As the world marks Ar­mistice Day, na­tion­al­ism rises again

Rotorua Daily Post - - World - Europe James McAu­ley, Griff Witte

The grave­yards ex­tend for miles, far­ther than the eye can see. For a cen­tury now, parts of north­ern France and Bel­gium have been an eerie mau­soleum, a land­scape rav­aged by the hor­rors of World War I, a con­flict that was then the dead­li­est event in modern his­tory.

More than 60 world lead­ers will gather in Paris this week­end to mark the cen­ten­nial of the 1918 ar­mistice. As host, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron is em­brac­ing a post-na­tional, panEuro­pean un­der­stand­ing of the past — and vi­sion of the fu­ture.

But the World War I cen­ten­nial ar­rives at a mo­ment when the Euro­pean project and transat­lantic al­liance are un­der strain — and na­tion­al­ism is see­ing a star­tling resur­gence.

Anti-Euro­pean Union sen­ti­ment has grown even in coun­tries where right-wing pop­ulists have per­formed poorly at the polls, and Brus­sels has strug­gled to re­spond to fla­grant as­saults on Euro­pean val­ues as ba­sic as the rule of law.

Heads of state as­sert “Italy First,” “Hun­gary First” and “Amer­ica First,” echo­ing lan­guage de­ployed by those who ar­gued against US in­volve­ment in the world wars and League of Na­tions. And col­lec­tive aver­sion to the term “na­tion­al­ist” has be­gun to re­cede.

“You know, they have a word — it sort of be­came old-fash­ioned,” Pres­i­dent Trump said at a rally last month. “It’s called a na­tion­al­ist. And I say, re­ally? We’re not sup­posed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a na­tion­al­ist, okay? I’m a na­tion­al­ist. Na­tion­al­ist. Noth­ing wrong. Use that word.”

Mar­garet Macmil­lan, a World War I his­to­rian at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford, said the cav­a­lier lan­guage evinces a men­tal­ity that peace is the de­fault and even in­evitable con­di­tion.

“We in the West, in par­tic­u­lar, have been ex­tremely lucky. We’ve lived through an ex­tremely long pe­riod of peace,” she said. “The worry is that we take peace for granted and think it’s a nor­mal state of af­fairs.”

In ad­vance of the gath­er­ing in Paris, Macron has po­si­tioned him­self as Europe’s lead­ing chal­lenger to the ris­ing tide of na­tion­al­ism. He has said that lead­ers such as Hun­gary’s Vik­tor Or­ban are right to see him as their big­gest op­po­nents, and warned — in an ad­dress to the United Na­tions — that uni­lat­er­al­ism in­evitably en­gen­ders “with­drawal and con­flict”.

Macron’s Ar­mistice Day plans re­flect his com­mit­ment to the post­war project. A cer­e­mony Sun­day on the Champs-El­y­sees will be a solemn af­fair, re­mem­ber­ing lives lost rather than cel­e­brat­ing a war vic­tory. That will be fol­lowed by a three-day peace fo­rum that aims to “strengthen mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion”.

If the event cel­e­brates any­thing, it will be the long le­gacy of peace, which eluded the con­ti­nent af­ter the first world war but has now held more or less in­tact for seven decades. To Macron and other de­fend­ers of the EU, the oft­ma­ligned in­sti­tu­tion is a crit­i­cal rea­son why.

“The Euro­pean Union is the re­jec­tion of the two world wars — that’s what it is. It’s a way of cre­at­ing the eco­nomic and demo­cratic sta­bil­ity that did not emerge af­ter World War I,” said Yale Uni­ver­sity his­to­rian Jay Win­ter.

World War I oc­cu­pies a more lim­ited space in the Ger­man his­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion than it does for France, the UK or Bel­gium. Few of the bat­tles were on Ger­man soil, and the hor­rors of the war that fol­lowed — World War II — over­shadow all else in the na­tion’s his­tor­i­cal mem­ory. But the lessons of both wars are wo­ven into the coun­try’s modern DNA. As other na­tions have swung to­ward pop­ulists pledg­ing to look out for their own coun­try’s in­ter­ests Ger­many has stayed rooted in in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion.

Un­like dur­ing other ma­jor an­niver­saries of the war, Ger­many has marked the cen­te­nary oc­ca­sions along­side one­time en­e­mies. It will do so again on Sun­day when Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel trav­els to Paris and Pres­i­dent Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier vis­its Lon­don for a cer­e­mony with Queen El­iz­a­beth II.

“It has re­ally been a Euro­pean com­mem­o­ra­tion,” Ho¨ lscher said. “That’s some­thing very new.”

The 28th In­fantry Reg­i­ment of the First Di­vi­sion, A.E.F. dur­ing an Amer­i­can of­fen­sive of World War I in the Bat­tle of Cantigny, France.

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