|Anti-Catholic cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1867.|
Historians give many reasons why immigrant Irish in America developed the stereotype of fighters. Religious discrimination seems to rank above all other reasons including fear of job losses taken by Irish willing to work for low wages. Yet, there’s a long Irish history of war dating before the Christian period. In fact, many Celtic centuries of violence. Later, from the 16th century and into the 19th century, Ireland became a reservoir of mercenaries drawn to fight various wars on the European continent. Known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, thousands of Irishmen left their families and homeland to fight in France, Spain and wherever there was a cause that attracted them.
But the flight of Irish to America was supposed to offer good jobs, not jobs to kill, as soldiers do. Yet, soon after arrival in the land of promise, the American government lured the Irish to fight for pay.
|San Patricio (Saint Patrick's) Battalion|
Irish-American opposition to war in the 20th century was not as open fisted as the Mexican and Civil wars.
There is really only one outstanding Irish-American character who stood in opposition to the call of his country and his church to fight and kill in 1917. The American author, Torin Finney, focused his book, Untold Hero of the Great War on the Denver, Colorado Irish Catholic, Benjamin Salmon. Salmon, in 1917, refused to follow not just his President (Wilson) but Cardinal Gibbons, the leading American Catholic religious leader who urged all good Catholic men to train for war. Finney describes in detail the humiliation and torture of Ben Salmon. Salmon, who said there was no such thing as a ‘Just War’ was detained in federal prison for years, he was the last conscientious objector released in World War I.
There was little Irish American opposition to World War II. In fact, Irish Catholics played a major fighting role in the war. But the carry over of war hawkishness into Vietnam had major Irish Catholic stumble blocks.
But the Berrigans were simply the forefront of Catholic activists who would grow the movement far beyond the size of Army divisions before the war was ended in 1975. Irish Americans Catholic objectors found leadership in Senator Robert Kennedy and Senator Eugene McCarthy. And then, the leader of the House of Representatives, Thomas Tip O’Neill, became a partner to the nonviolent movement. All came to the conclusion that war was not the answer.
And some of the best voices of Irish American human rights activism have been women. Kathy Kelly of Chicago has been nominated three times for a Noble Peace Prize for her work with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Kathy braved the misery of the sanctions, the shock and awe of the American attack on Baghdad and now is deeply involved with Afghan children trying to recover from emotional and physical trauma directly the result of America’s longest war.
Megan Rice, a Catholic Sister, was arrested for what the US Government calls the “biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s nuclear complex.” 82 year old Sister Megan was moved by her religious and moral belief that nuclear weapons put the planet closer to total destruction.
In October of 2012, Irish American peace activist Brian Terrell of the Iowa Catholic Worker was sentenced to six months in prison for attempting to deliver a war crimes indictment to Whiteman Air Force base, a drone firing base in Missouri.
When ten people shut down the entrance way to another drone base (Hancock Air National Guard, Syracuse, NY) on October 5th, 2012, six of the ten were Irish Catholics.
(To be continued in Part 2: "But these Irish-American activists of today find little company in the United States Federal Government. Few Catholics, Irish or otherwise are ready to strongly oppose war and the preparation for war. In fact, Irish-American leadership in militarism is the norm . . . . ")