WASHINGTON: World leaders gathered in Paris to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice ending World War l. Between 1914 and 1918, some 9.7 million soldiers and 10 million civilians were killed during this first great war. Unfortunately, the destructive nationalism which led to that conflict, and to World War ll a few years later, is once again on the rise.
French President Emmanuel Macron urging world leaders to reject nationalism.
He describes nationalism as a “betrayal of patriotism.”
“By saying ‘our interests first and never mind the others,’ you stamp out the most precious thing a nation has—its moral values.” The late French President Charles DeGaulle, who led the Free French forces during World War ll, said that there was a clear difference between nationalism and patriotism. “Patriotism,” he pointed out, produces the love of country. “Nationalism,” on the other hand, produces hatred of others.
Speaking at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in the heart of Paris, Macron emphasizes:
“A global order based on liberal values is worth defending against those who have sought to disrupt that system. The millions of soldiers who fought in the Great War fought to defend the “universal values” of France, he said, and to reject “the selfishness of nations looking after their interests. Because patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism.”
In a climate of resurgent nationalism in Hungary, Poland, Italy, and other countries Macron, preaching the virtues of multilateralism was alone on the dais. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, his most loyal.partner in that effort, has announced that she will soon leave public life.
Dominique Moisi, a French foreign policy specialist at the Institute Montaigne, says:
“Franco-German reconciliation was at the very heart of what we’ve been seeing together. Angela Merkel is out. The spirit in which we are commemorating these events is no longer fully present.”
Today, the European Union, which has led to peace in Europe since the end of World War ll, is now under attack. We are hearing voices proclaiming “Hungary First,” “Italy First,” “Poland First,” even “America First,” a term which characterized those in the U.S. who opposed our participation in the war against Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Indeed, President Trump has said,
“You know they have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. We’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist.”
Whether he understands the implications of this statement is not clear. There are, after all, reasons for not using this term.
The historical ramifications of the term “nationalism.”
They are many. Margaret MacMillan, a World War l historian at Oxford University, laments that this cavalier language evinces the view that peace is the default. She states:
“We in the West, in particular, have been extremely lucky. We’ve lived through an extremely long period of peace. The worry is that we take peace for granted and think, it’s a normal state of affairs. We should reflect that sometimes wars do happen—and sometimes for not very good reasons.”
What was being celebrated in Paris was the long legacy of peace, which eluded Europe after World War l, but has now held more or less intact for seven decades. For European leaders, the much-maligned European Union is a key reason.
“The European Union is the rejection of the two world wars, that’s what it is,”‘says Yale University historian Jay Winter. “It’s a way of creating the economic and democratic stability that did not emerge after World War l.”
Reiner Jung, deputy director of the Saar Historical Museum in the German region of Saarland, on the French border, notes that
“We’re neighbors. We marry each other. One hundred years ago we killed each other. It’s been a great evolution.”
However, Europe’s memory of war, and the excesses of nationalism, are fading.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel points out that.
“We now live in a time in which the eyewitnesses of this terrible period of German history are dying. In this phase, it will be decided whether we have really learned from history.”
In Germany, the far right has now become the leading voice of opposition in Parliament. The right is mocking the mainstream media as “Luge, presse,” or lying press, a term popular with Nazis in the 1920s.
Traits Lafrenz, the last surviving member of the White Rose, an anti-Hitler student resistance group in the 1940s, says she got goosebumps seeing pictures of Hitler salutes at the far-right riots in the eastern German city of Chemnitz recently.
“Maybe it’s no coincidence,” Ms. Lafrenz, now 90, told Der Spiegel, “We are dying out, and at the same time everything is coming back, again.”
Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European history at Oxford, provides this assessment:
“What is being eroded today is being eroded from a much higher level than anything we had ever achieved in Europe in the past.” He sees 1918 as a warning that democracy and peace can never be taken for granted.
“It’s a really sobering reminder that seems like some sort of eternal order could very rapidly collapse.”
German historian Daniel Schoenpiling argues the history teaches us that,
“Once the generation with living memory of fighting had died, the next war came along. History teaches us that when the generation that experienced war dies out, caution diminishes and naïveté toward war increases. That means we have to be very careful today.”
Learning, or forgetting, the lessons of World Wars l and ll.
The Economist remains skeptical if American’s can learn history’s lessons:
“…modesty is also due, about forces greater than the wits and power of even historically aware societies can contain. National chauvinism lives on despite the Somme. Anti-semitism lives on despite the Holocaust. Societies’ capacity to imagine collapse and barbarism in terms fades with time. All Europeans can do is be vigilant and humble before these forces, dip their oars into the waves of history when possible, hold tight to their humanity and be grateful that their continent’s past and present are now broadly in harmony, the former educating and civilizing the latter, for now at least. Like train lines running together in a wood.”
The United States, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, in creating the post-World War II world.
Through the Marshall Plan, we helped to rebuild Europe, not only our allies but our former adversaries. We helped launch NATO and encouraged the development of the European Union. For more than 70 years, Europe has been at peace. Its economies have prospered. None of this has been without problems and difficulties. Many of these have been resolved. Others remain for future negotiation. Former enemies, such as Germany and France, have become friends. Europe has open borders, and men and women can work in any EU country.
All these alliances a far cry from the religious wars and ethnic and national rivalries which plagued Europe for centuries.
Now, the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. However, that post-war world of stability and peace, courtesy of men like Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan is under threat. Let us hope that our country is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Idle talk, of “nationalism” and “America First” is the opposite of what both our political parties have advocated for many years. Hopefully, Americans will come to realize this, and we will continue our role in leading the world toward a more hopeful and peaceful future.
## Lead Image: President Donald J. Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France President Donald J. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron at bilateral meeting Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)