Old Empire Allies


David McCann today informed via twitter that yesterday was “Proclamation day”, and the Irish government invited students at schools and universities around the Republic of Ireland to read the 1916 post-office rebels manifesto, and reflect on what it means to be Irish and pen their own ‘Proclamation for a New Generation’.

The 1916 rising’s figurehead Patrick Pearse was a talented writer, but not a military tactician, hence the the rising’ successes were not military but rather rather in the communication of ideals. The one page proclamation remains one of the most enduring symbols of the that week’s dramatic events. It’s poetic tones are a triumph of compromise, meaning to placate the traditionalist ultra-nationalists and radical workers of the Citizen’s Army. It’s bold exhortations and lofty ideals are remembered and recited more often, than anything in the republic of Ireland’s constitution or indeed just about every official legal document in Ireland. Though of scant comfort to unionists, many in the republic of Ireland who have little or anything to do with physical force republicanism can still fondly recall its warm words on, in particular it’s desire for:

“Cherishing all the children of the nation equally”

One phrase always left me particularly cold and one which I didn’t expect to hear being repeated much this year is the line that describes the rebels as being:

“Supported by…gallant allies in Europe”

These gallant allies, of course refers to the German empire, who, having previously supplied Ulster’s rebellious volunteers, sent thousands of rifles and weapons ahead the rising. The rebels’ support for the Kaiser and his invading legions is often forgotten, not least by a Sinn Fein keen to portray itself an intrinsically ‘anti-imperialist’ movement. So it was a surprise to hear that a Sinn Fein MEP is hosting an event in the European Parliament next week with that very title.

The crimes of the German empire in Africa and elsewhere equal any of those of the British in their colonial adventures and then some. Even before the onset of World War I there was outcry in Berlin at reports of near genocide in the East Africa colony. But the fact that next week’s event is due to take place in Brussels is perhaps the most disturbing. The Belgian capital was occupied during almost all of the First World War and the sufferings of ordinary Belgians at the hands of these “gallant” troops were hideous by any standards. Overall, the Germans killed 23,700 Belgian civilians and caused the deaths of an additional 62,000 via deprivation of food and shelter during the war. The burning of the University city of Leuven (Louvain) in 1914 ranks alongside the so-called Islamic State’s recent destruction of ancient artifacts in league tables of war-time barbarism. In all 1 in 7 Belgians became a refugee during the war (since 2011 the ratio in Syria is around 1 in 10). This is before one remembers the deliberate sinking of the passenger ship Lusitana, off Kinsale by German U-boats in 1915 taking over 1,100 civilian lives with it. None of these incidents seems to have much bothered Pearse and his band of rebels or those organising next week’s events.

The statement accompanying Sinn Fein’s event next week reads:
“The proclamation, being as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, referred to ‘our gallant’ allies in Europe’. This commemoration will not only celebrate the centenary it will celebrate the role of he friends of Irish Freedom right right across Europe during and since the rising”.

I don’t Kaiser Wilhelm will be present next week in Brussels and I certainly hope he’ll be left-out of the school kids’ new proclamation.