1937 – The Year in Review
From the Irish Catholic Bulletin, January, 1938:
by Fear Faire
Seldom did we survey the world, at the turn of the year, in more critical circumstances than now; and only twice before did the affairs of our own country stand at so vital a turning point. The world to-day shivers in the shadow of a threat as dark as that which hung over it in the last months before the World War broke in 1914. Ireland, on the other hand, stands a new stage in her national progress; and we recall the New Year of 1919, and that of 1922.
At the New Year of 1919, Ireland was fresh from the General Election which authorised her leaders to set up Dáil Éireann and declare the nation’s independence. At the New Year of 1922, the Treaty which had been signed under an infamous threat of devastating war on civilians awaited approval or rejection, and Ireland was about to be condemned to the years of strife and decay which the approval, a few days later, drew down.
To-day, the Declaration of Independence of 1920 has been renewed, ratified by the electorate, and carried into effect, and an Independent Sovereign State came into being in the last days of 1937, while the New Year sees the nation embarked on the task of the recovery of the still-occupied Six Countries.
Truly, this is a momentous stage in Irish and world history. We will consider world affairs first.
I — THE WORLD IN PERIL
The last twelve months have seen a steady worsening of the world’s hopes of peace. At the beginning of 1937, war had been raging in Spain since July of the previous year; and, by this time, the nations were ranged in sympathy, some with the Red Government of Madrid (later of Valencia and now of Barcelona), while others were on the side of the Patriots, in arms for civilisation and religion. England backed the Red side from the start, partly through her bigots’ ingrained hatred of historic, Catholic Spain, and partly through her set policy to keep Spain weak, so that Britain still can hold Gibraltar and master the Western gate of the Mediterranean. Seldom in history has a more villainous campaign of lies been waged than that of the British-controlled news agencies which flooded the newspapers of England with the cant of Democracy threatened by Fascism — cant which deceived anglicised minds in Ireland, alas! and brought some of our patriots out in Mother England’s company in a highly-ironical union of hearts.
The Patriots besieged Madrid throughout the year, but did not take it. Their successes were in the North, were they extended their power throughout the whole of the coastal provinces. Irish folk who have fallen into the sentimental trap of sympathy with those Basques who went Red ought to remind themselves that, if the Basques are entitled to disrupt historic Spain, the Orangemen may claim some right to disrupt historic Ireland. If General Franco is not entitled to a united Spain, it may be held that we are not entitled to a united Ireland. At the year’s end, Franco is master of nearly four-fifths of Spain, and life flows peacefully and orderly under the patriotic flag. His complete victory is sure, though it must be slow, and realisation of this has driven England to a “climb-down” hardly less humiliating than that of 1935, when Mussolini called her naval bluff in the Mediterranean. She backed the wrong side. Her calculation of a Nationalist defeat in Spain failed, like that of an Italian defeat in Abyssinia.
JAPAN AND CHINA
Though the Spanish conflict moves towards peace by victory for the good cause, another war has blazed out, of which it is not so easy to discern the end. Japan launched punitive expeditions against China, alleging many injuries done to her trade and the peace of the East. The Japanese case has got little publicity in these islands; for, once again, English agencies have distributed only the tale that England wishes to be believed. England and Japan were allies until the last few years, but now they are rivals and almost open enemies. It is not surprising to find (if the news doled out to us is true) that a highly chivalric, gallant, honourable nation has been transformed into a savage, aggressive pack of rascals — such being always the result of turning against England. We have no brief for Japan, but we are not prepared to join in that league of “democratic” nations, led by English plutocrats, which is being organised to destroy Japan in the East and Italy in the West.
The vain efforts of the League of Nations to maintain the world’s peace are a tragic spectacle. England’s domination of the League has proved the League’s destruction. With Italy’s leaving of the League in December, 1937, that destruction is sealed; for now the most powerful half of Europe has repudiated Geneva, and Geneva is simply the symbol of a rival group. We deplore this, but its truth is obvious to all save those who refuse to use their eyes.
