Last week's (admittedly posed) picture of President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden watching the mission to kill Osama bin Laden is already an iconic image of our time. His national security team present in the picture included Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough; Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Adviser Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley and John Brennan, of Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism.
McDonough, Mullen, Donilon, Brennan, Daley and Biden (whose mother was a Finnegan): what do those names tell you? Well, they declare the patriotism and the political realism of Irish-America. These people are involved in the war on terror, not because they're choosing war, but because terrorism chose to declare war on their country, the US.
I may also point to US Navy Seal Michael Murphy, Medal of Honour, Navy Cross, after whom a US Navy vessel was last week named. He was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan, in which only one of his four-man section survived.
And I can point to our own Defence Forces, who are now serving alongside the US and British and other NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. Members of the Army Ordnance Section are amongst the most skilled bomb-disposals officers in the world. Their operational commanding officer is Commandant Ray Lane: a true Irish hero of our time, though you have probably never heard of him.
So what is the political culture that exists in Ireland which can raise unreal and hand-wringing sanctimony to industrial levels amongst the media, academic and political classes, over the death of a mass-murderer like Bin Laden? This was liberal Ireland's equivalent to De Valera's condolences over Hitler's death.
Yet on the other hand, just look at the Irish in the US, in the forefront of their country's war against Islamo-Nazism. Look at our own unsung Defence Forces Ordinance Officers, who daily risk their lives with their brothers and sisters of the Royal Logistical Corps, the Royal Engineers, the USMC and the US Army.
How is there almost no popular awareness of the cause they are united in? And how many Irish people ever watch the news from Afghanistan and say, That's our war too?
Not many. But it is. Now I don't want to be a war-monger -- but by UN mandate alone, it is our war. And the reluctance to admit this simple truth is not hard to explain. It is neutralism, which was born as a necessary and logical strategy in September 1939, but has since mutated into a fixed ideology around which all defence policy (forgive that oxymoron) revolves. For ours is not the neutrality of the Swede or the Swiss, based on a willingness to make any invader pay too heavily. No, ours was the neutrality of the naked and defenceless man, scolding those who protected him merely for having the arms which keeps him safe.
This attitude is based on neither "thought" nor "policy" within a Department of Defence. Instead of policy, we have a series of semi-connected pieties, which only make sense to those who have been indoctrinated into the perverted but self-regarding norms of Irish exceptionalism.
These include a belief that in all crises there is a morally easy choice; that reason always prevails in human affairs; that the rights of the individual are superior to the rights of the state; that government must never antagonise its critics, lest they turn to violence; and if they do turn to violence, it is not their fault but the government's.
This amoral desire not to antagonise its more obdurate citizenry caused the Republic to allow the Provisional IRA to operate from within its borders for The Quarter Century War, 1971-96, during which terrorist leaders were usually able to sleep untroubled in their own beds. Why? Because to have treated them as enemies of the state would have violated their "rights". Meanwhile, their victims' right to life and to bodily integrity were nowhere to be seen.
If we are capable of such moral confusion when dealing with terrorism at home, is it surprising that so many people become almost hallucinogenic when it comes to contemplating the real problems of the world?
It was by a studied declaration of a truly perverse unworldliness that the term "NATO" in Ireland came to stand for "National Association of Tenants Associations". By a comparable (if rather unexpected) provincialism, even the usually sardonic Gerry Stembridge once wrote a play about a secret and nefarious plot to inveigle Ireland into, not the mafia, or white slavery, or the USSR, but into NATO (the real one). Wow: how sinister, man.
This is statehood only as understood in a kindergarten morality class, in which treaties are regarded as impure, and obligations to others are fatal compromises. Fine -- but there's a price for such attitudes: one reason we now have so few friends in the EU is that we expected so much while giving so little.
But happily, this is not always the Irish way -- as one glimpse of Barack Obama's national security team would surely confirm.