No. 221 NAI DFA Secretary's Files A2

Memorandum by Joseph P. Walshe to Eamon de Valera (Dublin)

Dublin, 11 July 1940

1. Neutrality was not entered upon for the purpose of being used as a bargaining factor. It represented, and does represent, the fundamental attitude of the entire people. It is just as much a part of the national position as the desire to remain Irish, and we can no more abandon it than we can renounce everything that constitutes our national distinctiveness. If either party invades us, we are then going to fight to defend our integral national life against an enemy who wishes to destroy its essential character in time of war. In defending our neutrality against an invader by force of arms, we are not giving it up – quite the contrary.

Clearly, Belgium, Holland, Norway and Denmark had the same conception of neutrality. They had to run the risk of avoiding military alliances with neighbouring Great Powers as an attempt to safeguard their ultimate national existence. An alliance with either Great Power, in their view, would only have brought earlier disaster upon them. Neutrality kept three of the small States concerned out of the last war. The fact that Germany regarded their territories as essential to her for waging the war against England and France does not necessarily mean that they are to be incorporated ultimately into the German State. Their neutrality at least has given them a right to the sympathy and good will of all other peoples in their eventual effort to regain their independence. A military alliance would not only have lost them that sympathy, but would have caused the world to say that they deserved the fate of the Power with which they had cast their lot.

2. Notwithstanding the hostile attitude of a section of the American Press which supports England so long, and just so long, as they think her financial power has a chance of continuing, the vast body of the American people whose good will we retain while we remain neutral can be a powerful – even a determining – factor in the restoration of our independence should we lose it during the war as a result of defending our neutrality.

If, on the other hand, we ally ourselves with England, that good will will disappear and we shall be classed once more as part of England deserving whatever fate may befall her in defeat. Whatever the ups and downs of world fortunes may be, the eventual good will of America is essential to Germany if her European order is to be a success. Our sheet anchor is in the common people of the United States. The hopes and fears of Germany's future are linked up with her future relations with America, and that is our hope, whether of avoiding a German invasion altogether or of eventually getting back our independence if invaded by Germany during the war.

3. The detailed practical reasons for not abandoning our neutrality are related to the foregoing general considerations. If England is victorious, our relations with her must return to normal. Even States at war with each other resume normal relations in due course. Our attitude towards England is more than benevolent. A few years of unjustifiable resentment might follow her victory – but what is that to the deservedly complete loss of our independence which would follow a German victory if we make ourselves one with England now. It might even suit Germany to be able to treat Ireland as part of England and to subject us to perpetual occupation and absorption. We can at least do what we can to save our people from that fate, and what we can do is to refuse to give Germany the right of conquest by accepting our reabsorption in the United Kingdom, for that is the meaning of establishing a military unit between ourselves and Great Britain.

4. Let us beware also of a very vital factor in the British agitation for a military alliance. It is beyond belief that a great many of Britain's public men do not recognise the grave danger of defeat in which she now stands. Many of them must be thinking of possible peace terms. If Ireland becomes a unit with Great Britain, it is entirely probable that the two countries would be treated as such by Germany, and the losses, financial, economic, etc., would be spread over both territories. Ireland would not be given separate privileges. Instead of playing our natural role as a separate State with an important position as the outpost of Europe towards America, and being treated with favour by the dominant State of Europe naturally desirous of keeping us strong in population and prosperity vis-à-vis England, we should be turned into a barren German fortress. It is natural that England should not cease – even in her present desperate straits – to adhere to the policy of having a weak country on her western flank. Some day she might hope to take back the fortress, but she could never again defeat an Ireland with a strong and prosperous population. A strong Ireland would be a gain to the European continent. To all true Britishers it would constitute a weakening of Britain. That has been an elementary fact of British policy for centuries, and it was last formulated in Churchill's book on the Great War.1

5. To abandon our neutrality is therefore to accept Britain's conception of our place in the world. It would be a clear indication that, at the very crisis of our national life, we had not yet grasped the elementary truths of world politics, and we should deserve the consequences of our fatal ignorance.

