International Morality


By EAMON de VALERA, Prime Minister of Eire

Broadcast over Radio Eireann, May 16, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 485-486.

CERTAIN newspapers have been very persistent in looking for my answer to Mr. Churchill's recent broadcast. I know the kind of answer I am expected to make. I know the answer that first springs to the lips of every man of Irish blood who heard or read that speech no matter in what circumstances or in what part of the world he found himself. I know the reply I would have given a quarter of a century ago.

But I have deliberately decided that that is not the reply I shall make tonight. I shall strive not to be guilty of adding any fuel to the flames of hatred and passion which, if continued to be fed, promise to burn up whatever is left by the war of decent human feeling in Europe. Allowances can be made for Mr. Churchill's statement, however unworthy, in the first blush of his victory. No such excuse could be found for me in this quieter atmosphere.

There are, however, some things which it is my duty to say, some things which it is essential to say. I shall try to say them as dispassionately as I can.

Mr. Churchill makes it clear that in certain circumstances he would have violated our neutrality and that he would justify his action by Britain's necessity. It seems strange to me that Mr. Churchill does not see that this, if accepted, would mean that Britain's necessity would become the moral code and that, when this necessity was sufficiently great, other people's rights were not to count.

It is quite true that other Great Powers believe in this same code in their own regard and have behaved in accordance with it. That is precisely why we have the disastrous successions of wars, World War No. 1 and World War No. 2; and shall it be World War No. 3? Surely Mr. Churchill must see that, if his contention be admitted in our regard, a like justification can be framed for similar acts of aggression elsewhere and no small nation adjoining a Great Power could ever hope to be permitted to go its own way in peace.

It is indeed fortunate that Britain's necessity did not reach the point when Mr. Churchill would have acted. All credit to him that he successfully resisted the temptation which, I have no doubt, many times assailed him in his difficulties and to which I freely admit many leaders might have easily succumbed. It is indeed hard for the strong to be just to the weak, but acting justly always has its rewards. By resisting his temptation in this instance Mr. Churchill, instead of adding another sordid chapter to the already bloodstained record of the relations between England and this country, has advanced the cause of international morality an important step, one of the most important indeed that can be taken on the road to the establishment of any sure basis for peace. As far as the peoples of these two islands are concerned, it may perhaps mark a fresh beginning towards the realization of that mutual comprehension to which Mr. Churchill has referred and for which he has prayed and for which I hope he will not merely pray but work also, as did his predecessor who will yet, I believe, find the honored place in British history which is due to him; certainly he will find it in any fair record of the relations between Britain and ourselves.

That Mr. Churchill should be irritated when our neutrality stood in the way of what he thought he vitally needed I understand, but that he or any thinking person in Britain or elsewhere should fail to see the' reason for our neutrality I find it hard to conceive. I would like to put a hypothetical question. It is a question I have put to many Englishmen since the last war. Suppose Germany had won the war, had invaded and occupied England and that, after a long lapse of time and many bitter struggles, she was finally brought to acquiesce in admitting England's right to freedom and let England go. But not the whole of England, all but, let us say, the six southern counties. Those six southern counties, those commanding the entrance to the narrow seas, Germany however singled out and insisted on holding herself with a view to weakening England as a whole and maintaining the security of her own communications through the Straits of Dover. Let us suppose further that, after all this had happened, Germany was engaged in a great war in which she could show that she was on the side of the freedom of a number of small nations. Would Mr. Churchill as an Englishman who believed that his own nation had as good a right to freedom as any other, not freedom for a part merely but freedom for the whole, would he, while Germany still maintained the partition of his country and occupied six counties of it, would he lead this partitioned England to join with Germany in a crusade? I do not think Mr. Churchill would. Would he think the people of partitioned England an object of shame if they stood neutral in such circumstances? I do not think Mr. Churchill would.

Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain's stand alone after France had fallen and before America entered the war.

Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two but for several hundred years against aggression, that endured spoilation, famines, massacres, in endless succession, that was clubbed many times into insensibility but that each rime on returning consciousness took up the fight anew, a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?

Mr. Churchill is justly proud of his nation's perseverance against heavy odds. But we in this island are still prouder of our people's perseverance for freedom through all the centuries. We of our time have played our part in that perseverance and we have pledged ourselves to the dead generations who have preserved intact for us this glorious heritage that we too will strive to be faithful to the end and pass on this tradition unblemished.

Many a time in the past there appeared little hope except that hope to which Mr. Churchill referred that, by standing fast, the time would come when, to quote his words, "The tyrant would make some ghastly mistake which would alter the whole balance of the struggle." I sincerely trust however that it is not thus our ultimate unity and freedom will be achieved though, as a younger man, I confess I prayed even for that and indeed at times saw no other.

In later years I have had a vision of a much nobler and better ending; better for both our peoples and for the future of mankind. For that I have now been long working. I regret that it is not to this nobler purpose that Mr. Churchill is lending his hand rather than by the abuse of a people who have done him no wrong, trying to find in a crisis like the present an excuse for continuing the injustice of the mutilation of our country. I sincerely hope that Mr. Churchill has not deliberately chosen the latter course but if he has, however regretfully we may say it, we can only say "Be it so."

Meanwhile, even as a partitioned small nation we shall go on and strive to play our parts in the world, continuing unswervingly to work for the cause of true freedom and for peace and understanding between all nations. As a community which has been mercifully spared from all the major sufferings as well as from the blinding hates and rancours engendered by the present war, we shall endeavor to render thanks to God by playing a Christian part in helping, so far as a small nation ran, to bind up some of the gaping wounds of suffering humanity.