Dick Mulcahy: An enigma, even now!

Eoin Purcell

My Father, the General: Richard Mulcahy & the Military History of the Revolution
My Father, the General: Richard Mulcahy & the Military History of the Revolution

John Bowman’s Archive Show
John Bowman covered General Richard Mulcahy on its show today. Their archive link is here, but the show is not yet put up. The show includes some very interesting pieces with contributions from John A Murphy, Brian Farrell, Brian Nolan and several others.

The idea was to give a sense of this somewhat enigmatic figure from Irish history. He was after all an interesting figure in the 1916 Rising when he fought with the men of Fingal at Ashbourne (there is a good summary of that fighting here on the 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour site) and he went on to hold the Rank of Commander in Chief of the Free State Army, not to mention a significant of not always successful career in politics. The General’s son. Risteard is publishing a new book (with Liberties Press) on his father’s life and career:

My Father, The General: Richard Mulcahy and the Military History of the Revolution by Risteárd Mulcahy is an in-depth biography of the often controversial and hitherto neglected figure and Free State leader. Featuring rare and unseen material from the family archive, this book is a marvellous insight into the man behind the uniform who played a major role in running the War of Independence.

The Executions
Even the Liberties site and the book description manages to reference the remaining core controversy of Mulcahy’s story and the one which overshadows his entire career (which is an impressive on):

His order to execute anti-Treaty activists found carrying guns made him a figure of controversy during the Civil War when a total of 77 anti-Treaty prisoners were executed by the Provisional Government. Despite the Free State government’s mandate being renewed in the following election, Mulcahy’s perceived severity during the Civil War was later to prove a stumbling block to his elevation as Taoiseach of the first Inter-Party government in 1948. Mulcahy selflessly stepped aside to allow John A. Costello to become Taoiseach of a coalition which, as leader of Fine Gael, Mulcahy had skilfully organised

What is remarkable about this is that Bowman’s archive show generally skirted over those executions that Mulcahy and the Free State government oversaw. In fact the only reference I heard was also by far the most chilling section of the piece in which Ernest Blythe defended mulcahy as an arch-realist who in the aftermath of Sean Hales’ killing had already selected the four Anti-Treaty Free State Men that were to be executed.

I’ve yet to read the book and right now I’ve got to say it is only moderately high on my list, but two points seem to come clearly out of the discussion today and the book description. One is the need for a rigourous, unquestionable account of Mulcahy’s life. Something both he and many of the other early Free State leaders lack. Secondly that Mercier’s forthcoming series on the military history of the Civil War will be enormously valuable in bringing that period back into the public thoughts so that we can finally lay to rest some of the lasting myths and resentments that remain alive in some minds, even now (though admittedly to an enormously lesser extent that in the 1950s and 1960s when active participants in the conflict remained in positions of authority).

A good radio day Sunday,

Further Action on George Monck

Eoin Purcell

George Monck & The Restoration of Charles II in 1660
Okay, so call this crazy but I have made a decision about my thesis on Monck. I am putting it up on Scribd. I’ve embedded the file above and here is the link to the document. Yesterday I dug out the thesis and re-read it. It has promise but as I note below in a new introduction which I have included in the text, needs a lot of fresh work to be really worthwhile. But equally I think it offers something even as it is. For more on my thoughts, read the note.

2009 Introductory Note
This thesis was written during my Masters year in UCD, Dublin. I enjoyed the process and at the time I was happy with what I had written. However, some six years later I can recognise that there are serious deficiencies in this thesis and that is something I plan at some stage to rectify in another work. Please feel free to send messages or feedback to me at eoin.purcell AT gmail.com.

Original Documents & Eyewitness accounts

In retrospect there are many things I would change, not the least of which would be the sources I used. Four major areas (with many other areas needing minor attention) could be improved. Firstly, more original documentary evidence would have greatly improved the book. Aside from letters and papers of the officers and officials around Monck in Scotland which I now know exist in archives that I did not consult for the original, I believe that there are numerous other sources that might be exploited to huge advantage. They would, I believe, include eyewitness accounts available from:

    1) The soldiers in Monck’s units
    2) Monck’s officers
    3) Londoners during Monck’s time in the city
    4) Observers from outside the capital
    5) Soldiers and officers still loyal to the last few Grandee’s like Lambert

Secondly, I believe that more work on Monck’s character and his pragmatism and motivations would have been sensible. There is surely more material available to work on that. He is a truly incredible individual. His motivations are a mystery in many ways though I think my analysis of his actions reveals that he was simply taking the easiest course of action to secure his own position, I firmly believe now that had he been presented with the opportunity, he would have crowned himself king or had himself declared Lord Protector. I’d like to spend time proving that.

The Actions of Others
Thirdly, the role of the other actors needs a great examination, I see that now clearly as a major failing in the original work. The Grandee’s in London and the parliamentarians of the Rump are as powerful figures and their motivations and actions were such critical factors in the course of events. Had any of them for instance mounted a sufficient case against Monck while he was in London, or managed to hold together a force in the field, events would have been different. The brief mention of the role of Lord Fairfax is insufficient to explain the reverence he was held in by many of the foot soldiers more work on the importance of his siding with Monck should have been done.

