The Lilliput Press (2000), 218 pages
Chapters Bookstore, €2.99
Diarmaid Ferriter has often warned against the dangers of “reading history backwards”. That is imposing today’s values and standards on past events or failing to realise that we have the benefit of hindsight when we view the past. I was conscious of this danger before I read the propaganda speeches broadcast from Nazi Germany by Francis Stuart. This collection of Stuart’s speeches is illuminated by a stimulating introduction by Brendan Barrington. Stuart’s wartime broadcasts were to haunt him for the rest of his life and aroused particular interest when he was made a member of Aosdána in 1996. Was Stuart an anti-Semite? Was broadcasting propaganda to Ireland an act of treachery (William “Lord Haw Haw” Joyce was controversially executed by the British for treason after the war)? Was Stuart’s mission in Germany misunderstood? For me Stuart’s speeches answer all of these questions.
Stuart’s background was an anti-Treaty republican during the Irish Civil War and he was interned for gun running. He married Iseult Gonne in 1920 (the daughter of Yeats’ love interest Maud Gonne and Yeats also proposed to Iseult after he had been snubbed by her mother). Stuart became a respected and reasonably successful novelist. He was attracted by the ideals of fascism and also saw the chance World War II offered to attack Britain and restore a united Ireland (the old republican adage was “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”). Stuart travelled to Berlin in 1940 and began broadcasting to Ireland in 1942.
Stuart’s speeches are quite short and often repetitive. He describes the three “essentials” that Ireland should seek from the war, “…an end of partition, a break away from the system by which life is dominated by money, and a turning towards Europe” (p. 98). Stuart’s desire (the unfulfilled desire of the Civil War) for a united Ireland is reiterated throughout. Northern Ireland is doubly occupied by the British state and by U.S. troops stationed there during the war. Stuart subtly insinuates that a German victory would lead to a united Ireland. He refers approvingly to the growing Indian nationalist movement under Gandhi. Stuart’s outlook is consistently anti-materialist and it is perhaps this trait he admires most in the Nazi project. He feels democracies are weak and that a strong leader offers hope for the future of Germany and, by extension, Europe, “The emergence of a great leader is one of those human miracles which cannot take place in England or modern America…Here in Germany I have had the opportunity to see how a great leader can inspire a whole nation. Whatever propaganda you may hear, one thing I will tell you: Germany is today an inspired nation. That is the main secret of her victorious armies; the source of that inspiration is rooted in one man, Hitler” (p.90). This speech was made in 1942 when a German victory was still a possibility. Stuart denies in his speeches (and in the following years) that he was making propaganda. While he was conscious of Ireland’s neutrality and that blatant propaganda (anti-Semitic or otherwise) wouldn’t be popular in Ireland there can be no doubt that, being in the pay of a totalitarian dictatorship, he was a propagandist. Stuart is also willing to play with the facts. He makes the ludicrous assertion that “the corpses of 250,000 men of Irish blood” died in World War I (p.91). Even if Stuart is including Irish-Americans in his toll his figure is too high. In a speech in October 1943 he refers to his presence in Germany four times even though he is actually now broadcasting from Luxembourg as the studios in Berlin had been bombed (p. 164). Stuart is willing to adjust the facts to bolster his arguments.
Was Stuart an anti-Semite who agreed with the Nazi’s murderous policies towards the Jewish people? Barrington’s introduction shows that some of Stuart’s pre-war novels contained a kind of “casual anti-Semitism” that was not unusual at the time. There is a feeling that Stuart’s derogatory references to the financiers who control the capitalist system is a code for the Jews (just as “cosmopolitanism” was a code for Jews in the Stalinist U.S.S.R.). Of course World War II wasn’t fought to stop the Holocaust (and arguably Holocaust museums and exhibitions in some countries act as a shield with which to conceal other crimes. There is an excellent Holocaust exhibition in the Imperial War Museum in London but a lack of coverage of crimes committed by the British Army in the Boer War (where concentration camps were first used), Kenya, Diego Garcia, Northern Ireland, and India). Perhaps the presence of Jews in Berlin is the most disturbing fact that is not mentioned in any of the speeches. Stuart lived in Berlin, presumably he would have seen Jewish people wearing the yellow Star of David. He was fluent in German and read the German newspapers so he would have read about the demonisation of the Jews. Yet he saw no issue with being funded by such a regime which offered him what every author wants, an audience. Stuart could feel sympathy for the ordinary German soldier and his suffering during the Siege of Stalingrad but offers no such sympathy to the Soviet soldiers or the civilian victims of the siege. Stuart justifies the war as, “The German people have a clear and sane idea of what they’re fighting for. They are fighting for what they believe to be necessary for their own material existence as a nation” (p. 148). For Stuart, from the blood sacrifice school of Irish politics, the individual can be simply used in the pursuit of a greater national goal. Germany is presented to the Irish audience as a plucky underdog who needs more room for her population, “…although Germany was not a wealthy country and had too little space for her population…” (p.107). There is scant mention of Germany’s invasion of numerous countries and the suppression of their peoples. Stuart, who is so keen for a united Ireland, sees no irony in agreeing with Germany’s suppression (or in the case of Poland, it’s obliteration from the world map) of other nations. His attitude reminds me somewhat of current apologists for the Assad regime in Syria. Just because the Ba’ath regime is viewed as anti-imperialist doesn’t mean that in order to oppose U.S. foreign policy means that Assad should be supported. It is possible to object to Syrian and U.S. human rights abuses at the same time just as it’s possible to be horrified by the Holocaust and the bombings of Hiroshima and Dresden by the Allies.
After the war Stuart returned to Ireland. He suffered no sanction in Ireland. While I think his propaganda work was morally reprehensible Ireland was a neutral country not at war with Germany. He committed no crime but it is hard to understand his acceptance into Aosdána. Although his acceptance into Aosdána caused controversy Stuart had many sympathisers. Barrington successfully demolishes many of the arguments used in favour of Stuart. These arguments often seemed to be based on Stuart’s own account of his wartime broadcasts which could be described as lapses of memory or outright lies depending on your point of view. Stuart said that “These broadcasts didn’t usually deal with politics; they dealt very often with literature…” (p. 52). Literature is barely mentioned in his talks and politics in almost all of them. As Barrington says, “What is unfortunate…is that so many writers and scholars have been enthusiastic participants in this re-imagining, creating a myth of Stuart that is far more palatable to contemporary sensitivities than the literary and political persona of the man who wrote and delivered the talks herein” (p. 53). Declan Kiberd described this acceptance of Stuart as a “fools pardon” that implicitly admitted that what an “artist thinks or says is of no consequence, since it will have no social effect” (Inventing Ireland, p. 610). The Wartime Broadcasts of Francis Stuart 1942-1944 is an important addition to the Irish history of World War II.
Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd, Vintage, 1996 – The best one volume criticism of Irish literature from an Irish perspective.