No. 21  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P35

Memorandum by Frank Aiken of a meeting with Colonel Bill Donovan

LONDON, 6 March 1941

On my arrival in London Mr. Dulanty found a message from Colonel Donovan saying that he wished to see me. He fixed an appointment at Claridge's Hotel and we talked to him from 9.45 until 12.

Colonel Donovan believes that the British cause is a spiritual one. He would not ask Ireland to stick her neck into the war but he cross-examined at great length in order to discover why we did not enter the war without being asked. The Colonel said he was fighting the Irish trait of not thinking things out to the end and his cross-examination was somewhat lengthy and at times vigorous in order to discover our attitude to the war. He believes that everything, including the motives of the belligerents and the neutrals can be reduced to a simple Yes or No proposition if it is thought out to the end. The complications to be added after the Yes or No answer must be elicited. The Colonel can see no rea- son why he should not get this type of answer to the question ‘Has Ireland a stake in this war?’ I gathered that if he got the answer Yes his next question would be ‘Why does she not at once follow her interests and join the war against the power which would crush her when it had successfully crushed all the other European nations’? He admits that the British were very wrong about Partition and about everything regarding Ireland but asked would the Germans not be worse.

Some of his questions were –

Did we want the Germans to win, and did we think a German victory would be better for Ireland than a British victory?

If we got a settlement of Partition would we join the war?

If America entered the war and guaranteed our position would we give the Bases?

Did I, personally, want the Germans to win?

Mr. Dulanty put forward the proposition that the war might be regarded as a war between two imperial powers but the Colonel could not see this. I asked him how America would be affected should the Germans dominate Europe completely. He said he did not think they would make a military attack on the United States but would dominate Africa directly and would utilise their trade system and discontent in the South American countries to dominate the world economically. In such eventuality the Colonel could not see the American system of life surviving.

During all the cross-examination I took our usual stand that our people would not enter a war to fight a potential aggressor on the side of the only power that had aggressed them to date, and that an effort on the part of any Government to bring the people into the war would simply create national disruption and result in the overthrow of the Government proposing it. The people had made up their minds on this and I personally had made up my mind on it. We were solely pro- Irish in the war and wished for a victory for the ideals for which we stood – the right to determine our own life and to decide the issue of war and peace for our- selves unless attacked. We did not contemplate settling the Partition question by force. Our policy was to prevent the country being used as a base of attack against England. We had stood by this policy to the knowledge of the British Government and would not be driven from it. We would not ask the British forces into our territory even though we were assured that the Germans were going to attack us within ten days, as the morale of our people required it to be clearly proved who was the aggressor. If the British feared an attack on our country by the Germans the proper thing for them to do was to arm us, and those arms would be very much more effective in the hands of Irishmen defending their own soil than in the hands of foreigners defending a strategic outpost.

The Colonel believed, he said, that the British would not attack us unless their life absolutely depended upon it but he could see a situation in which it might be necessary for their survival to do this. I pointed out that the British campaign for our ports was not a strategic necessity whilst of course they would be very useful if they were got with the goodwill of the Irish people. He said the British were not interested in the Southern ports but were interested in Swilly and in air bases in Donegal. I pointed out that Foyle is quite a reasonable harbour for destroyers and anti-submarine work and that better land and sea plane bases were available in Co. Derry and Co. Fermanagh.

I urged the Colonel to use his influence with the British Government to stop the anti-Irish campaign in the British press as otherwise the English people would get so excited that public opinion might force the British Government to take steps against Ireland which would in fact be against their best interests. I said I was only interested in this from our own point of view but that from the British point of view the British Government should try and retain the initiative and not allow a situation to be created which might sweep them into action against their better judgment.

The Colonel said that the Germans were still making progress in the various European countries on the plea that the alternative to their European order was Communism. I tried to make the point that if the Democracies were to survive they would have to put up an alternative which would be better for the people of all countries and their international relationship. I pointed out that the question of international economic relations with every nation striving to obtain a favourable trade balance was disruptive of good international rela- tions and put forward the idea of balanced international trade through an international clearing house and confiscating the balance held by any nation at the end of the accounting period.

The Colonel spoke about wishing to see Ireland within the American orbit and taking the same line as America on all questions. He stressed the fact that whilst he was interested in Ireland and everything Irish he viewed the whole situation solely from the point of view of an American who believed there were great spiritual issues at stake in the war.

The Colonel said that strategy was only commonsense and that he felt that a fresh mind coming over to Europe might be able to see better what should be done with the people immediately involved. He did not see how an island could attack the Continent and he favoured the British retaining a hold on Salonika in order to attack the German breadbasket in the Balkans as soon as they were ready to push forward.

He said that the Americans were really at war with Germany for two years and the Germans were ignoring it until they thought fit to attack.

I dictated the above report this morning. It is only a rough indication but must suffice for the moment.

[initialled] F. A.

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