TWO CAMPS IN EUROPE
Thus has Europe become divided into two camps. Italy and Germany completely dominate the centre. Thanks to England’s support of the Red fury in Spain, and Italy’s effective help rendered to the Patriots in many heroic actions (like that of Guadalajara, which our newspapers have represented, at England’s direction, as an Italian defeat), Spain is on the side of the Central Powers as an ally, well-armed and seasoned in action. On the other side stand Republican France, whom England uses as a catspaws now as in 1914, and Red Russia. In desperation, Belgium has proclaimed its neutrality, and others of the smaller nations, realising the immense power of Italy and Germany at their doors, have sought to disentangle themselves from French control — which is ultimately British control. Hence an astonishing situation rose in the last weeks of 1937.
Far-reaching plans to re-establish the monarchy in France were discovered: a development which would restore traditionalism as the guiding rule of the great French nation, and would release France from English domination. Evidently, the pro-British Republic is in dire peril and could not be trusted to survive popular indignation if war came. At the same time, Yugo-Slavia entered an informal éntente with Italy. Thus, the nations on either side of Italy which England use as jaws proved untrustworthy for English plans. In fine, Italy has won such immense moral and diplomatic victories as to drive England near to European defeat. The first revelation of England’s straits was made in November, when Lord Halifax was sent to German to beg, without seeming to beg, for peace.
HALIFAX PLEADS FOR MERCY
The Halifax visit was one of the most remarkable episodes in British history. For years past, Britain has been proclaiming that Germany would get no more concessions, and would not be allowed to alter the map. Suddenly, Lord Halifax went over to discuss with Germany (i) the return of certain stolen German colonies or the provision of new ones, and (ii) the revision of the boundaries of Central European States. It is clear that England has decided not to fight that terrible aerial power across the narrow seas, but to buy peace by yielding on the two issues at stake. At the same time, she hopes to detach Germany from Italy as part of the terms; but it will be surprising if Germany deserts the ally who has made her bloodless victory possible.
A side-issue of the European struggle has been the uprise of a new Islam. The Mohammedan countries are waking to a sense of their power. England’s repression of the Arabs in Palestine, carried on fiercely by the arms of the ex-Black-and-Tans, has infuriated Islam in Arabia, Iraq, Trans-jordania, Egypt, and even distant India and Morocco. The Islamic world has gone over in sympathy to the Italian side. This was signalised during 1937 by many demonstrations which have not been reported in our anglicised papers, but which have been noted on the Continent as marking a new menace to British Imperial interests throughout the East.
AN AMURATH, AN AMURATH SUCCEEDS
While England has suffered so many reverses in foreign diplomacy, she has escaped such shocks in home affairs as befell her during the Abdication crises of 1936. However, the irretrievable injury done by the dethronement of Edward VIII in such squalid circumstances was seen at the time of the coronation of his brother. The event lacked éclat. It went off peacefully, but with little enthusiasm, and it is remarked that the public appearances of George VI and his Queen fail to draw forth those popular manifestations which are so useful in the control of the masses. The British Monarchy has lost its sentimental and moral influence. After the coronation, Mr. Stanley Baldwin was made an Earl, and retired tearfully from the field of politics, where his eloquence had roused hopes that never were fulfilled. He was succeeded by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who is reputed to be less futile, whether or not more honest. The announcement in November of a trade pact with the United States of America was the first signal that the new Premier is trying seriously to pull together the interests which Mr. Baldwin allowed to run loose.
What, perhaps, is more important is the evidence that British statesmen know a new economic slump to be at hand, following the armaments boom and the spell of fictitious prosperity. A headlong rise in the cost of living, beyond what wages can overtake, is the first sign of an approaching crisis and collapse. A trade agreement with America, and an honest deal with Ireland after the vain effort to smash our commerce with penal tariffs, would be a move towards more honest and more statesmanlike dealings; and if John Bull is suffering severely enough to turn honest, even for a while, there is some hope of a trade settlement between these islands. It must come some day — when the devil is sick enough.
Finally, in this survey, we must note the failure of the Imperial Conference that met after the Coronation. It is believed that Dominion statesmen pointed out to those of Britain that the agenda, plans for defence, were vitiated by the abscence of an understanding with Ireland. If war comes, and Ireland remains partitioned and unreconciled, of what use to threatened England will her defence plans be? That question is said to have been asked.
