New Hibernia Review 7.3 (2003) 81-105
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Irish Republicans and the Indo-German Conspiracy of World War I
Matthew Erin Plowman
Realpolitik is not merely the game of nations and empires, but the birth and death of nationalist organizations and revolutionary coalitions as well. The Indo-German Conspiracy—also known as the German-Hindu Conspiracy—of World War I confirmed the old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This lesson in realpolitik demonstrates that alliances made between widely diverse nationalist movements, or between nationalists and foreign imperial governments, may be exploited owing to the vulnerability that enemy infiltration in one nationalist organization or government might bring to another member of the alliance. This exploitation can be compounded by any internal divisions within the nationalist organizations. However, if a true nationalist community develops in this alliance, the resources, organization, and energy of one nationalist movement may be carried into the other. That synergetic relationship existed between the Germans, Indians, and Irish during World War I as both a German-sponsored alliance of realpolitik and a true Indo-Irish nationalist community on three continents. Likewise, a coalition of neutral Americans and belligerent British worked together to destroy this three-way alliance. 1
Just a few months into World War I, an Indo-German-Irish plot was established to ship American weapons to India for a revolt against the Raj with the intention of reducing Britain's ability to wage war on Germany and Irish nationalism. The gun shipment was organized in New York and sent to a ship in San Diego. This ship, the Annie Larsen, was supposed to rendezvous with a larger steamship, the Maverick, off the Pacific coast of Mexico at Socorro Island. The Maverick was then supposed to take the arms shipment first to the neutral Dutch East Indies and then to India. If that plan had to be aborted, the guns were to be sent to neutral Siam where German and Indian agents were ready to [End Page 81] smuggle the guns across the border into Burma and the rest of the Raj. The German consulate in San Francisco and Indian revolutionaries headquartered in San Francisco, who called themselves the Hindustan Gadar Party, made the necessary arrangements for the mission. 2 The mission fell apart when the ships failed to rendezvous in the late spring of 1915, and an American investigation was launched to determine whether United States neutrality laws were violated. British spies, Irish republicans, private detectives, American Bureau of Investigation (BOI) agents, German operatives, and Indian revolutionaries were all linked in a cloak-and-dagger tale that was finally played out in a San Francisco courtroom between United States attorneys, who were assisted by British secret agents, on one side, and Irish-American defense attorneys on the other. The November, 1917, to April, 1918, trial, which was one of this nation's longest and most expensive to that date, ended with shots being fired in the courtroom and two of the Indian conspirators—Gadar editor Ram Chandra and his assassin Ram Singh—lying dead before the bench and jury box. After spending millions of dollars and deploying vast human resources, British and American authorities, working in tandem, were able to convict those associated with the central core of the conspiracy and placed many of them behind bars for the war's duration. 3 [End Page 82]
The historiography of the Indo-German Conspiracy and trial has been small but turbulent. Early historians like Giles Brown did not challenge the government's propaganda and history of the affair, which included few references to Irish or British involvement, owing in part to Irish-American sensitivity after the Easter Rising of 1916. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Indian nationalist struggle came to be seen as a more legitimate endeavor and the British diplomatic role in the affair was unearthed by historians like Kalyan Kumar Banerjee and Don Dignan. Since 1979, historians like Joan Jensen and Karl Hoover have challenged the validity of the United States government's charges against...