Last Sunday at the Academy Awards Bradley Cooper came up short, losing in the Best Supporting Actor category to Jared Leto.
But a couple of years from now, Cooper may very well hoist an Oscar statue high for his portrayal of an Irish immigrant from Cork who changed the way Americans battle terrorism.
Cooper’s production company purchased the rights to film a brand new book by author Howard Blum entitled Dark Invasion: 1915, Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America. Blum’s hero is an Irish immigrant NYPD detective named Tom Tunney, who Blum and others have called America’s “first head of Homeland Security.”
Tunney was tenacious and ambitious, and was in charge of the NYPD’s fledgling bomb squad.
“He had joined the department...in 1898, a strapping, broad-shouldered 22-year-old,” Blum writes. He later adds that Tunney was inspired by his Uncle John, “sainted in family lore, who had proudly served in the Royal Irish Constabulary for more than two decades.”
Tunney, who settled on the traditionally Irish West Side of Manhattan, “had the wistful notion that a way of life that had worked for one Tunney might work for another.”
Tunney’s immigrant father, a laborer who died at just 48 years old, conveyed to Tunney that any job that brings you a sense of honor is a job worth having.
Honor is “the one thing they can never take from you,” Tunney told his son, according to Blum.
One of Tunney’s first successful operations was investigating a band of Italian anarchists who, exactly 99 years ago this month, wanted to plant a bomb in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, right around St. Patrick’s Day.
Tunney ordered fellow Irish American detective Patrick Walsh and others to dress up as washerwoman, a ploy that worked. The bombers were arrested.
When World War I broke out, the NYPD turned to Tunney when it appeared that saboteurs were planting bombs in U.S. factories and on board American ships.
But while Blum’s book has a heroic Irish angle, it also has a dark side. World War I was a highly controversial time for Irish Americans.
The U.S., of course, hoped to remain neutral in the so-called “war to end all wars.” But many Irish Americans were quietly hoping the British would suffer greatly at the hands of the Germans.
This put Irish Americans at odds with the mainstream of U.S. society, which generally favored the British. Indeed, many U.S. factories and banks made valuable loans and shipments to Britain and their allies.
So when German spies were looking to set up operations aiming to destroy American property and even take American lives, they knew where to look for allies.
“It’s a pragmatic axiom of both life and war that any enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Germany was eager to exploit Irish antipathy to Britain’s rule over the Emerald Isle,” writes Blum.
“There were 4.5 million Irish Americans, and the strains of Irish nationalism ran deep. A common enemy [German spies believed], would furnish volunteers for a common cause.”
The German operatives did not have to look much further than the docks of New York and New Jersey. One German spy “noted that many of the stevedores were Irish, and when he heard them openly snarling about having to load a ship flying the Union Jack” the spy noted that this “was a visceral hatred he would exploit.”
Though Blum doesn’t mention this, a new wave of ethnic tension soon engulfed the U.S., with many native-born Protestants arguing that Irish collusion with German agents was just the latest “proof” that immigrants and their children could never become truly loyal Americans. President Woodrow Wilson condemned what he called “hyphenated Americans.”
What none of these critics took into account was that Irish Catholic cops like Tunney -- as well as his bomb squad partner Patrick Walsh -- were on the front lines fighting what Blum depicts as America’s very first war on terror.
And when the U.S. finally entered the war in 1917, the Army took the extraordinary step of assuming the leadership of Tunney’s bomb squad. He was made into a major who was charged with overseeing counter-espionage efforts.
Tunney, apparently, was “loyal” enough for that task.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)