belgium’s ‘imperial, genocidal legacy in the Congo’ dates from when that was the private fiefdom of Leopold II, not a Belgian colony. The distinction is not as fine as some pretend, and the Congo atrocities were used by Casement to excuse German atrocities in Belgium, and are still trotted out in moral-equivalence arguments—along with the pretence that because it had a ‘broader franchise’ the Reich was more democratic than Britain.
While I take issue with your editorial, let me commend you on the issue’s contents.—Yours etc.,

Co. Dublin

Sir,—According to your last editorial (HI 22.4, July/Aug. 2014), a widely held view in the successor states of the belligerents is that ‘the First World War was a disaster’. You wonder, ‘Why should Ireland be any different?’ Ireland, however, was not itself a direct belligerent in the Great War, albeit innumerable Irish-born volunteers opted to serve imperial Britain for varied reasons. But witness the telling resistance at home in Ireland to the conscription threat: ‘We serve neither king nor kaiser but Ireland’.—Yours etc.,

Dublin 9


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