Neutrality is one of those shape-shifting words that means different things to different people. To die-hard Irish isolationists, it simply represents what it did for De Valera’s generation.
That is, we should have nothing to do with imperialist wars and that the great powers can fight their own battles. It’s a view that had its day but is now as simplistic as it is outdated.
Most of the time, however, it’s more of a casual assumption that a small, peaceful island on the edge of Europe has no moral imperative or practical need to engage in distant conflicts. Naivety doesn’t do it justice.
Both concepts have deep roots in the political and military realities of the 20th century and take little or no cognizance of the world in which we live today.
But judging by a poll released last week, such views are as entrenched as ever.
Roughly speaking, despite the Bucha genocide and the annihilation of Mariupol, most still want to keep their heads down.
It’s not that we don’t care. We care very much. It just seems like we have this uniquely Irish facility for the exceptional and see the world beyond our shores from a very special vantage point. A kind of seclusion and narrow-mindedness that’s born out of a view of our history in which we imagine we’ve been so serially oppressed that we’re excused from ever working a shift again.
With this analysis of neutrality, you don’t even have to be willing to defend your sovereignty and you can tell your neighbors or NATO to do it for you Moreover, there is still a deep-seated ideological antagonism towards those who might deign to disagree.
For some, neutrality is a sacred commandment carved in granite. Primarily for the left, but also for old-school nationalists.
The treatment of the 5,000 soldiers who defected from the Irish Army during World War II to fight with the British against the Nazis is a telling example of this deep contempt.
They were summarily court-martialled, and the government of Eamon de Valera stripped them of their salaries and pensions. Worse, returning soldiers were barred from any government or public jobs for seven years. It was referred to in the Dáil as the ‘hunger decree’, and for many of their families that phrase came painfully close to the truth.
This emergency order was issued in 1945, at a time when defeating Hitler was almost universally considered heroic. While it was convenient, as always, to simply blame Dev for such past embarrassments, it was largely uncontroversial at the time.
It would be 2012 before Attorney General Alan Shatter offered a pardon and amnesty to the veterans who had joined for all sorts of reasons. Even then – almost 70 years later – this necessary and overdue correction of the record was greeted with restraint.
What would the attitude be like today if something similar happened? You want to imagine that Irish volunteers would return home from there Ukraine as a national hero. The latest poll might suggest otherwise.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/taking-sides-in-the-war-over-our-steadfast-neutrality-41565038.html Taking sides in the war for our steadfast neutrality