The United States of America is a Federal Democracy. It is also an Empire. These two forms of governance; one overt (and domestic), the other covert (and international), are in obvious ideological tension but have more frequently been bedfellows than not in the history of powerful states. A line is ultimately discernible from Ancient Athens’ Delian League to the United States’ NATO.
Liam Hogan of “Limerick 1913” (@Luimneach1913), a local history project based in Limerick City Library, today posted a (widely retweeted) photograph of a Swastika flag flying in Cóbh on 11th July, 1938.
This was the date of the return of the “Treaty Ports” to Irish sovereignty under the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1938. The ports (Lough Swilly, Haulbowline off-shore from Cóbh, and Berehaven) had enjoyed extraterritoriality under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 (which released the Irish Free State) for the purpose of hosting British naval vessels.
Cóbh (Queenstown), 11th July 1938 - Joe Langdon, UCC.
The Irish Museum in Washington D.C. retweeted this image, and the gut reaction of many has been antipathy towards a symbol that rightly triggers revuIsion. However, some contextualisation is required: so I thought I’d share some of my hypotheses, and the subsequent detective work of Liam himself.
The easiest conclusion to jump to is that the appearance of the flag on such an auspicious date as this is a case of us ‘putting it up to the Brits’ and aligning ourselves with the nation that sent us munitions for the 1916 Easter Rising. However, Cóbh has never been known as a stronghold of Nazism which would seem to (intuitively, at least) discount this. Which is not, of course, to say that a sentiment of ‘Better the Germans than the Brits’ was unheard of at this time. (1)
Let’s take a closer look at the photograph.
North German Lloyd ran a transatlantic passenger service from Bremerhaven to New York, which stopped in Queenstown, (4) and the German government had placed both companies in trusteeship during the Great Depression, in 1932. The German government was thus a majority stakeholder in the company by 1938. (5)
Furthermore, ‘Patrick Street’, which can be made out at the bottom of the billboard, can only be a reference to the offices of North German Lloyd at 92 Patrick Street at that time (today home to J. Barter Travel).(6)
So, the suggestion is that, rather than an active Horst Wessel Cumann Cóbh, the proximity of the Swastika flag to this advertisement (or possibly even a North German Lloyd building) is too much to be mere coincidence.
That flag, although obviously a Nazi party political flag, was also an ensign, or official civil flag of Germany. It therefore would be flown (or displayed) matter-of-factly for reasons of protocol. You can glimpse this on the advertisement for the Ireland v. Germany international football friendly held two years previously at Dalymount Park, in 1936. (7)
Other German government-owned transport concerns at this time, such as Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei (revived in 2001!), were known to display ensigns such as these:
Therefore, it should not be controversial to suppose that the Germans, more than the Irish, were responsible for the appearance of the flag in Cóbh on that day.
Claims that religion is a mere cipher for political (i.e. temporal, earthly) power tend to be stated as follows: ‘Religion isn’t the problem; it’s the guys in charge’, ‘Religion is only about control’ or ‘I only have an issue with Organised Religion, not religion per se’ (small ‘r’.) This is problematic on several grounds, if not plain flimsy.
First of all, recourse to the latter argument in particular removes a near totality (by adherence) of the world’s religions from serious analysis. To take the two largest sects: Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam are, to the very core, organised religions. The former has a thicker hierarchical structure than the latter, to be sure, but this is a mere question of degrees. Simply put, neither religion is capable of being understood except in organisational terms.
Deny the organisation and you effectively deny the existence of the religion at all. It isn’t tenable to say ‘I like Christianity’ in the same breath as ‘I do not like organised religion.’
Defining religion so as to exclude organisation is almost a category error except that some entirely disorganised religions like cargo cults and Pantheism do attract a negligible following (but I’m sure most people do not have these in mind when making the argument which I dispute.)
So why not say simply ‘My problem is religion (full stop)’? For fear of causing offence? To exhibit tolerance? If that is the case then you’re satisfying almost no-one; not theists and not atheists. And strict agnostics adopt apathy.
Let us put it this way too: all ‘divine’ revelation, which is the only basis for these religions, is, as far as we know, the product of human authors enmeshed in these organisational structures, past and present. Even the major religions seem to concede this, while making the untestable punt for divine ‘inspiration’ of human authors and/or prophets.
So we cannot disentangle the ‘pure’ form of, say, Christianity, from all of its accretions. These accumulated with the first second-hand accounts, then translated with nothing like modern rigour. Reliability cannot be assumed when the sources are so corrupted, fragmented and ravaged by the waves of time (and theological intent.) How, then, can one claim to prefer the character of Jesus Christ, say, rather than the Christian clergy, when it is the image of Christ constructed and propagated by this same clergy that one is still relying upon? One would do better to be consistent and disavow both the myth and the mythmaker.
Secondly, despite the intention, statements such as those we began with can actually function to insulate religion from criticism. Much as Reformation era schismatics derived legitimacy by contending that they were ‘truer’ to Christianity, it invites superficial attempts to eschew the appearance of ‘organisation’ while still holding forth the same, perhaps pernicious, ideas.
