ALL HELL LET LOOSE The World at War 1939-1945 by Max Hastings 748 pp h/b Reviewed by Donal Kennedy Harper Press ISBN 978-0-00-773809-2
A review in the Sunday Times calls this work “Unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written.” Hastings himself reviews book in that paper and I always enjoy them. So perhaps the praise quoted is not exaggerated.
If one is a pedant, that is. For, when Hastings strays from the great theatres of war to the happy little oasis of peace where I was born in 1941 he seems loosed from the disciplines of a reasoned commentator and free to indulge in ranting fantasies.
Dealing with war, his arguments appear to be supported by facts. I suspect if those facts prove insufficient to sustain his conclusions he would have the grace to confess himself mistaken. But, when strays away from the violence that is his bread and butter Max Hastings runs the risk of Hell's Fire.
He presents no evidence to support his denunciations of Eamon de Valera and Ireland's policy of neutrality.My teachers used warn of rushing to rash judgements. They also alluded to a Keep Out Of Hell clause whereby those who persisted in error would be granted Divine Mercy. It was called Invincible Ignorance. So there may be hope for Max Hastings yet.
The first reference to Ireland is a quotation from “American writer Joe Dees,” “writing from” (neutral) New York to a British friend in January 1941" who says “All talk centers around England. Americans are proud of the way England is sticking it out..........and "worried over Ireland's suicidal obstinacy (in remaining neutral.”)
Hastings apparently thinks it unremarkable that non-belligerent Americans are proud of belligerent Brits and fearful for the lives of of the benighted Irish, who, by keeping out of a fight, are apparently risking suicide. You'd wonder what Hastings was smoking when he provided his readers with this nugget.
Ireland's refusal to surrender her ports, which she had only recovered in 1938, to what Hastings calls “the mother country” he attributes to “the fanatical loathing of Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera for his British neighbours.” Hastings claims that Ireland depended on Britain for most of its vital commodities and all of its fuel.
I can remember when I first saw coal and believe it was after the war as over, On the Hill of Howth we burned turf in our fires, and though we had no bogs on the Hill I had never realised that we owed that turf to Mr Churchill's largesse. We had electric light, and my father,an Engineer, helped build the hydroelectric works on the Shannon in the 1920s, which contributed to the state's resources. We had (rationed) gas, produced from coal, which may have been mined in Britain.As for eggs, we had fresh eggs from our own hens, and
I know of no contemporaries brought up in Ireland who had powdered eggs or powdered milk. Local cows and local goats provided us with milk. We had fish from our territorial waters and never tasted snoek. Britain didn't provide us with beef, ham or lamb, nor the leather for our shoes.We had fruit and vegetables grown locally and did not depend on a British airlift for our potatoes I may be wrong, but I believe that Ireland helped feed Britain during the war, and any necessities she got from Britain did not arise from Mr Churchill's concern for her welfare.
The only time I felt deprived of anything was when i beheld a pedal car in a nearby garden,which had me green with envy.I can't recall setting eyes on its owner, but heard that his father was a Captain Dowds. I learned later that he was a Sea Captain, of a schooner belonging to IRISH SHIPPING LIMITED set up in 1941 to help obtain necessities from overseas. Crossing the Bay of Biscay, he was called on to halt by a British warship, which sent a Boarding Party to search his ship. Commanding the Boarding Party was an Irishman, who had been taught Navigation by Captain Dowds in Dun Laoghaire. You might well ask -"How many owed so much to Whom?"
Mr Hastings returns to his attack on Eamon de Valera – “Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera, flaunting to the end his loathing of his British neighbours, pad a formal call upon the German Embassy in Dublin to express his condolences on the death of the Reich's head of state.”
When Franklyn Roosevelt died a few weeks before Hitler, Ireland's National Flag was flown at half-mast and de Valera paid tribute to him in Dail Eireann, which adjourned as a mark of respect. Hastings does not recall that event. The American Minister in Dublin, David Grey, had treated the Irish Government with contempt for some years. Not knowing how to deal with Dev, Grey would call on Arthur Balfour, who had lived in the Minister's residence in the 1880s when he was Britain's Chief Secretary there. As Balfour had been dead since 1930 the Minister employed Occult means to consult him. This scene might have furnished hilarious copy for Grahame Greene or Evelyn Waugh if set in Haiti or Africa,provided, of course, that the American Minister had been a Darker shade than Grey.
The German Minister in Dublin had not overstepped the bounds of protocol, civility or diplomacy and Dev's visit to his Legation followed standard protocol, nothing further.
Unlike some of his critics in Ireland and in Britain, de Valera ever voiced admiration for the ideologies of Mussolini, Franco or Hitler, nor did he adopt their uniforms nor praise or encourage their adventures.
When, in the mid 1930s Italy launched her murderous attack on Abyssinia, de Valera, at the League of Nations, supported a British motion to apply sanctions to the aggressor. In Ireland, he was attacked by Fine Gael for not supporting Italy. For the record it should be stated that amongst the admirers of Mussolini's adventure was Winston Churchill, then ploughing a lonely political furrow, Pope Pius XI, and even Italian Jews. These “surrendered their own holy artefacts,including the gold key of the Ark of the Covenant from their Synagogue in Rome.” Together with Christian artefacts they were melted down to finance the Fascist adventure.
I doubt de Valera ever expressed loathing for any nation, nor,indeed,any individual, nor that he ever hated anyone. His Christianity was sincere, and his intelligence would have recoiled from such stupidity.Ireland's British enemies during the Tan War denounced him for his Hispanic ancestry, as did Cumann na Gael in the 1920s, but he never stooped to such silly tactics. A keen Rugby player,he had been been to a school where, if someone passed wind, they were said to be “offside” and coarseness of speech and thought was not his style.
He pursueds aims by force of argument, not the argument of force.
His private affairs he entrusted to Protestant, Unionist, Solicitors in Dublin over many decades and his son Terry joined the firm. On the 50th anniversary of the Easter IInsurrectction, he welcomed as his guest at the Presidential Residence the ritish Officer who had arrested him then.
Far be it from me to suggest that either Ireland or de Valera never made mistakes or that everything they did was right. But I would suggest that, on the ten occasions Ireland chose Dev as her political leader, and the lesser number of occasions when she didn't , she chose wisely. And when she chose him twice as her Ceremonial Head of State, she was not doing harm to her honour.