10 November 2012
Comment: By Donal M Kennedy
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE not to be aware of the graves from the First World War on a visit to northern France, nor visiting them, not to pity the unfortunate young men buried there and salute their courage. But it is quite possible to feel neither sympathy nor empathy for the regimes which they served.
Many a French headstone bearing the legend “Mort Pour La France” is engraved or embossed with an Islamic crescent. The record of French governments towards the communities and nations from which those Muslim soldiers sprang is not immaculate.
Many German headstones exhibit a Star of David commemorating German citizens of the Jewish religion who served the Kaiser bravely. As a mark of disrespect to all German soldiers who served in France, the victorious French insisted that their headstones or crosses be black, in contrast to the white of the French and their allies.
People will be aware of the subsequent fate of Jewish soldiers of the Kaiser and their families who survived that war.
In Ireland, the constitutional nationalist followers of John Redmond in 1914 transmuted into physical force imperialists. Republicans, such as Desmond Fitzgerald, who voiced opposition to Irishmen joining the British forces, were beaten up for their pains by the followers of John Redmond, John Dillon and Joe Devlin. Irish nationalist symbols – harps, shamrocks, round towers and the Rock of Cashel, but no Union Jacks nor British
Crowns – were used to induce nationalists into the British forces. Joe Devlin invoked the Irish Brigade which served France following the dishonoured Treaty of Limerick to dupe nationalists into serving the successors of those who dishonoured it.
A photograph taken at College Green on 11th November 1919, the first anniversary of the Armistice, shows a phalanx of British caterpillar-tracked steel-armoured tanks, parading past a saluting base at the Bank of Ireland (formerly the Parliament) as if to shock and awe the people of Ireland.
That same morning, four Dáil deputies and the Clerk to the Dáil were arrested by British agents for participating in “An illegal assembly” – the new Irish Parliament established by popular vote.
Let those who want to wear the poppy do so. But perhaps they should understand those who do not wish to join them.
Pictured right and below: British armed forces in action in Ireland around the time of the First World War
● Seamus Milne in The Guardian: The first world war: the real lessons of this savage imperial bloodbath
An initiative for dialogue
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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures
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