As the world marks ar­mistice day, na­tion­al­ism rises again

Bay of Plenty Times - - World - The 28th In­fantry Reg­i­ment of the First Di­vi­sion, A.E.F. goes over the top of a trench dur­ing an Amer­i­can of­fen­sive of World War I in the Bat­tle of Cantigny, France.

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

fire. Ques­tions re­main whether the gains were worth all the hu­man losses. His­to­rian Joseph Per­sico es­ti­mated the to­tal dead, wounded and miss­ing on all sides on the fi­nal day was 10,900.

Other na­tions also were not spared such ca­su­al­ties. With two min­utes to go, 25-year-old Cana­dian Pri­vate Ge­orge Lawrence Price was slain by a Ger­man sniper.

About 250km away in France, a 23-year-old Amer­i­can, Henry Gun­ther, was killed by Ger­man ma­chine-gun fire one minute be­fore the ar­mistice.

Tre­bu­chon, 40, also was shot min­utes be­fore the cease-fire. He was run­ning to tell his com­rades where and when they would have Na­tions. And col­lec­tive aver­sion to the term “na­tion­al­ist” has be­gun to re­cede.

“You know, they have a word — it sort of be­came old­fash­ioned,” 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

a meal af­ter the ar­mistice.

All three are con­sid­ered their na­tions’ last men to fall in ac­tive com­bat.

The fu­til­ity of the larger war Anti-Ger­man sen­ti­ment ran high af­ter the United States de­clared war in April 1917, and Gun­ther and his fam­ily in Bal­ti­more were sub­jected to the kind of prej­u­dice and sus­pi­cion that many of Ger­man de­scent faced at the time.

“It was not a good time to be Ger­man in the United States,” said his­to­rian Alec Ben­nett.

Gun­ther had lit­tle choice when he got drafted. He was given the rank of sergeant, but he later was de­moted when he wrote a let­ter US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­gen­ders “with­drawal and con­flict”.

Macron’s Ar­mistice Day plans re­flect his com­mit­ment to the post-war 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 three­day 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

home crit­i­cal of the con­di­tions in the war. Soon af­ter, he was thrown into the big­gest US bat­tle of the war, the Meuse-Ar­gonne of­fen­sive in north­east­ern France.

There were re­ports he was still brood­ing over his de­mo­tion on Novem­ber 11. When he emerged from a thick fog in the val­ley around Chau­mont-de­van­tDamvillers, he and his com­rades faced a Ger­man ma­chine-gun nest on the hill­side.

In­di­ca­tions are the Ger­mans fired one salvo over his head as a warn­ing, know­ing the war was al­most over. But he still charged on­ward.

“His time of death was 10.59am, which is just so haunt­ing,” Ben­nett said. Gun­ther was 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.

The de­gree to which the EU’s post-na­tion­al­ist vi­sion has trans­formed the con­ti­nent is ev­i­dent in the Ger­man re­gion of Saar­land, an area of 1 mil­lion res­i­dents on the French bor­der.

The re­gion — marked by lush forests, gen­tle hills and rich coal de­posits that once made Saar­land an in­dus­trial jack­pot — has changed hands eight times over the past 250 years. In the past cen­tury alone, it was traded be­tween France and Ger­many four times.

The first of those came in the af­ter­math of World War I, when France claimed the ter­ri­tory as com­pen­sa­tion for Ger­man de­struc­tion of France’s coal in­dus­try. Ger­many lost the land again af­ter World War II, and only got it back in 1957. As re­cently as the 1990s, the nearby bor­der was sub­ject to

recog­nised as the last Amer­i­can to die on the bat­tle­field.

Ques­tions re­main whether it was a sui­cide run, an at­tempt at redemp­tion or an act of de­vo­tion.

“It is just as puz­zling now as it was 100 years ago,” Ben­nett said, adding that one thing is clear: “Gun­ther’s act is seen as al­most a sym­bol of the fu­til­ity of the larger war.”

A need to kill one last time There was no mys­tery sur­round­ing the death of Price, the Cana­dian. It was an ut­terly sense­less loss of life.

He was a farm labourer in Saskatchewan strict con­trols. But to­day, it’s largely in­vis­i­ble. French cit­i­zens com­mute to Saar­land for work, Ger­mans drop in on France to pick up a bot­tle of wine.

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.”

when his­tory plucked him off the land in Oc­to­ber 1917 as the Al­lies sought more man­power for the Western Front. The sum­mer af­ter he was drafted, he was part of the surge of vic­to­ries that seized vil­lages and cities right up to Novem­ber 11. By that time, Cana­di­ans were re­tak­ing Mons in south­ern Bel­gium, where sol­diers from the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth had their very first bat­tle with the Ger­mans in Au­gust 1914. It was es­pe­cially sweet for Com­mon­wealth com­man­ders to re­take the city, bring­ing the war full cir­cle where they lost their first sol­dier, English Pri­vate

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