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On This Day

On November 19, 1920, an event took place which has some resonance for current discussions on American foreign policy and transitional justice. Hearings of an American Commission to Investigate the Irish Question opened in Washington. The Commission was intended to conduct an ‘impartial inquiry’ into conditions in Ireland. Evidence was taken from, among others, the poet Padraic Colum. The Commission heard that, at the time, an ‘orgy of destruction [was] ravishing Ireland’ and that the rule of law was ‘virtually suspended’ . The Commission also heard evidence on aspirations for Ireland’s future government.

The ancient Brehon laws, from which many of the present-day socialist doctrines are derived, Mr. [Laurence] Ginnell [pictured above] said, probably will form the basis for Ireland’s form of government should the efforts of the republican leaders to gain independence from Britain prove successful. He told the committee that he had written a book on socialism, obtaining his material from these laws.

The English reaction to the Commission was markedly hostile; the London Globe called its establishment ‘damned impudence’. Noting the position of African Americans in the Southern states, and observing that the United States had a homicide rate ‘surpassing even that of Turkey’, the Globe concluded by saying that ‘[w]hen we want American advice on the Government of Ireland we will ask for it’. Sir Edward Carson declined to testify before the Commission, saying that he considered it an unwarranted interference in the affairs of a foreign friendly state.  The publications of the Commission are detailed here and here.

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  1. November 19, 2009 at 8:57 am

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