Saturday, 25 June 2016

Nationalism and its utter disregard for people

At the end of the second World War, people in Europe were forced to confront the toll of centuries of unchecked nationalism, amidst the ruins of Europe's nations. During these centuries, alliances had been forged and broken again between Europe's nations. Wars had been waged, whether to gain land, influence, or for religious reasons, a combination of which led to Spain, France and England almost constantly waging war against each other.

Europe's nations were forged amidst this conflict, each nation liberally drenched in blood while protecting itself against its neighbours. This reached a bloody climax as technology made war ever more destructive and large-scale, culminating in the First and then Second World War. As the British and Ottoman Empires crumbled, and Europe struggled to come to terms with its own identity after those two bloody wars, people rightfully blamed Nationalism.

Nationalism is the belief that one's own country and culture are superior to all others. This was extremely apparent in the NSDAP's move towards segregating Germany's and ultimately the world's inhabitants into the superior and inferior, with Nazi Germany itself portrayed as the ultimate homeland which would bring light and justice to the rest of the world.

Yet today's Nationalism is practically the same. From the UK's UKIP, to Front National in France, the AfD and NPD in Germany and the many other nationalistic parties elsewhere in Europe, their focus is the same: to regain the superior independence of their respective country, they first have to destroy all unity between countries. The reason for this is simple: unity and cooperation does not exist in Nationalism, except between those fortunate enough to be part of the superior race.

This leads to the rather obvious notion that Nationalism - being a blind idealism - has no regard for nuances such as human rights or the plight of individuals. For why would they? The superiority of their country and its culture is self-evident. Everybody is just expected to fall into line at that point, or risk being branded an Enemy of the State.

Here history throws up the countless examples of how Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communistic China, Imperial Japan and various incarnations of the USA dealt with those who refused to fall into line, whether incarceration, execution or worse. They are the dystopian scenarios which we prefer to associate with parts of human history which we will never visit again.

Yet amidst unchecked Nationalism in the UK, France, the Netherlands, the USA and countless other countries, the arguments offered by the supporters of this new Nationalism - that they are not just a fresh incarnation of the same Nationalism that pushed Europe into two world wars - sound very hollow as the same xenophobic, isolationist and nationalistic statements are uttered.

In the 1920s and 1930s it was the large influx of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East which provided welcome fuel for the NSDAP's campaign to take back the country and restore Germany's pride as a nation. While a significant number of Germans and other Europeans expressed their concerns at this, with some leaving Europe for the USA and elsewhere, ultimately they could not stop the ultimately unstoppable rush into the destructive insanity of another world war and the genocide of all of those who did not fit the profile of the superior race.

Amidst the ruins of Europe's nations in the late 1940s and during the poor 1950s, the phrase 'Never again' was on everybody's lips. It was clear to most that the only way to fight Nationalism was to strive for unity and cooperation between Europe's nations. Differences should be settled amicably in meeting rooms instead of with trade wars, skirmishes and outright war.

This realisation led to the formation of the UN, NATO, the EEC and ultimately the EU. While not a universally shared feeling among Europeans, the formation of the European Union has led to a new awareness. An awareness which is not bound to a singular nation, but to Europe itself, as an inhabitant of the EU. With especially younger generations making grateful use of freedom of travel and the freedom to study, live and work anywhere within the EU, for the first time in Europe's history national borders stand to become irrelevant.

The loss of national identity - while a settled matter for many - is a frightening prospect for many others, thus providing the fertile ground for Nationalism. It's a loss more frightening than the utter incompetence of one's national government, and thus easily exploited by the unscrupulous.

When the people of Germany saw themselves - in their eyes unfairly - condemned to a life of poverty with no hope for a better future thanks to the Paris Peace Treaty after the First World War, they embraced the hope being offered by the nationalistic NSDAP. One could ask there whether they voted for the wrong party, or what else they could have done. If the NSDAP had not won the elections, then they would have paid reparations until into the 1980s with no standing army and no heavy industry.

One could say that the nationalistic attitudes of the UK and France when they drafted that peace treaty played into the Nationalism that was just waiting for a chance in Austria and Germany. Pessimistically one could say that the Allied forces set Europe up for a new world war because they could not be bothered to consider the human cost of the treaty Germany was forced to sign.

Moving back to present day Europe, one has to severely question the wisdom of breaking unity and cooperation, and assuming that one will be better off alone. There is nothing in history which might suggest that going at it alone is wise unless you are for example drowning in oil and everybody wants to be your best friend as a result.

Nationalism does not make money. It does not grow food or provide clean water to the population. It's a destructive fantasy which cannot and will not take reality or history into account. It is the pinnacle of political delusions. At some point reality does have to be acknowledged, with the harsh, cold light of truth showing that no country is better than another, and the thought of a superior culture or race merely terrible hubris.

While being painfully aware of the historical context of Nationalism, I find that at this point that I and many others with me can only hope that humanity has in fact learned from history and that we can keep up that promise we made, so many decades ago: "Never again".



BearinOz said...

I've always believed in the idea of multi-culturalism, which my adopted country
seems to do reasonably well, and seemed to be happening within the E.U. I've always
believed being able to cross national borders, the way U.S. Canadian and Australian
citizens are able to do with state ones, coast to coast. I thought this would be to
the betterment of everyone, for economic, social, and liberty reasons.
I was disappointed to see the "leave" camp win the Brexit referendum, and will be
even more so, if the Netherlands, France or whoever else, follow suit. E.U. is not
perfect, but would be much easier to change from within, than by not being involved
at all.
I was even more disappointed to know that some of the people I call friends, were
among those "yes, leave" voters. Iam old enough to have know people who were involved
in that horrendous era that culminated in W.W.II. My father landed on the Normandy
beaches, with other Welshmen, Canadians and Black American heavy artillery, to rid
the world of Nazism...and subsequently that old nationalism the everyoen saw as normal.
Two colleagues I counted as friends, had the tattoos on their arms, having survived
Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
"Never again" was very much a 50s, 60s thing.....we barely avoided W.W.III, during
the "Cold War: years. And Britain's National Health system was created and improved
and the "Right" side of politics dared not dismantle in, for fear the people would
embrace communism and be aided and abbetted by the Soviets. It seems that world is
long-gone and largely forgotten. Strangely, the young, who have a good excuse (perhaps)
for not 'remembering those times, were predominantly the "NO, stay" voters to Brexit.
The world is a less-safe place now, than it was a week ago. Sad.

Maya Posch said...

It seems that a lot of people forgot or never learned why 'never again' was so important. Definitely for the baby boomers it never seemed like a very real thing, mostly just tales from old folk amidst the abstract fright of the Cold War which could be easily ignored.

Sometimes one might think that humanity is simply primed to tear down and rebuild everything over and over again, just like how the Roman and Greek civilisations got ripped apart. Let's hope that we can finally learn to conquer our inner demons this time.