The spectre of neo-nationalism – déjà vu the Great War  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: November 26, 2018 22:27:21

The spectacular, yet somewhat fraught, 100th anniversary of the end of the World War-1 was commemorated globally on November 11. The venues included Paris, London, Canberra, Wellington, and New Delhi. The grandest pageant was, however, witnessed by Paris. It was hosted by President Emmanuel Macron, in presence of the heads of state and government including US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Paris invited almost 70 heads of state and government to the ceremony. The list also included UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.   

Officially called the Armistice, the commemoration marking the end of the Great War was dominated by two themes. First, it singled out the rise in jingoism based on neo-nationalistic feelings in the last couple of years. President Macron did not resort to any euphemism or mincing of words while releasing his broadside targeting US President Donald Trump for his controversial 'America First' policy — a variant of neo-nationalism. Holding the president responsible for attempts to invoke the spectre of an aggressive American nationalism, he detailed the ills of this state policy, that played the most critical and direct role in the outbreak of the WW-I. He said, "Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism." Following an incisive portrayal of self-centrism, the French President summed up, "I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death … history sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again." That these words boiled down to a rebuke of President Trump do not need elucidation. Several leaders attending the event backed Macron. Coming to the second dominating theme, war experts in different parts of the world focused on the futility of the cataclysmic Great War from 1914 to 1918.

Thanks to global-scale hostilities in the later times, especially during the WW-II, the memories of the First World War have long started dimming in human memories. Moreover, the war was fought a century ago -- quite a long time during when many direct war participants, injured victims and witnesses had left this world. The WW-I, or the Great War, nowadays comes alive in the chambers of researchers or in archives. But it was an apocalyptic global confrontation not experienced by humanity before. Thanks to its vast expanse and the scale of savagery, horror and the sufferings undergone by innocent people, the WW-I villains have earned global infamy. Later-day anti-war campaigns and forums termed the war a stigma on the 20th century human achievements. In spite of the war’s nationalism-fuelled, hubristic start in Europe, specifically in the Balkans, it ended in a great confusion. In fact, war experts still debate on what the nations gained from the four-year-long global confrontation involving more than 70 nations and 70 million troops. The death tally puts the number of soldiers at 10 million and the civilians at between 5 and 10 million. Apart from the war, hundreds of thousands of non-combatants died from famine, forced displacements and the following civil wars in Russia, Eastern Europe and Turkey. Had not the enforcement of the 1918 Armistice and the Versailles Treaty of 1920 put into effect, the dragging of the senseless war would have exacted a heavier toll on mankind. Many remain oblivious to the fact that toxic gas was also used in this war.

In reality, the Great War had been far from being over in 1918. It just took a pause. Meanwhile, Hitler's perverse 'national socialism' and the vile Nazi ambitions began taking root in the war-battered Germany. To the chagrin of post-WW-I peace dreamers, the 1914-1918 hostilities emerged as a prelude to the more disastrous Second World War spanning 1939 to 1945. With the collapse of the expansionist Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires in 1918, nationalism-fired individual powers emerged in a space of two decades. In a way, the ghosts of the First World War had just past over their baton to the global theatre torn by the demonic atrocities let loose by the Third Reich's war lords led by Hitler, Italy's Mussolini and Japan's General Tojo. Like in the previous war, the WW-II also sucked in the world powers into another annihilative vortex.

In spite of the US barbaric atomic attacks on the already vanquished Japan at the war's fag end, as well as Japan's brutalities on the Pacific Front, the WW-II triggered a string of changes in the global geo-politics and economy. In the case of world economy, the impact was quite far-reaching. The defeated Germany and Japan, in particular, had been made to eat humble pie, with their economic backbone broken miserably. Following the phases of economic depression, the US economy eventually began getting on its feet. In fact, the whole Europe, as well as the then Soviet Union, had to undergo mid- or long-term economic woes in the post-WW-II era.

Meanwhile, the war's end led to the independence of a number of colonised countries in Africa and the greater Asia. After being ruled by the British East India Company and the British Empire for two hundred years, the Indian sub-continent witnessed the creation of two independent states, Pakistan and India, in 1947. On the other hand, the behemoth world organisation, the United Nations (UN), came into being in 1945. Unlike the short-lived League of Nations, the UN's relevance and utility is strongly felt still in 2018. Compared to these changes in the global perspective, the WW-I now appears a senseless frenzy of killings and destruction. By default, the 1939-1945 war had brought about scores of changes in the 20th century world. To the sub-continent it meant a lot. Despite the participation of more than 1.0 million people from undivided India in the WW-I as part of the allied forces, with 74,000 of them killed, the sub-continent got nothing back then. To the colonised Indian sub-continent, the WW-I stood literally for futile martyrdoms and socio-economic woes.



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