Lastly, the work deserved a better and less lazy conclusion than that which I impulsively gave it in 2003. Events in Iran that year inspired an unfortunate idealism in me that scarred the powerful conclusions of the evidence about Monck. I was more concerned the hammer home the deficiencies of the Grandee’s rule and compare those with the failures of government I saw in Iran than to properly assess Monck’s character and to bring together the argument I had mustered in the preceding pages. That was a mistake and one I think should be rectified in any new work.

The 1st Duke of Albermarle (as Monck became as a reward for his efforts in restoring the monarchy) is one of the most singularly unstudied yet important men in British history. Considering the volumes of material on other actors in the Civil War and Interregnum this is a strange fact. Perhaps, when I have the time I will rectify the problems with this thesis and the lack of a decent examination of the man and publish a book on him.

Eoin Purcell
Glasthule, Dublin, July 2009

The Death of Robert McNamara

Eoin Purcell

Some years ago now a friend lent me his copy of Fog Of War, which was at once a brilliant and yet incredibly intriguing documentary featuring Robert McNamara. I had always wondered about The Vietnam War, feeling that it was deeply misunderstood at a public level and that although the underlying policy that motivated it (containment) was valid, the way the policy was being pursued (through warfare) was undermining the policy and the reputation of the United States.

Fog Of War only offered more questions and made the story even more complex. Errol Morris, the director of that movie has a thoughtful piece on McNamara over on the New York Time’s website. One section that struck me was this:

His refusal to come out against the Vietnam War, particularly as it continued after he left the Defense Department, has angered many. There’s ample evidence that he felt the war was wrong. Why did he remain silent until the 1990s, when “In Retrospect” was published? That is something that people will probably never forgive him for. But he had an implacable sense of rectitude about what was permissible and what was not. In his mind, he probably remained secretary of defense until the day he died.

I think what I like about it us the sense that there is no black & white in cases like this.

For more thoughts and coverage of McNamara, read this or this or this.

In Dublin, taking it easy,

The Revenege of Geography

Eoin Purcell

Robert Kaplan Strikes Again
Kaplan writes an elegant and persuasive article about how Geography affects the world! In many ways it is a plea for a realist view of the world:

Realism means recognizing that international relations are ruled by a sadder, more limited reality than the one governing domestic affairs. It means valuing order above freedom, for the latter becomes important only after the former has been established. It means focusing on what divides humanity rather than on what unites it, as the high priests of globalization would have it. In short, realism is about recognizing and embracing those forces beyond our control that constrain human action—culture, tradition, history, the bleaker tides of passion that lie just beneath the veneer of civilization. This poses what, for realists, is the central question in foreign affairs: Who can do what to whom? And of all the unsavory truths in which realism is rooted, the bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic of all is geography.

What I like about the piece is threefold
Firstly I enjoy his references to philosophers and historians. The philosophers are Isaiah Berlin and Thomas Hobbes, both with interesting and illuminating things to offer reader. And Google Books has plenty items in Full View for both though frustratingly in the case of Hobbes, not a Leviathan available for extract so instead you get a rather nice but non-downloadable Forgotten books edition! Which seems crazy when the base text is well out of copyright!

His historical references are numerous but Mahan and Braudel stand out! One eye opener was Nicholas Spykman (for more on his truly intriguing views here is a very nice overview) of whom I had never heard but of whom Kaplan say:

Similarly, the Dutch-American strategist Nicholas Spykman saw the seaboards of the Indian and Pacific oceans as the keys to dominance in Eurasia and the natural means to check the land power of Russia. Before he died in 1943, while the United States was fighting Japan, Spykman predicted the rise of China and the consequent need for the United States to defend Japan. And even as the United States was fighting to liberate Europe, Spykman warned that the postwar emergence of an integrated European power would eventually become inconvenient for the United States. Such is the foresight of geographical determinism.

For another thing
Secondly I like his concept of:

geography in the most old-fashioned sense. In the 18th and 19th centuries, before the arrival of political science as an academic specialty, geography was an honored, if not always formalized, discipline in which politics, culture, and economics were often conceived of in reference to the relief map. Thus, in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, mountains and the men who grow out of them were the first order of reality; ideas, however uplifting, were only the second.

And maybe I feel that way because I wish to justify my recent (and fabulously cheap) purchase of Keith Johnston’s A Sketch of Historical Geography which is a truly excellent text worth owning and you can read in the lovely Open Library edition here, but I think there is something to what Kaplan says. Something that informs the rest of the piece.

And finally
I like his closing exhorting for us all to:

learn to think like Victorians. That is what must guide and inform our newly rediscovered realism. Geographical determinists must be seated at the same honored table as liberal humanists, thereby merging the analogies of Vietnam and Munich. Embracing the dictates and limitations of geography will be especially hard for Americans, who like to think that no constraint, natural or otherwise, applies to them. But denying the facts of geography only invites disasters that, in turn, make us victims of geography.

I very much enjoy Kaplan but sometimes I’m left with as many questions as answers with him, not that that is a bad thing!