March 26th, 1942

Mon, Mar 26, 2012, 01:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:Half way through the second World War, with neutrality still intact, recruitment to the Defence Forces had dropped off, causing concern to the government and to The Irish Times, as this editorial explained. – JOE JOYCE

The armed forces of this country are many times larger than they were two years ago; yet they are not large enough - indeed, they could not be large enough. It is not wholly fair to blame the people.

If the country were at war, or in any urgent danger of war, they would be quick to enlist; but, through two and a half years of the most extensive conflict in history, the twenty-six counties have contrived to retain their neutrality, and it is merely a human weakness if men and women believe that such good fortune will persist.

Their attitude, of course, is entirely wrong. It has not yet been worth any belligerent’s while to attack this part of Ireland, but at any moment the war may take such a twist as will bring us instantly into the centre of danger.

Enlistment then will be too late. No Government could take the risk of putting a rifle, or a machine-gun, or a Mills bomb into the hands of a man who has not been trained to use it.

The man who joins up now is worth half-a-dozen who may join up six months from now. By the time when danger strikes he will have received, at the worst, the rudiments of a military training; at the best, he will be a disciplined and exercised soldier.

One can understand why the married man with a family, or the man in a good job, should avoid the Army, which is not – here or in any other country – a lucrative career; but what one cannot understand is why the young man of eighteen or nineteen, without work or prospects of it, should stand aloof.

On the lowest, hardest-headed calculation, it offers him what no other occupation in the State can offer – an assurance of a steady, decent job, with three square meals a day, clothing, comfortable quarters, exercise and, at any rate, sufficient money for his normal needs.

We regret that there should be any need, at this particular period of the world’s history, to have to offer “inducements” to a military life; yet some concessions, apparently, must be made and we welcome [Minister for Defence] Mr Oscar Traynor’s announcement that a system had been instituted whereby soldiers who had been employed as civilians in agricultural work might be released to lend a hand on the farm.

This concession may help to quieten the conscience of farmers’ sons, and deserves to be known more widely. For the rest, we think that the time has come when the other less pleasant side of the medal ought to be presented to the young men of Ireland.

“Slackers” ought to be told the truth – namely, that if they are not prepared to assist their country in an honourable way, they will have to serve it in less honourable fashion when the need arises.

They can learn to handle a bayonet now, or they will have to dig trenches at the point of a bayonet if the country is attacked.