De Valera and neutrality
Sir, – What is frequently forgotten in relation to Ireland’s policy of neutrality in the 1939-45 period is that a total of 15 European countries adopted the same policy at the outbreak of the war.
Ten had their neutrality violated and resisted in varying degrees. Only Ireland, Sweden,Switzerland, Spain and Portugal succeeded in preserving their neutrality. If Ireland had been invaded, it is reasonable to assume that it would have resisted also.
It seems to be forgotten also that the policy of neutrality was adopted unanimously by the entire Dáil. Many of these politicians on both sides of the House had, as young men and women, fought for Irish independence from Britain a mere 17 years earlier and were by no means elderly politicians at this time. It is surely too much to expect that they would be ready to jump into the fray as allies of Britain such a short time later. It is worth remembering also that a sizable element within the Tory party in Britain was amenable to coming to an agreement with Hitler at that time, culminating in Neville Chamberlain’s return from his meeting with Hitler in 1938 in Munich waving his piece of paper and announcing “peace in our time”.
As for the United States, it remained neutral in the Great War and the second World War, until forced to abandon that policy. The change of policy was triggered in the 1914-18 war by the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat. President Roosevelt was elected in 1938 on a policy of neutrality in the war that was threatening at that time. Following Pearl Harbour, the US declared war on Japan. Three days later Germany declared war on the US, and it was only then that the US declared war on Germany. So it was not only de Valera and Ireland who were anxious to remain neutral. Finally, it was de Valera’s negotiating dexterity in 1938 in forcing Britain to hand over the ports, a fact deeply resented by Churchill, that enabled Ireland to remain neutral. – Yours, etc,