Really, no drive for ‘pure’ religion is truly an orphan of its forerunner(s). One is being sold a used car that’s had its odometer clocked. And that odometer is dialled back with every refrain of ‘No, *that* is not *true* Religion X’
Finally, we must also consider the subtler possibility that statements such as those above seem to preclude. Yes, it can be observed that in most theologies there is a morality which systematically generates obedience from followers, and through which there is usually material gain for the religious organisation.
However, rather than suppose any elaborate conspiracy, it is more likely that these architects of control (i.e. theologians) earnestly believe they are working towards an ultimate or higher purpose. The object may be to obtain and exert power with which to fulfil a divine will or plan which is utopian in character, such as salvation. Power is a means in this way and not an end in itself.
My hunch is that it would be hard to keep up a pretense so cynically, that is to say without drinking one’s own Kool Aid, and for so long without being found out. Scientology will not grow beyond cult-size and is atrophying right now for this reason. L. Ron Hubbard was not remotely sincere, and this we know because the historical record is embarrasingly non-fragmentary for the 1950s. Education and literacy, likewise, are at historically unprecedented levels so that de novo religions cannot attain critical mass (for now.)
Meanwhile, suicide bombers continue to explode, gay marriage is fought as an existential threat to humanity and, to single one sect out, Mormons go on baptising dead Jews. None is a runner in zero-sum, realist or power-maximising analyses. If religions were only charismatic corporations, there are now more efficient methods of maintaining and winning customer loyalty at their disposal.
Say it sotto voce, but people might just sincerely believe it all. I don’t think that’s too controversial to suggest. That might do for a very partial explanation of the persistence of religion in human societies, and the power still vouched to them.
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This commentary takes the form of the reply I wasn’t able to deliver due to the strictures of the Q&A session.
The setting is a conference on International Relations. That is a subject in which Lucinda Creighton TD, Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs, has obtained a degree from D.C.U. (2005 - link).
I apologise for being inarticulate in the video; and I can only plead nervousness (this was the first time I had ever questioned a politician face-to-face and with a live audience of fifty people).
- A Policy, not a Law.
The ‘triple lock’ of Irish neutrality (explicated in the video) is not any kind of legal obligation, as Ms. Creighton suggested by calling it a ‘requirement’.
It has no statutory basis that I am aware of: either in primary or delegated legislation.
The Defence Acts (no. 1 - 1954; no. 2 - 1960), have sometimes been adduced as the ‘enshrinement’ of neutrality. However, neither Act speaks of ‘neutrality’, and instead outlines how Irish Defence forces may serve on UN missions.
The ‘triple lock’ certainly is a touted policy, but it remains with the parliament to declare war (Article 28.3 of the Constitution.) No act of parliament has, or can have, been passed contrary to that.
Funny though that the European Commission seems to think Ireland has a constitutionally ‘enshrined’ neutrality (link). I leave to someone else the honour of correcting them (you can contact them at this link).
TL;DR - the ‘triple lock’ is nowhere save in the rhetorical arsenal of successive Ministers for Defence and Foreign Affairs. It can be discarded, tweaked or ‘massaged’ as suited.
- An example?
Prime Minister Sean Lemass, whose government passed the 1960 Defence Act, is a good indicator of how inchoate, if not amorphous, our neutrality policy is. He clearly saw nothing in the Defence Acts to prevent him from saying that ‘Ireland is not neutral’ in 1960. See M. Callanan, ‘Ireland, from the Treaty of Rome to Membership’ in An Irish Perspective on Fifty Years Since the Treaty of Rome, (Dublin, 2007), p. 25ff. (link)
Non-neutrality is something which I do not have a problem with, per the maxim: ‘you must stand for something or you’ll fall for anything’.
My grievance, instead, is with the dishonesty of the Irish position (which smacks of having one’s cake and eating it.)
- Collective Security is Neutral? Someone tell Saddam Hussein.
Secondly, the UN is a collective security organisation. Article 42, Chapter VII of the UN Charter mandates the Security Council, having duly voted a resolution to that effect, to act militarily to uphold international peace and security.
All member states pledge, as a condition of membership of the UN, to give assistance to missions authorised under Chapter VII. (Link to the Charter.)
Switzerland, the prototype neutral, hesitated in joining the UN until 2002 (link), as that decision had implications for Swiss neutrality.
Yet, Switzerland hasn’t gone down the road of joining the European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) or NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP). Ireland, by contrast, has done so.
Otherwise the rest of Creighton’s justification is almost post-modern. Neutrality is whatever you want it to be, and (conveniently) defies anything approaching objective measurement; or even a spectrum running from ‘most’ to ‘least’ neutral.
She erects a nice strawman too about ‘not telling other countries how to conduct their international relations’. Who said this? Certainly not I.
Comparing Ireland’s contrivance of ‘neutrality’ with that of other states (such as Austria, which codified neutrality in its 1955 ‘State Treaty’ - link) is just that: comparing, not ordering others about.
2. Human Rights
In many respects, Ireland holds little of value in its human rights praxis for other states to emulate.
