The folly of nationalism laid bare
- Commemoration of the end of the first world war is a reminder of the importance of putting universal values first
The allies defeated Germany in the first world war through joint efforts that subordinated nationalism to a more inclusive vision of mankind’s future. The present-day leaders of both sides in that conflict gathered in Paris at the weekend to commemorate the centenary of the armistice that finally ended the terrible human sacrifice.
It was an occasion for a display of solidarity against the scourge of war. Sadly, for United States President Donald Trump, it became a setting for reminders of the isolationist and protectionist mindset he has foisted on his country, long the champion of multilateralism that has delivered more than 70 years of post-second world war peace.
As other leaders of principal combatants France, Britain, Canada and Germany, among others, walked along the Champs Elysees in the drizzling rain on Sunday, Trump travelled separately by armoured limousine.
The previous day, he cancelled a wreath-laying ceremony and moment of silence at an American war cemetery and memorial at Belleau, northeast of Paris, where 2,000 American Marines were killed. The White House cited rain for prompting officials to recommend that the president’s helicopter be grounded, and said Trump did not travel by car instead because of concern about closing roads at short notice for a motorcade.
Trump may have been guided partly by people responsible for his safety and security, but his actions came across as a snub to his country’s war dead, against the background of countless video clips of other leaders standing in the rain at important ceremonial events.
Later, when French President Emmanuel Macron spoke under the Arc de Triomphe, there was no doubt to whom some of his remarks were directed. “Patriotism is the antithesis of nationalism … In saying ‘our interests first and forget the others’, we lose the most important part of the nation: its moral values.”
The first world war was an inhuman chapter of history that bled a generation dry. The solidarity of the commemoration of the armistice by leaders of wartime friends and foes sent a message, amid a resurgence of nationalist sentiment, that it is not the way to resolve differences and grievances.