I’ve written recently on the failure of the League of Nations to abolish war. And I believe I identified the main culprits without doing them an injustice. Had I said that Britain gave free passage to Mussolini’s Fascists through the Suez Canal on their way to the Rape of Abyssinia, I would have done Britain an injustice. The British owned and ran the Canal and made sure the Fascists paid the tolls. Accountants and Auditors found no fault with the Suez Canal Company nor their Fascist Customers.
I recalled that all Nations of the League were bound by its Covenant to come to the aid of
any of its members under attack. And that Eamon De Valera, representing Ireland had demanded in 1932 after Japan had invaded Manchuria and in 1936 after Italy had attacked, that all members of the League honoured the Covenant. And that he offered members of the Irish Defence Forces to take part with others to defend the rights of victims of aggression.
Anyhow he got no support from the Bigger Powers, nor, so far as I know, any smaller ones.
After the League’s failure was rewarded with the Second World War, its victors and their admirers set up the United Nations. When Britain declared war on Germany in
September 1939 she didn’t invoke the League of Nations Covenant although the League
was still in being. Ireland, in common with Belgium, Holland, Spain and Portugal (England’s oldest ally), Denmark, Norway, the United States and the Soviet Union refused to follow Britain’s lead. The Brits twiddled their thumbs behind the Maginot line during the Phoney War, before high-tailing it to Dunkirk in June 1940 and thence to England, leaving behind guns and vehicles which were to supplement German assets in Russia a year later. France capitulated to Germany. The vast majority of French Parliamentarians approved of that arrangement. They had not much alternative.
Ireland, not having taken sides, had no friends in 1945. Britain had never been her friend anyway.
The United States Minister in Dublin during the War, David Gray, was poisonously anti-Irish
and, as an uncle of Eleanor Roosevelt had probably too much influence on President Franklin Roosevelt. When FDR died in April 1945 his successor, Harry Truman, kept Gray in Dublin. Truman dropped two Atom Bombs on undefended Japanese cities as a warning to the Soviet Union of what would happen to it, if its war-ravaged country should challenge American interests. The US alone had the Bomb and Truman believed its monopoly would last a long time.
Anyhow the UN was ten years old when Ireland was at last admitted. Liam Cosgrave of Fine
Gael was Ireland’s Minister for External Affairs and in his first speech there he asked (mainly
Muslim) Arabs and Jews to settle their differences on Christian principles. But before that he promised to support those powers “principally responsible for the defences of the free world in their resistance to the spread of Communist power.” I think if Samuel Johnson
had been around then he’s have defined Anti-Communism as “The First Refuge of a
Ireland made its first impact in the United Nations after Fianna Fail came to power in
1957 and de Valera appointed Frank Aiken as Minister of External Affairs. Aiken had
become IRA Chief of Staff at 25 in 1923 during the Civil War and almost immediately
ordered that it cease fire and return its arms to their dumps. He helped found Fianna Fail and, when they came to power in 1932 visited IRA prisoners and released them. Appointed Minister for Defence he persuaded the Free State Army to accept the political control of those they had been hunting, shooting and imprisoning a mere nine years earlier. And he held many ministerial portfolios with distinction in all the Fianna Fail Governments since 1932.
Aiken broke with Fine Gael’s subservience to the leaders of the “Free World”. Britain and France were in the international dog-house following the Suez fiasco of 1956, and were waging colonial wars in Kenya and Cyprus, and Algeria, for instance. France had been roundly trounced by sandal-wearing Vietnamese in Dienbienphu. Recently decolonialised countries, whose liberation forces had taken inspiration from Frank Aiken’s comrades, were taking seats at the United Nations. And Aiken regarded
them as Ireland’s natural allies.
So Ireland took an independent line. In 1958 Irish Troops – that is, soldiers in Ireland’s service, first wore the UN’s Blue Beret, as observers in Lebanon, whose population was enduring the effects of the Anglo/French destruction of the Ottoman Empire forty years earlier.
But the world’s greatest danger was the spread of nuclear bombs in the thirteen years since Hiroshima.
Aiken put it this way –
“The danger of nuclear weapons to humanity, it seems to us, does not merely increase in direct ratio to the number of those possessing them. It seems likely to increase in geometric progression. Those who now possess them are a few great and highly developed states with great urban populations, with much to lose and little to gain in a nuclear war…………………….
Sooner or later.. unless this organisation takes urgent ..steps, this weapon will fall into the hands of states with much less to lose…”
Aiken’s plea of October 1958 was taken up and an amended version of his resolution for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, pending their total abolition became UN Resolution 1665 in 1961. Aiken’s was the first signature on the document, which he signed in Moscow.
The world got a temporary reprieve. Today the US has a President and regime which is the stuff of nightmares. Some very scary states have nuclear weapons and the US has withdrawn from an agreement with Russia on intermediate range missiles.
Ireland today has no statesmen or women of Aiken’s stature.