6. England is already conquered. That is also an elementary fact for everyone who has not allowed himself to be overcome by Britain's belief in her permanent invincibility. The moment Germany and Russia (even without Italy and Japan) proposed to act together against England, her fate was sealed. To the sane looker-on, Chamberlain's announcement of England's declaration of war on Germany in his radio talk on 3rd September, 1939, sounded the death knell of the British Empire. She went into the war on a broken diplomatic front and no fleet, no financial power, could save her from a combination stretching from France to the Pacific. Now, she has suffered the greatest defeat in her military history in the Battle of Flanders. Driven out of Norway, Belgium, Holland and France, she is a relatively small, densely populated, industrial island beleaguered by an air force which is at least five times as strong in numbers as hers. America's delivery of planes does not exceed 500 a month, and, with increasing tension in the Far East and America's ingrained fear of Japan, this number is likely to decrease. The argument that American aid to England is the best way to beat Germany who is only a potential enemy will have little or no force with the American people when Japan begins to take over the white man's possessions in East Asia – an event that will in all probability coincide with the later phases of Germany's attack on Britain.

The admitted superiority of the British fighter plane is wholly exaggerated by the manner in which the British Press and radio feature individual combats. There is no guarantee that the qualitative superiority of the fighter plane will last. Germany's resources for the rapid manufacture of new planes have enormously increased with the acquisition of France's industrial plant, and her easy access to the ore mines of France and Spain. Russia, too, under the guidance of German experts who are known to be in Russia since the beginning of the war, must already be in a position to produce planes and other weapons for Germany.

The Norway expedition, and the failure of the Fleet to operate with any real success in narrow waters against aircraft and submarines, is a sufficient indication that the Fleet cannot save England from invasion against a Power with a larger air force and a considerable submarine fleet. In the end, the real invasion must take place over narrow waters, and the Channel provides the passage.

7. The addition of France as a passive enemy is already producing its effects in America, where sympathy has slackened since the Oran affair. The French Canadians are sullenly resentful. In matters of this kind, sentiment is slow to gain the upper hand of reason, but it invariably does in the long run. Italy's submarine and air fleet are admitted to be relatively efficient. They will at least be a powerful aid to Germany in completing the defeat of Britain. Spain is on the verge of joining the Axis. Her non-belligerency officially declared was a warning to Great Britain that she would come into the war at the appropriate moment. Gibraltar and the _______2 as well as Ceuta,3 will be in Germany's power. Italy and Spain have shown themselves willing instruments of Germany. France may become so through England's blunders. The situation is, therefore, entirely different from that of the Napoleonic period when States submitted only unwillingly to him. Poland, the Low Countries and Norway will bow to fate when they see Britain abandoned by all her former adherents, and Germany will have willing or half-willing populations to aid her in her schemes for a new Europe.

8. To conclude, the possibility of a German invasion which does exist gives no excuse for abandoning our neutrality. As I have suggested, it makes the maintenance of that policy all the more essential. A neutral State has a better chance of resurrection in the final settlement, and, in our particular position, departure from neutrality would be attended by many other evils, as already explained. But we should not take a German invasion as a certainty. Militarily, it is a hazardous venture. It would mean establishing relatively small forces isolated from their base by a distance of 300 miles. It would mean incurring the risk of a major defeat and the loss of transports at sea. Germany's lightning progress is being helped by the prestige already won, and she cannot want to run the risk of a severe blow to it in the course of what could only be a subsidiary operation. The mere landing of troops from planes could not be expected to effect a permanent hold without advancing troops in the rere (which happened in all the attacks on the small Continental Powers). Our Army, at least with the help of the British Army, could quickly bring such attempts to nought.

Moreover, Germany does not want to alienate the entire public opinion of America. She knows that the Irish, Germans and Italians form a very powerful group there, with Irish influence paramount. She knows how grievous a moral loss she would suffer if she attacked Ireland, which is not – as were the other States attacked – in the way of her advance to England. It would be an enormous underestimate of Hitler's ambitions to believe that he is not determined to win the good opinion of America for his real aim in the building of a new Europe under German leadership.

9. The arguments relating to our internal situation are too obvious to need formulation. Dissension, demoralisation, and the final moral and material defeat of the nation, is a brief summary of the consequences.

Some priests who have no world Church outlook and overcome by hatred for the passing phenomenon of Nazism, say we are bound to join the fight against Germany. The Pope does not seem to share that view.

1 Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, 1911-1918 (London, 1923).

2 There is what appears to be a deliberate gap in the original text at this point; an unknown number of words have been left out.

3 Ceuta is a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco.

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