We owe President Emmanuel Macron a debt of gratitude for yesterday’s speech in Paris. “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” the French leader said.
“In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”
The first world war was not inevitable in the sense that ‘a great evil’ was being confronted. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 the relationship between Serbia and Austria-Hungary became white hot, but initially at least no other country needed to be involved, least of all Britain. Russian sympathies were with Serbia and Germany’s with Austria Hungary. Piece by piece France, Belgium and ultimately Britain were dragged in, simply because their national pride was tied to the alliances they had formed and the rivalries that existed between them. Lloyd George later remarked that at this time Europe “stumbled and staggered into war”.
The cost of wounded national pride was to be 40 million casualties including 19 million deaths. The first world war is arguably the greatest disaster ever to befall humanity and the greatest ever failure of human leadership, both political and military. What were they thinking when they led the world into such a dark place?
Following the ‘war to end all wars’, in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, Germany was humiliated by the confiscation of many of its territories, by being blamed exclusively for the war and by the reparations demanded of it. Here the seeds of the second world war were sewn, all on the back of arrogant European nationalisms.
After the war there was relief and a desire to put this awful period in the past. There was probably not enough genuine reflection upon what had brought humanity to this point and what needed to be done to avoid a disaster of this magnitude in the future.