- Asylum seekers are housed in hostel-style accommodation, paid a pittance of €19.10 on which to live, and are not permitted to work or take up full-time education (link). They are also overwhelmingly rejected for refugee status (current acceptance rate of claims: 3.27% of all applications in 2011 - link)
- Prisoners in the country’s leading gaol, Mountjoy, are subject to over-crowding and drug-abuse. Seven prisoners have, at times, been known to share a cell designed for just two. They have no flush toilets. A new, high-capacity prison situated at Thornton Hall has been shelved due to the economic crisis (link/link/link)
- Schools remain, for now, able to discriminate on the basis of their religious ethos (link)
- We resurrected a criminal offence of Blasphemy in 2009, for which one can be indicted in the event of causing offence to a majority of adherents of a religion. On conviction, the offence carries a large fine (link)
Historically, we also lagged far behind the rest of the world, when we:
- Censored and banned books and film until the 1990s (although the Censorship of Publications Board still exists, it is effectively defunct)
- Prohibited condoms until 1985
- Prohibited women from continuing in the civil service after marriage until 1974
- Criminalised sodomy until 1993 (after an ECtHR decision against the state in 1988)
- Prohibited divorce until 1995 (and what we got then was stultified: when, as remains the case, one has to be physically separated from a spouse for 4 of the last 5 years before a dissolution is granted - link)
I’d say I was being charitable in describing Ireland as more cosmopolitan abroad than it ever was at home.
- Creighton’s Gay Marriage Conundrum
However, I always prefer to speak from personal experience.
I’m gay, and the latest scrap from the table, since the Equal Status Act (2000) (from which religious organisations are exempt), is the Civil Partnership Act (2011).
Lucinda’s party, Fine Gael, was not first to table a Civil Partnership Bill, as she claimed.
It produced the first policy document supporting civil partnerships (2004). She was not then a member of parliament (first elected 2007).
The honour of the first civil partnership bill introduced in either house of the Irish Parliament goes to Independent Senator David Norris, in 2004 (link).
The Labour Party was the first political party to table civil partnership legislation, in 2006 (link).
The Civil Partnership legislation which Ireland now has, in the event, is that of the Fianna Fail/Green Coalition’s design (January 2011), not Fine Gael’s (or Labour’s).
In something of a Viking funeral for satire, Creighton was then Opposition Spokesperson on Equality when she made her comments that marriage was ‘for raising children’ and not open to gay people (February 2011 - link).
Thus, I ran with this example, from her own track record, as an indictment of a speech that was heavy on platitudes about ‘respect for human rights’.
Most curious, given Creighton’s qualification as a barrister, is her assertion in the video (and you can hear me heckling, barely audible in the background) that there is a constitutional bar on gay marriage.
The language of the Constitution is not nearly so clear (Article 41 - The Family.) She must also be ignorant of the appeal in Zappone & Gilligan v. Revenue Commissioners  to the Supreme Court of Ireland, which is ongoing (link).
Rounding all of this out is her chilling coda: ‘You may disagree, but it’s not a human rights issue.’
What do you say to someone like that?.
3. And the Rest
The remainder of the video? Res Ipsa Loquitur, as I’m sure Creighton learned in King’s Inns.
On The Plus Side …
The least that can be said for Ireland’s Human Rights record is that I haven’t had my passport revoked in the interim. But for the grace of Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore go I, eh?
As we gird ourselves for the forthcoming debate on a ‘Childrens’ Rights’ amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, there’s a meme that needs to be de-constructed for its historical illiteracy.
Frequently, this is recited as the Constitution already pledging to ‘cherish all the children equally’. For example, here - link. Nowhere in its 50 articles is the turn of phrase to be found, and, all the more pertinently, nowhere to be found in Article 40 on Personal Rights.
The phrase actually emanates from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, 24th April, 1916 (link). Never a legally operative document, but symbolically significant for all that, the Proclamation’s framers (counter-intuitively we might think) did not intend for us to think of those under the age of 18 either.
The Irish Independent's (fairly expensive, I dare say) agent de provocateur does it to get mentions. That's why this blog post isn't going to mention his name once. Have a link to his latest screed here.
There’s one particularly odious part of the column that I’d like to tackle:
Admittedly, Ireland is not unique in its failure to admit to the immutable power of the laws of inconvenient consequence. It is a general liberal failing. For example, conservatives in the US warned of the dire calamity that would result from the liberalisation of the laws against homosexual acts. Actually, their pessimistic forecasts fell far short of the catastrophic reality: at least 250,000 deaths from AIDS. Now just about every American liberal could tell you the price of the Vietnam War for the US: 65,000 dead. But almost no one is aware that the price for male homosexual liberation was around four times the death-toll of Vietnam, and in a far shorter period. OK: so was that worth it? And I’m not expressing an opinion either way, just asking a question.
Notice, with the emphasis added, that he somehow thinks it unmentionable that Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese died in large numbers at US hands. ‘Liberals’ (and not just ‘liberals’) tend to give out about that death toll too. Wherefore, too, leaving out the wounded and maimed [link]?
However, he needs to compare a misconceived war initiated entirely by human agency, to the spread of a disease that we still don’t know how to cure.