Monday, November 12, 2018

Macron is right about nationalism

French President Emmanuel Macron

When I was in high school, I was taught that the four main causes of World War I were nationalism, militarism, imperialism and the alliance system.  A century after the end of that deadly war, the concept of nationalism is being vigorously debated, because an avowed nationalist, Donald Trump, is President of the United States.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, also known as the Great War or "the war to end all wars."  It was not "great," nor did end all wars.  World War I was one the most tragic and bloody conflicts that that humanity has ever known.  The war was sparked on July 28, 1914 when a  South Slav nationalist assassinated Franz Ferdinard, the heir to the Austro- Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie.  The assassination took place in the city of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzogovina, then occupied by Austria-Hungary.  The assassin, Gavrilo Princiip, a young Bosnian Serb, was strongly opposed to Austro-Hungarian dominance.

 Austria-Hungary held Serbia responsible for the assassination and immediately declared war.  On August 3rd, Germany then declared war on France.  On August 4th, Germany invaded Belgium, causing Britain to declare war on Germany.  The United States, however, did not enter the war until 1917.

In the summer of 1914, young men from Britain and its then-colonies, including Canada and Australia, eagerly signed up for war.  Many lied about their age.  They wanted to serve "king and country" and they sought adventure.  They also believed that it would all be over by Christmas.  That didn't happen.  The war dragged on for over four years and many would never see their homes or families again.  Others returned, but they were wounded either physically or psychologically. or both.  The survivors were never the same.

The reparations against Germany set out in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles (he most important of the treaties that ended World War I) were very harsh.  They punished the Germans severely and destroyed the German economy.  Sadly, this led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Flash forward to November 11, 2018.  At a rain-soaked Armistice ceremony at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned Trump and other leaders about the perils of nationalism.  He denounced nationalism as a "betrayal of patriotism." and he warned against "old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death."  Macron forcefully defended a global order based on liberal values.  He stated that the millions of soldiers who perished to World War I "fought to defend the "universal values of France" and to reject "the selfishness of nations only looking after their own interests."  Patriotism, he declared. is "exactly the opposite of nationalism."

Macron is concerned that a new wave of nationalism threatens to engulf the world.  He expressed fear that "old demons are coming to the surface"  and that dangerous ethnic and religious hatred will be unleashed.  It is those "demons," he warned, that lead to global warfare.

President Macron's words were a stern rebuke to U.S. President Trump and his "America First" movement, as well as to Russian President Vladimir Putin and others.  He is concerned about their go-it-alone attitude and their unwillingness work together for the sake of all nations, not just their own.

Was Macron right about nationalism?  First of all let us establish that nationalism and patriotism are not the same thing.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nationalism as "devotion to the interests of a certain country and a belief that it is better and more important than other countries."  It defines patriotism as simply "love or devotion to one's country."

While patriotism is devotion and allegiance to one's country, nationalism is much stronger.  Extreme nationalism leads to jingoism and warmongering.  A true patriot does not proclaim "my country, right or wrong."  That is the mentality of an Archie Bunker..  A true patriot is willing to criticize one's country and recognize its wrongdoings and weaknesses.  A true patriot seeks improvement of one's country and tries to protect its interests.  Nevertheless, a true patriot will not put those interests ahead of the interests of humanity.

- Joanne

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