THE ANGLO-IRISH WAR: THE TROUBLES, 1913-1922
QUALITY SOFTCOVER, $17.95, 96 PAGES, MAPS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ILLUSTRATIONS
Osprey Publishing has produced, probably more by accident than intention, a valuable contribution to the literature of Irish military history. Peter Cottrell is a serving British military officer who, as the thesis for his Master of Arts, wrote on the Royal Irish Constabulary. From the point of view of Irish nationalists, both those living in Ireland and those abroad as a result of the British-produced Irish Diaspora, this work is equivalent of a crime story about a rape. One presenting the outlines of the crime through the point of view of the rapist. Such a volume would be, however, a valuable contribution to the literature not only as it relates to that particular crime, but for its insight into the mind of the rapist. As such, Cottrell's book is a significant contribution to the history of this war.
Osprey Publishing would have done Cottrell a service if they had more cleverly edited his introduction. His scholarship in presenting the facts of the war, as viewed from his side, fails him when he tries to place the war in a large context. He informs us that "some versions of Irish history have been so tainted with half-truths and fabrications that at times it is almost impossible to discern fact from fiction." Oh, really? Perhaps he can explain to we non-English one more time about Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Round Table, and the Princes in the Tower?
With his: "just as many U.S. perceptions of the American Revolution are distorted by their own foundation myth....", Cottrell takes a typical, and totally gratuitous, slap at Americans. It never ceases to amaze me just how the English seem to believe that they have a better understanding of U.S. history than Americans do. Correll also informs us that Irish historians tend to ignore the fact that the 1913-1922 war against Irish nationalism "would have been impossible without the support of thousands of Irishmen." He is simply incorrect in such an allegation. One reading the Irish histories of this period would have to go out of his or her way to avoid understanding the fact that the British government was the largest employer in Ireland. It is said that virtually every family had at least one member on the British, read that as "English" payroll. Cottrell should have at least had the decency to admit that this "support" was bought and paid for. Further, having taken the King's coin, many Irish were obligated by their religion and tradition to demonstrate loyalty to their employer, irrespective of their own feelings in the matter.
Cottrell goes on to relate how 200,000 Irishmen volunteered for service in the First World War. He doesn't mention the fact that Irish nationalist leaders were split on this issue, with many encouraging their fellow nationalists to volunteer. This in the unfounded belief that such a show of Irish patriotism toward the Crown would be rewarded in the post-war period. At the end of the day, Cottrell's history shouldn't be selected for a first read on the Anglo-Irish in the first half of the 20th Century. Nor should it be selected as the single reference on that war by a reader. But, for those who are familiar with the existing literature, this is an interesting, if sometimes arrogant, read.
Lt. Colonel Robert A. Lynn, Florida Guard