‘Guests of the Nation’, is a story revolving around the hostilities between England and Ireland during the struggle for Ireland to be a free and sovereign nation. The plot of the story involves two relatively new recruitment’s to the Irish army, Noble and Bonaparte, who discover the true nature of the reason why they are holding two captured British soldiers – Belcher and Hawkins. As told through the eyes of Bonaparte, the two Irish soldiers must ultimately witness and take part in the execution of the hostages that they have befriended. Standing silent and with duty to country, Jeremiah Donovan is the seasoned Irish veteran of the war that watches as the friendship develops between Belcher, Hawkins, Noble and Bonaparte. When four Irish hostages end up dead (killed by the British army), Donovan explains to Bonaparte that two hostages they hold will be killed in retaliation for the Irish lad’s death. Jeremiah Donovan’s character in ‘Guest of the Nation’ is that of the seasoned soldier of war that by his actions, displays to Noble and Bonaparte what war is really all about.
Donovan is a staunch Irishman, with a temper, who has obviously been a soldier for sometime. Based on Bonaparte’s observation, Donovan appears to be a farmer by trade, a big man who wears a small cloth hat and seldom has his hands out of his pockets. As a character, Donovan does not change throughout the story, but maintains his continued duty as a patriotic soldier of the Irish army. Even when Belcher and Hawkins poise no threat of escaping and causing any problems, Donovan scolds Bonaparte for following him into the village and tells him he should be guarding the prisoners. Donovan does not display any hatred towards Belcher and Hawkins. When he admits to Bonaporte that, “I thought you knew we were keeping them as hostages” this would indicate that Donovan had been involved in hostage taking in the past. It makes perfect sense to Donovan that if the enemy shoots prisoners belonging to them, then they will shoot Belcher and Hawkins. While this would make sense to a solider of war, Bonaparte tries to explain the difference in the situation, but does not because he knew Donovan would not understand. Bonaparte makes the analogy that “If it was only an old dog that was going to the vet’s, you’d try and not get too fond of him, but Jeremiah Donovan wasn’t a man that would ever be in danger of that.”
Through out the story, Donovan keeps his distance from Belcher and Hawkins. Although he supervises the card games between Belcher, Hawkins, Noble and Bonaporte, he hardly played in the game. In fact, Bonaparte does not even notice Donovan’s apparent lack of interest in Noble and Hawkins. Not until after Bonaparte has befriended the two British men does it occur to him that Donovan “had no great love for the two Englishmen.” Donovan, as a solider of the war, realizes that he can not befriend the enemies, as he knows what their ultimate fate is. Noble and Bonaparte do not realize this and Donovan, so consumed with the duty of country and war, does not warn them of the possibility of execution until it was too late and the doomed friendship had already begun.
When word of the execution of the four Irish lads comes, Donovan wastes no time in proceeding with executing Belcher and Hawkins. The impact the war has had on Donovan shines through when he angrily tells Bonaparte that he wants “those two soldier friends of yours”, as if almost expecting resistance from Bonaparte. Donovan tries his best to explain to Belcher and Hawkins that he is only doing “his duty”, that he holds nothing against them, but he makes a point to Hawkins when he says, “but why did your people take out four of our prisoners and shoot them in cold blood?” He then takes Hawkins by the arm and drags him along. Through out the execution Donovan asks each man for any last words and last prayers, then quickly executes each of them with a shot to the head. Donovan, without emotion or regret, performed the executions quickly and without hesitation. His actions speak louder than words. Numb to what he was about to do, he makes sure that he tells both victims that he is only doing this because of duty, as if that is the justification of which he basis the executions on.
‘Guests of the Nation” is a powerful story that teaches us what war is really all about – killing. When Noble and Bonaparte become soldiers, they desire the excitement of the battlefield and to help defeat the British in their political rule over Ireland. Both of them are naive to what war is really about. The last place they wanted to be was guarding two prisoners of war that seemed to be more intent on being their friend, than being their enemy. Donovan, the seasoned soldier, knows what the war is about and knows that the prisoners are the enemy and are to be dealt with as enemies. He keeps his distance from them and when it comes time to perform his duty, he does so. On the other hand are Noble and Bonaparte who have not experienced the cruelty of war. They do not understand, as Donovan does, that war is about people being killed, just like themselves. From a distance, the enemy seems real, vicious and does not regard human life. But up close, you find out that the enemy is no different than you and I. ‘Guests of the Nation’ personifies this and provides insight into how a war can change a person, from the green and naive Bonaparte, to the seasoned soldier of war, Donovan. In the end, Bonaparte would become like Donovan because he was numbed by the cruelty of war. As Bonaparte states after the executions had taken place, “And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.”