Seeds of World War Still Exist

By Sunil Dang

The World War I was also called ‘Great War’ because no one could conceive that there would ever be another one. But there was. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month i.e. on November 11th, the world marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended First World War. The global conflict cost an estimated 9 million military lives, cemented the United States as a world power, reshaped history and altered the global order. The world came undone during those years. And if it was ever really put back together, it was put back together differently wearing the wounds of World War 1that we continue to live with today.

In the 1942 movie classic Casablanca, the French police captain Louis Renault claimed that he was with the Americans “when they blundered into Berlin in 1918.” If only we had, history might have taken a very different turn. It took two defeats to finally subdue Germany, but only one occupation to turn it into the liberal democracy it remains today. Japan, too, was transformed by occupation and re-education. It all should have been done at the end of World War I. If it had, there likely would have been no World War II.

But, in Paris, while marking the 100th year of the World War I, it became visible that seeds that led to that ‘Great War’ still exist. The way, US President Donald Trump ignored the handshake with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and other leaders not ready to set aside their personal ego, gives an impression that even after 100 years of the devastating war, we haven’t learnt anything. We are still living in an expansionist mode and believe in capturing one’s territory by using force and weapons. In fact, Trump’s arrival wasn’t as smooth as expected, being disrupted by a topless protester who ran towards the US President’s motorcade as it was approaching the Arc de Triomphe. The woman, who had the words “fake” and “peace” scrawled across her bare chest was eventually apprehended by security officials.

The US President also faced criticism after the White House cancelled a planned trip to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, 50 miles outside Paris, just a day before due to “scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather.”

If Trump was giving a cold shoulder to the French President, Macron was not too far behind. In a bid to give befitting reply to his US counterpart, Macron took a dig at Trump citing, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying our interests first, who cares about the others, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values” — which was a direct attack on Trump’s ‘America First’ jibe.

What became veiled on Trump by Macron’s ‘nationalism versus patriotism’ jibe could have been a lesson for the whole world had he been able to make people understand that nationalists, and especially cultural nationalists, who believe in ethnic, racial, cultural and religious superiority over the ‘others’, have been bad news for the very people whose cause they claim to champion. It took the Germans and to a lesser extent, the Japanese (before Hiroshima-Nagasaki), the complete destruction of their country to realize that. Today, the Nazi Swastika is banned in Germany and a Nazi salute is a punishable offence with six months in prison.

So, on the anniversary of the end of the First World War, in which were contained the seeds of a much greater destruction which would germinate in the 1930’s only to reach fruition in 1939, citizens across the world should be wary of tough-talking leaders espousing a virulent form of self-attested love for their country and the people. A common trait amongst them is branding every opponent as a traitor. They are also typically xenophobic, anti-immigrant and harbour a unique disdain for intellectuals. They are also masters at hatching conspiracies to capture political power and usually can go to any length to cling on to the same. As Indians living under the BJP rule of Narendra Modi, we have to be extra careful.