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Irish Can Learn From British Gratitude

11/11/2013 16:35 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Yesterday Britain commemorated its war dead. Across Britain and the Commonwealth, red poppy wreaths were laid upon war memorials as medalled veterans bowed their heads with dignified and silent solemnity. But while Remembrance Sunday commemorates the dead from all wars since 1914, it is inextricably bound to the world wars, and the Second World War in particular, the veterans of which still stand today as testament to the triumph of good over evil.

Britons lionise their Second World War veterans more than other veterans because they fought for what Britain and what the world is today, including its neighbour, Ireland. We, the Irish, live in a better world because of them, and it's about time that we acknowledged this as so.

The current Irish government and the one that preceded it are to be commended for their efforts to gain greater recognition for the more than 50,000 Irish men and women who served not for country, but for cause, and because it was the right thing to do. Yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his deputy Eamon Gilmore laid green laurel wreaths next to red poppy one's at ceremonies in Belfast and Enniskillen.

It was the latest in a series of acts undertaken by this government to recognise and reconcile our veterans, who, in the views of a myopic few, are seen as traitors, and shills to the Sterling. But while consecutive governments have done much to divorce this dwindling view with such shows of solidarity as yesterday, it's still not enough. Our veterans, and their comrades who died, deserve more.

The fascistic forces of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and their allies were the most malignant of modern times. The suffering they wrought upon three continents is beyond the comprehension of most of us. Two-thirds of Europe's Jews were exterminated, as were millions more in a systematic and industrial way, like animals upon an abattoir floor.

There is no moral equivalence of Lloyd George and the British Empire to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, or Hideki Tojo and Imperial Japan. The Irish veterans of the Second World War fought a greater fight than the veterans of the Easter Rising or War of Independence. There were no shades of grey in their war, it was black and white.

And it was they who fought not just for the freedom of other nations but for their own nation's too. Some may deny it and say it was Eamon De Valera and a policy of neutrality that kept Ireland free. Well, ask the Poles, Czech, Slovaks, Danes, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians and Luxembourgers about Hitler's respect for their neutrality. Neutrality didn't keep Ireland free, our geography did first, and British defiance did second.

The Irish men and women who volunteered to stem the fascist tide are without doubt the greatest heroes our nation has ever had. Such heroes include men like Dubliner Paddy Finucane, one of the great 'few' of the Battle of Britain who, at the time of his death at just 21, was the RAF's top fighter ace and youngest ever wing commander. A man such as he is deserving of commemoration, and most importantly, our gratitude.

That Finucane and most other Irish men and women served in the uniform of Britain is incidental in this instance, it was a mere means to the most noble of ends. They are, to borrow a term, the 'greatest generation', and they must be commemorated as such, particularly as many, albeit a dwindling number, are still alive.

That they are not seen as such, that more than a feint whiff of dissent still lingers, even with such hindsight, just shows how far some, albeit a dwindling number, still have to come.