II — SOVEREIGN IRELAND
That brings us home to our own country. On December 29th, this land proclaimed its status as a Sovereign Independent State, not without adverting to the continued occupation of six of our counties and three ports outside those counties, by the forces of the historic aggressor. How was this position reached?
Fianna Fáil held office throughout 1932, the great Eucharistic year, and then from January, 1933, until 1937. Its work of industrial development had come near to completion when 1937 arrived. We do not mean that no further expansion is desired or intended, but that the general policy of development had proved itself so thoroughly, and such an ample variety of production was in progress, that henceforth industry will be a large part of the nation’s economy, which no Government, no party, can fail to respect and cherish. The notion that Ireland never could have manufacturers — that nature decreed her to be a land of flocks and herds and nothing more — was destroyed forever by the first two periods of office of Mr. De Valera’s party. Our country now is sure of its natural measure of industrial development, implying that young men can find work in Irish factories as well as Irish fields, and need not emigrate. Private enterprise now can command State protection, and may be trusted to continue to progress apace.
A CHRISTIAN MODEL
This is a splendid achievement; but the General Election sought more than a vote of thanks from the electorate. What Mr. De Valera justly regards as his life’s masterpiece was the Constitution of Ireland which was submitted to the people at the same time as the Government’s record. By voting by a solid majority for this instrument, the people enacted it — the proclamation of all Ireland as a Sovereign Independent State, with a democratic system of Government and a Christian declaration of faith.
On many scores, the Constitution is an historic document. It is hailed by the Christian world as a model, in respect of its moral foundation. It has been commended in the Osservatore Romano in two long, enthusiastic notices. Its social principles are those of the Papal Encyclicals. Yet, while it is penetrated by the Catholic mind, it is devised in so fair and generous a form that our Protestants have no fault to find with it, and among the very first people to hail it in Ireland were the outgoing and incoming Presbyterian Moderators — demonstrating, by their welcome, that all their co-religionists’ fears are fictitious.
“P.R.” A PROBLEM
It is no small matter that Ireland has devised a democratic system, in a time when so few lands are truly democratic, seeing that we never can regard plutocratic England as possessed of the necessary basis of democratic rule. On this score, however, something remains to be perfected. The “P.R.” system, which has brought democracy to a deadlock in so many lands, deadlock that dictators have broken with the strong hand, has impeded the Government since the General Election, and is admitted now to require changes. By what means the evils of “P.R.” can be eliminated and its benefits secured, we do not propose to say here and now, although our mind is clear on the matter and we have little doubt that the national leader will discover a wise solution.
The most important aspect of the Constitution is its challenge to Partition. It claims all Ireland for the Irish nation. No sooner had it been enacted, than Mr. De Valera announced that “the next objective is unity,” and the Irish world responded with a great expression of eagerness. During the summer, the British monarch came to our partitioned country without our invitation, and against our will — an act that was a blow in the face for every patriotic Irishman. There were nocturnal acts of protest in a violent form that we do not approve but the blame is on those who brought George VI to the city where George V initiated partition, as if to confirm and underline partition. To this act of insult to the Irish nation, the Constitution’s first clauses are the most dignified reply.
UNITY MUST COME
The North has begun to organise. It has voiced, through a patriotic group of leaders the demand to be brought under the Constitution and the supreme object of national endeavour now must be to achieve that end. The lifetime of the present Dáil must see something effectual done, either issuing in unity or punishing England by a scalding exposure throughout the length and breadth of the world. President De Valera’s reminder at Geneva that England, now seeking to partition Palestine, is fond of partitioning other people’s countries, is an example of the embarrassments to British policy which will constrain John Bull at last — if we will it strongly enough.
The next few weeks may see a settlement of the trade dispute. War perils may induce John Bull even to hand over our ports to Irish maintainance and defence. Yet, if and when these issues are settled, there still will be no friendship between these lands if partition remains. We are confident that, while Eamonn de Valera leads, this truth will be kept to the forefront of John Bull’s attention.