Every year, on the 11th of November, hundreds of far right and neo-fascist campaigners in France, including the former leader of the Front national, Jean-Marie Le Pen, make their way to the small island of Île d’Yeu, just off the coast of the western Pays de la Loire region, to lay flowers and wreaths at the grave of Philippe Pétain, the head of the so-called Vichy government during the German occupation of 1940 to 1945. Unlike some of the other territories of Europe seized by the Nazi regime during World War II, where domestic civil authorities made a pretence of co-operating with the enemy in order to ameliorate the effects of the invader’s presence, under the auspices of Marshal Pétain and l’État français passive co-operation became active collaboration. Tens of thousands of French citizens, from Jewish children to resistance fighters, died through the policies of the dictatorship headquartered in the interior town of Vichy, a former spa-resort for the European elites during the 1930s. The Pétainists, self-isolated in their administrative capital, became indelibly associated with a torrid mix of authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, Catholic fundamentalism, corruption, hedonism, torture and murder. Far from reducing the effects of a foreign occupation upon their nation they worsened them, turning Frenchman against Frenchman, leaving behind a poisonous legacy that is as virulent today as it was in the late 1940s and ’50s.
I was reminded of the contemporary Pétain tributes in France when reading about last weekend’s controversy fabricated by the political eccentrics of Loyal Orange Lodge 1313, a branch of the British ethnocist and sectarian Orange Order based in the counties of Dublin and Wicklow, and the so-called Reform Group, a minuscule pro-UK or neo-unionist lobbyist body with several maverick journalists and historians among its number. The fringe gathering, all of fifteen strong, had staged a so-called Remembrance Day commemoration in a secret event at Mount Street Bridge, Dublin, the location of one of the better known battles between the forces of the Irish Republic and the British Empire during the Easter Rising of 1916. During that revolutionary week, from Wednesday the 26th of April to Friday the 28th of April, seventeen – and eventually just four – volunteers of the Irish Republican Army had held at bay several infantry battalions of the British Army, inflicting nearly half the UK casualties incurred during the course of the insurrection. Four young men, Michael Malone, Dick Murphy, George Reynolds and Patrick Doyle, were killed during the fighting, at least one almost certainly summarily executed after capture.
The Orange Order and contemporary apologists for Britain’s colonial rule over Ireland are of course perfectly free to remember those who fought to maintain the supremacy of the invader over the native during the many centuries of conflict. The laying of a commemorative poppy-wreath is not an unreasonable thing to do for the small minority on this island nation who oppose its sovereign independence. Like those in France who think it fitting to remember the men and women of the Vichy regime during WWII, or those in the modern United States who remember the men and boys who died beneath the flag of the Confederacy, there are many ways one can honour individual lives without honouring the causes which they served. However such acknowledgements must always come with an acceptance of past misdeeds and quiet contrition for the injustices which were done. No such laudable sentiments came from the Orange Order or the Reform groupings last Sunday. Instead they issued a boastful post on their Facebook profile, one purposely designed to generate animosity and rancour:
“Dublin Orange men assemble on Mount Street Bridge in an act of remembrance to those who paid the ultimate supreme sacrifice in putting down the 1916 Rebellion. A rebellion which was aimed at replacing constitutional government with tyrannical government and civic peace and harmony with destruction of property and murder. We like to thank the Belfast Telegraph for covering the event and the photography student from UCD. In addition, we thank those representatives from the “Reform Group” who also attended and the many fellow Dublin citizen who engaged us with voices of support. Going forward; Dublin orange men will be holding an annual act of remembrance on the bridge.”
Unionist poison, it seems, still begets unionist poison. The fifteen odd men and women who attended last Sunday’s would-be commemoration at Mount Street Bridge have shown that they have no interest in honouring the British war-dead of 1916. Instead they are only concerned with besmirching the memory of the Irish war-dead of that same fateful year. If that requires historical untruths and falsifications of the known record, then they have proven themselves to be equal to the task. The colonist-deniers, the Redmondites and Carsonites of Ireland, as with the Pétainists of France, are still with us and still as unreformed – and unreformable – as ever.
orangeman is as orangeman does!!!
