Col­lect­ing on our blood at Somme and Ypres

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

TO­DAY IN Paris, the 11th day of the 11th month of 2018, scores of world lead­ers, Don­ald Trump among them, will join French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron for cer­e­monies to com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War I.

An­drew Hol­ness will not be among them. But Ja­maica has a pro­found stake in this af­fair. By most es­ti­mates, just over 11,000 Ja­maicans, all vol­un­teers, served in the British forces in the Great War. Around 1,000 of them, or nine per cent, were killed. Many were wounded and maimed. Some, even if not so de­clared, emerged as he­roes.

Per­haps the most fa­mous of the Ja­maican veter­ans of that war was Nor­man Man­ley, the na­tional hero, premier and founder of the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party. He fought in the nasty bat­tles at Somme and Ypres, was dec­o­rated for his brav­ery, and emerged from the war with what to­day might have been di­ag­nosed as post­trau­matic stress disor­der. Hap­pily for Ja­maica, and its po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, Mr Man­ley made a full re­cov­ery.

So, Ja­maica has an in­vest­ment in blood in the bat­tle­fields of Europe in a war, which, when the ar­mistice sounded at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Lloyd Ge­orge, the British prime min­is­ter, her­alded “an end to all wars”. As the last cen­tury has re­vealed, Lloyd Ge­orge’s as­pi­ra­tion, un­for­tu­nately, hasn’t been ful­filled. In some re­spects, the world is dis­play­ing many of the symp­toms, as Mr Macron has ob­served, that erupted into the global con­fla­gra­tion of 1914 and, merely two decades af­ter the cool­ing of that af­fair, the Sec­ond World War.

Which is where Don­ald Trump is sig­nif­i­cant. The as­sas­si­na­tion of Arch­duke Fer­di­nand, and the re­sult­ing Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian de­mands on Ser­bia, were the prox­i­mate trig­ger for the First World War. Yet, be­hind the events of Sara­jevo was a toxic blend of na­tion­al­ism, eth­no­cen­tric­ity, re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance and big­otry, po­lit­i­cal ri­val­ries and the ab­sence of a global mech­a­nism for pre­vent­ing and me­di­at­ing dis­putes. Greater power as­ser­tion, ul­ti­mately, was law, un­less oth­er­wise de­clared in bi­lat­eral agree­ments, or con­tested on the bat­tle­fields.


The weak­nesses and dan­gers in­her­ent in those ar­range­ments were clearly un­der­stood – though dis­as­trously un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated by oth­ers among Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic elite – by Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son. In the af­ter­math of the Great War, he, rightly, cham­pi­oned the es­tab­lish­ment of the League of Na­tions and warned against Amer­ica’s “retreat ... to iso­la­tion­ism”.

Un­for­tu­nately, he wasn’t heeded. Amer­ica, whose pres­ence would have added to the le­git­i­macy to the in­sti­tu­tion, stayed out of the League of Na­tions. Amer­ica looked in­wards. Within two decades, an as­cen­dant xeno­pho­bia and ex­treme na­tion­al­ism gave rise to the Nazis, the Sec­ond World War and the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of six mil­lion Jews.

We are again hear­ing echoes of the eth­no­cen­tric ide­olo­gies and jack­booted in­tol­er­ance that gained trac­tion in the lat­ter part of the first half of the 20th cen­tury – in, among oth­ers, Vik­tor Or­ban of Hun­gary, An­drzej Duda in Poland and Ger­many’s AfD (Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many) party. They are em­bold­ened by Mr Trump’s ‘Amer­ica First” na­tion­al­ism that re­jects mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism for old-school, greater-power pol­i­tics.

“Amer­ica is gov­erned by Amer­i­cans,” Mr Trump told the United Na­tions at its gen­eral as­sem­bly in Septem­ber. “We re­ject the ide­ol­ogy of glob­al­ism, and we em­brace the doc­trine of pa­tri­o­tism. Around the world, re­spon­si­ble na­tions must de­fend against threats to sovereignty, not just from global gov­er­nance, but also from other, new forms of co­er­cion and dom­i­na­tion.”

This news­pa­per, of course, sees no con­tra­dic­tion be­tween pa­tri­o­tism and ad­her­ence to the mul­ti­lat­eral ar­range­ments that of­fer small coun­tries like Ja­maica the only real in­su­la­tion against ar­bi­trary ac­tion by big, pow­er­ful ones, ex­cept in a sub­li­ma­tion of sovereignty. That is why Ja­maica has a stake in the main­te­nance of global or­der based on mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism.

A cen­tury ago, thou­sands of young Ja­maican men paid down that ideal with their blood in places with names like Somme, Ypres and Ver­dun, and oth­ers they prob­a­bly couldn’t pro­nounce.

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