Historical News and Comment

George Bernard Shaw's Letter to the Editor, May, 1945

In Respect of the Irish Prime Minister's Condolences on the News of Adolf Hitler's Death

Ronald Klett

When Shaw's pamphlet “Common Sense About the War” appeared in late 1914, [1] some three and one-half months after the war had started, it raised an angry tempest in Britannia. Although it only stated (what after the war was well-nigh universally conceded to be true) that Germany was no more to blame for the war than were Britain and her allies, “G.B.S. became intensly unpopular [in Great Britain]. His plays were no longer performed. His appearance at any public function caused the instant departure of many of those present. Some of his friends disowned him." [2]

About thirty years and six months later, when Shaw is almost 89 years old, he publicly expresses views just as outrageous to the prevailing orthodoxy. His letter to The Times, London, appears ten days after the Second World War officially ends in Europe. These views are considered so shocking even today that, when, five or six years ago I searched in the several biographies of Shaws that I could find in a university library, r discovered no author who mentions the letter. The inspiration for it is the report that the Irish Prime Minister, Eamon de Valera, has visited the German Minister, at Dublin, to convey his condolences on the news of Adolf Hitler's death. This is Shaw's letter, published May 18, 1945, The Times, London, page 5, under the title “Eire and Hitler."[3]


"The correctness of the Taoiseach's [Prime Minister's] action when the death of the head of the German State was reported has been vindicated by Commander MacDermott. [4] But his letter does not cover the whole story. In 1943 the allies called upon the neutrals to deny asylum to Axis refugees, described for the occasion as war criminals. Portugal refused. The rest took it lying down, except Mr. de Valera. He replied that Eire reserved the right to give asylum when justice, charity, or the honor or interest of the nation required it. That is what all the neutrals ought to have said; and Miss Hinkson, [5] as an Irishwoman, will, on second thoughts, be as proud of it as I am. The voice of the Irish gentleman and Spanish grandee was a welcome relief from the chorus of retaliatory rancor and self- righteousness then deafening us.

"I have not always agreed with the Taoiseach's policy. Before the ink was dry on the treaty which established the Irish Free State I said that if England went to war she would have to reoccupy Ireland militarily, and fortify her ports. When this forecast came to the proof the Taoiseach nailed his colors to the top gallant, declaring that with his little army of 50,000 Irishmen he would fight any and every invader, even if England, Germany, and the United States attacked him simultaneously from all quarters, which then seemed a possible result of his attitude. And he got away with it triumphantly, saved, as Mr. Churchill has just pointed out. by the abhorred partition which gave the allies a foothold on Ireland. and by the folly of the Führer in making for Moscow instead of for Galway [a county of Ireland].

"Later on I hazarded the conjecture that Adolf Hitler would end in the Dublin Viceregal Lodge, like Louis Napoleon in Chislehurst and the Kaiser [Wilhelm II] in Doorn. If the report of the Führer's death proves unfounded this is still a possibility.

"It all sounds like an act from Victor Hugo's Hernani, rather than a page of modern world-war history; but Eamon de Valera comes out of it as a champion of the Christian chivalry we are all pretending to admire. Let us recognize a noble heart even if we must sometimes question its worldly wisdom.

"Faithfully,

"May 15. G. Bernard Shaw.”

The letter reminds me of the words that Shaw fortune years earlier, in his play John Bull's Other Island, Act II, put into the mouth of his character Peter Keegan: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world."


Notes

[1] The New Statesman, supplement, Nov. 14, 1914. Also printed, in three installments, The New York Times, 1914, Section 5, on Nov. 15, pp. 1-3; Nov. 22, pp. 1 & 2; and Nov. 29, pp. 1 and 2.
[2] St. John Ervine, Bernard Shaw: His Life, Work, and Friends (London: Constable & Co., 1956), p. 464.
[3] The New York Times prints this letter, May 19, 1945, p. 6, under the title “Shaw Hails de Valera for Mourning Hitler; Sees Dublin as Haven if Fuhrer Is Alive"; but the Associated Press news story omits part of one sentence and the whole of another, without troubling to inform the reader; and changes punctuation, capitalization, and paragraphing.
[4] A. MacDermott, Commander, Royal Navy, whose letter, defending de Valera's act, appears in The Times, London, May 15, 1945, p. 5.
[5] Pamela Hinkson, London, whose letter, protesting de Valera's act, appears the same day and page as Commander MacDermott's. She identifies herself in the letter as Irish.

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 509-511.