Petain and his civil servants had very little choice but to collaborate: France had been crushed, over 100,000 French troops had been killed, another 150,000 seriously wounded, over a million French soldiers and civilians had been carted off to Germany to serve as forced labourers/ hostages, hundreds of thousands of people had been internally displaced and were on the verge of starvation. There are many even today who admire both de Gaulle and Petain: realising that de Gaulle and the Free French were safely ensconced in London, away from the attentions of the Gestapo. Petain knew how unpleasant the Germans could be if you crossed them. Many Frenchmen were deeply ambivalent about the role of the French Resistance (a) because they knew the savage nature of German reprisals which were bound to follow attacks on German troops and (b) the Resistance in many areas was Communist dominated: there would have been little point in getting rid of Hitler only to replace him with Stalin.
Yes, Pétain could have led the civil authorities, made the peace, etc. for the greater good of the people of occupied France but he and his followers went FAR beyond that. It was not like Denmark or elsewhere in Europe were co-operation was minimal and no more than to ease the stresses of the occupation and keep civil society going. Hell, British policemen still patrolled the Channel islands under the Germans. No one sought their executions.
The Pétainists went much further than that. Not only did they collaborate in the fight against the Allies, the Resistance, etc. but they pursued left-wingers, liberals, etc. and above all Jews. Many died who would not have done so if it weren’t for the actions of the Milice française, etc.
One reason for French collaboration was a deep animosity towards Britain (whom they blamed for leaving em in the lurch at Dunkirk.) there was also the unfortunate incident with the French fleet at Oran. Also, a lot of French people joined the Milice, Charlemagne Division of the SS and other collaborationist units was because of the hatred that developed towards Britain and the U.S. in many French people over the number of civilian casualties that were caused by Allied air raids. About 40,000 Norman civilians were killed by the RAF and USAF in Normandy in 1944 alone: something which the British or American war films which we were all brought up on tend to gloss over. RAF Bomber Command probably killed 600,000 German civilians during WW2: one of the US Air Force generals called Bomber Harris and his boys “a bunch of baby killers.” The RAF probably also killed about 100,000 Allied civilians in France, Belgium Holland and Norway.
I was just reading recently about the numbers and history of non-Germans in the German forces from 1939-45. Quite extraordinary stories, from Cossacks opposing the D-Day landings in Normandy to Russian defenders of Berlin against the Soviets in 1945. The stereotype of all-British or all-American units fighting all-German units is so deeply embedded into popular culture that one forgets the multinational or -ethnic nature nature of many of those armies.
One of the (many) reasons that I fail to sympathise very much with the Republican movement (apart from it’s murderous criminality, hypocrisy, economic illiteracy, self righteousness, sectarianism, intolerance, fanaticism and general unpleasantness) is it’s total lack of any sense of perspective, or ability to take the wider view, or to see any issue from any one else’s point of view. The Brits executed the leaders of 1916. Well what did you expect? Anti-social behaviour orders? If there had been a French nationalist uprising in Alsace Lorraine in 1916, or a Polish rebellion in East Prussia, the Germans – “our gallant allies in Europe” – who had massacred 10,000 Belgian civilians, and had also armed the Unionists in 1912 in order to foment trouble on both sides for the Brits – would have massacred every man woman and child in a twenty mile radius
If Vladimir Putin had to deal with Slab Murphy and the lads in Crossmaglen, what do you think he would do?
I don’t think I was objecting to any of those things, and the Irish revolution was certainly a part of a whole series of revolutions, insurrections, wars, coups and conflicts taking place across Europe from 1914 to 1925.
The point of the post was the utterly insulting way they commemorated the British war dead of the Easter Rising. Could the so-called Orangemen of Dublin/Wicklow and the Reform Group, all fifteen of them, not have done it in a quiet, respectful manner? Why the hyperbole and insults, the falsification of history and petty propaganda? Are we still in the middle of the rising? Is it 2015 or 1915? Commemorations are all fine and dandy, who can honestly object to that, but why not poppies for the British dead at Bridge Street and maybe a bouquet of lilies for the Irish?
Whatever your feelings about Irish republicanism, surely you can see it would be better if the ceremony was done with respect for those with kith and kin on all sides? Or at least hold your belligerent opinions, however anachronistic, but keep them to yourself on the day. The wreath-laying had nothing to do with 1916, or honouring folk. It was just a bunch of right-wing mavericks out to cause trouble. As I indicated in the piece, elsewhere they would be honouring the likes of Pétain.