Neither Friend nor Foe

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

World War II was exactly that, a global conflict with participants from every inhabited continent and desperate fighting on three of them. Yet five nations in the very cauldron of battle, war-torn Europe, somehow charted courses of neutrality throughout the six years of struggle.

The common thread which linked the five was the threat of invasion, most often by Nazi Germany, but at times from the besieged Allies. Otherwise the five had different reasons and means for neutrality, and Jerrold Packard’s study offers a fascinating historical tale well told, with valid insights for contemporary international politics.

Ireland had no sympathies with Nazi Germany but remained neutral because of enduring bitterness over centuries of English oppression and anger over the island’s partition. For the Irish then, as now, history had a stronger hold than present conditions.

Some might have thought history would have brought Portugal to England’s side: The two countries had been friends since 1373, and, remarkably for Europe, had never fought one another. But in 1939, Portugal was weak, mired in depression, and determined to remain neutral. Isolated at the edge of the continent, its determination held.

Switzerland, lodged between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, had no such geographical good fortune. As Packard clearly demonstrates, its traditional neutrality was honored only because the Swiss made it clear they would resist any invasion and destroy the vital tunnels linking Hitler and his Italian ally. Firm national resolve preserved Swiss neutrality.

By contrast, Sweden bought off the Nazi threat by selling enormous quantities of high-grade iron ore and vital ball bearings to the German war machine and allowing the Wehrmacht to use its rail lines. The dictator Francisco Franco, who owed his position largely to Nazi and Fascist assistance, was openly pro-Axis but kept out of the war because of Spain’s weakness.

Neutrality in World War II was a difficult thing, perhaps a morally dangerous position. The reader who wishes to make an informed decision on this, and learn something of contemporary relationships in places such as the Balkans, should start with Jerrold Packard’s NEITHER FRIEND NOR FOE.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIX, October 15, 1992, p. 397.

Kirkus Reviews. LX, September 1, 1992, p. 1113.

Library Journal. CXVII, September 15, 1992, p. 76.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, September 21, 1992, p. 83.

Neither Friend nor Foe

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

“And it will always happen that the one who is not your friend will want you to remain neutral, and the one who is your friend will require you to declare yourself by taking arms. Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, usually follow the way of neutrality and are mostly ruined by it.” So wrote Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince (1532), four hundred years before the outbreak of World War II, the global conflict that is Jerrold M. Packard’s concern in Neither Friend nor Foe: The European Neutrals in World War II. This is a study of what it meant to remain neutral in that war and what neutrality cost the neutrals in terms of political credit, self-esteem, and national honor.

Neutrality always has been a concept difficult to define and almost impossible to maintain. Machiavelli clearly understood this even during an era when the battling participants were relatively small Italian city-states and the still-developing nations of France and Spain. Neutrality was even more arduous to maintain during World War II, yet even in the very cauldron of battle five nations remained outside the conflict: Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Packard examines how those countries maintained neutrality and what it cost them to do so.

As modern warfare has become more destructive, neutrality has become possible only when combatant nations see no value in violating that neutrality. During World War I, for example, The Netherlands were untouched while neighboring Belgium, essential to German war plans, was invaded promptly during the opening days of the conflict. When military necessity demands, solemn treaties of neutrality become, in the infamous words of a German diplomat, mere scraps of paper.

Total warfare and neutrality seem incompatible. Total warfare accepts no boundaries, acknowledges no limits, and, when it is linked with a fanatical philosophy such as Nazism, makes neutrality an almost impossible to achieve dream. Most European nations were awakened rudely from that dream in 1939 and 1940.

When the war began, only four states were involved: Nazi Germany and its victim Poland, and Poland’s allies, Great Britain and France. By the summer of 1940, neutrals such as Holland, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway had been drawn into the war by becoming battlefields themselves. The same fate awaited the continent’s largest neutral power, the Soviet Union.

Five nations eluded that fate, but at considerable costs to themselves economically, politically, and, above all, morally. Packard’s book is their story, linked with a consideration of the perils of neutrality. If it is perhaps too forgiving of the moral failings of some nations, it is an excellent survey of a neglected aspect of World War II, particularly good in distinguishing the reasons for and effects of neutrality. Neutrality is not of a piece but differs from war to war, nation to nation.

Irish neutrality, for example, resulted from more than six centuries of struggle against English domination. The virtual independence of Ireland was at last secured during the 1930’s, except that the island was partitioned into Northern Ireland, composed mainly of Ulster, and the twenty-six remaining counties to the south. As Packard notes, the British division of Ireland deliberately carved out a Protestant majority that remained in control of the northern rump. That partition, the denial of civil rights to the Ulster Catholics, and the legacy of centuries of oppression virtually ensured that Ireland would not, under almost any conditions, fight on England’s side.

In this emotionally charged situation it was politically impossible for an Irish government to join the Allies, even though the British and later the Americans used threats, promises, embargoes, and other means to force Ireland into the war. All such efforts were fended off by Eamon De Valera, the Irish prime minister, who insisted upon strict and unwavering neutrality. De Valera was supported by the overwhelming majority of his people, who, although they clearly had no sympathies for Nazi tyranny, had very clear memories of British rule. For the Irish then, as later, history had a stronger hold than did present conditions.

Portugal, another small nation, was less economically isolated than was Ireland, and in fact supplied both the Axis...

(The entire section is 1782 words.)