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An Unpatriotic Death

My archival object is a photograph was taken by Heinrich Hoffmann titled “A large anti-British demonstration in London by Irish patriots demanding separation of Ireland of England.” The tile is exactly what is occurring in this photo. In 1939 Hoffmann captured sea of people picketing while there is a large number of people on a stage. The only slightly readable sign says “England Expects that you will enroll today” and “Irishmen of no property unite.” The controversy here is occurring after the Anglo-Irish War when they got de facto independence from Britain but they were not able to completely sever the connection to the British until about 1948. And because this photo is taken in 1939 this demonstration was right in the thick of the dispute.

My two twentieth-century texts Willian Butler Yeats’ “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” and “The Second Coming,” which can both be viewed as voicing Ireland’s pessimistic view toward World War 1 and the truth that many countries that were under the dominion of Britain died in a war where they were anything but patriotic. My object and texts support one another as unspoken and unpopular theme of death due to duty to a country that you do not love but are constantly exploited by.

In particular, we find that “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” begins with explaining his plight when he says “Those I fight I do not hate. Those I guard I do not love.” This is a direct statement showing that he is in the war not out of love or care for the future of Britain or due to the feeling of enacting pain toward the opposing countries. The narrator then goes on to admit some information about himself and his people when he says “My country is Kiltarian cross, My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, No likely end could bring them loss Or leave them happier than before.” From this, we find out that Kiltarian is a county in Ireland where he is from and they live in such harsh conditions that no matter who wins the war there is no hope for lives and better for these people. To know that you are going to war as an airman which is a suicidal task with the knowledge that you are fighting in a war that will not effect any change for the place you are from seems like a death wish. He is fighting a war with the awareness that Ireland will never see freedom for Britain’s tyranny. The airman’s death wish in his eyes after witnessing so much tragedy on a daily basis is his only liberation. Yeats’ is neither sympathetic or unsympathetic to the airman’s feelings of suicide. In this poem Yeats’ only paints a picture of the feeling of the time and a path that seems to have often been taken because these people such a lack of hope. Yeats’ does not valorize or condemn the airman’s deathwish, he simply acknowledges it and that it did happen. He is also bringing attention to the fact that the Irishmen were so uncared for that no one knew their true plight, without this poem we would of never known how extreme their situation was. The Airman had no idea about the rebellion and change that his country would go through only twenty later depicted in Hoffmann’s photograph. If he had this hope we wonder if he would have chosen to keep living. Afterward the narrator says “The years to come seemed a waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind In balance with this life, this death.” The narrator through these words tell us his life in Ireland under British rule is like living while being emotionally and spiritually dead. He plans to unite his internal death with the physical state of death because life under such conditions are not worth living.

While “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” gives readers a view of the World War 1 during warfare. In Yeats’ “The Second Coming” we hear the aftermath of World War 1 through what can be considered the Irish perspective. In the first stanza, the narrator says “the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” the bloodshed was so devastating with over sixteen million people dead people were so disheartened an effect was that a large population of people gave up their faith and lost faith in nationalism overall. As small as Ireland is the loss of Irishmen at war was 35,000 out of the 210,000 who served. Considering that these 35,000 most likely had sentiments close to the Irish airman it shows the hopelessness of that land. It must also be taken into consideration that in World War 1 that six million British soldiers served but only 700,000 died. It is quite strange how the Irish lost 16.6% of their men compared to the British who only lost 11% especially after considering how many more British soldiers there were than Irish. The poem continues to look for some reason for such a massive havoc when it says “surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the second coming is at hand.” It is possible that for some of these Irishmen this second coming was their independence.

The narrator then calls out Europe when saying “The darkness of drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.” The darkness described here as lasting two thousand year could be the form of Christianity being used as a tool to have dominion over other people and countries. At this point all of the big empires including Britain have so much power because they are “saving” unknowledgeable and uncivilized populations through the love of Christ. This quote can also be translated that Europe has been in a deep sleep since the birth of Christ in a darkness which made them blind to their fate and surroundings. Europe’s ego was so big that it believes that it was incapable of being of taken down or suffering such a tremendous such a loss at the hands of another country. There were plenty of signs before World War 1 that were foreshadowing the fall of it as empire such as the Crimean war, the loss of the United States, Indian rebellions from Bengal to Punjab, colonial uprisings, and other events. But they were incapable of seeing it because as a country they were like a baby in cradle feeling comfortable and protected while in truth they are aware the British Empire’s impending death choosing not to handle it in the best way for them or their dominions. The poem end saying “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” Consecutively after World War 1 was the Irish War of Independence. And the continual fight for independence of Irishman is what Hoffman captured. Maybe that beast they Yeats’ was speaking of was actually Ireland coming back to reap the independence that was once was theirs.

On the whole, World War 1 changed the world by causing the highest death toll the whole world has ever seen. But what more importantly needs to be taken into consideration that through “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” is an example that the war was an unpatriotic fight for many people yet conditions under British rule were so terrible it made death in war seem even pleasureful to citizens of Ireland. After World War 1 through “The Second Coming” we see the inspiration the Irishmen had to break free reign as their independence shown to be their messiah. Yet Hoffman’s photo shows what the Irish really look like they are passionate and patriotic for a cause they believe in. Overall, Hoffmann’s photograph and these poems by Yeats’ exemplify a sentiment of the Irish’s past that is often looked over in history when it comes to World War 1 and its effects.

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