That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War by Clair Wills; Irish Free: The History of Nationalism in Ireland by Richard English - review by Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

The Troubles of the Emerald Isle

That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War

By

Faber & Faber 502pp £25 order from our bookshop

Irish Free: The History of Nationalism in Ireland

By

Macmillan 624pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

On the rare occasions when I am asked about my position on the present war in Iraq, I reply that I am agnostic. I do not know the answer. That is what research into cultural attitudes around the Second World War has taught me.

When I was researching the biography of William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, I encountered perhaps two dozen anti-war, peace – and appeasement – movements existing in Britain in the late 1930s. These ranged from frankly pro-Fascist organisations such as Joyce’s own National Socialists to left-wing and feminist organisations supported by Quakers and the Women’s Peace Pledge Union, not to mention varieties of communists opposed to all ‘imperialist wars’.

We now know that going to war against the Third Reich was unquestionably the right thing to do, both morally and, as it turned out, strategically. Not a week goes by – and on the cable TV channels, not a day goes by – but another triumphant aspect of the

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