The Tower (Princeton, NJ) :
Just over a hundred years ago, on November 11th 1918, the Central and Allied powers laid down their weapons and signed an armistice to bring the first global conflict to an end. The war had a great deal of impact on the world to come. Whole governments formed others collapsed, entire populations migrated to escape previous persecution, and the World came together for a brief moment to prevent another such war. Today, the lessons learned from the Great War are quickly being ignored, instead favoring nationalist foreign policy and populist leaders.
The spark that started the fire of the Great War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. But how could the death of one man cause a bloody conflict that would claim the lives of millions of service members and civilians? In reality, the situation in Europe had already become increasingly tense. Nationalist movements were rising. In such a hostile climate, it was only a matter of time before conflict would break out. Finally, when the Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip fatally shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the tension between these nations finally boiled over, resulting in a continental conflict that escalated into a global war.
Today, the situation is not quite as grave; however, the reemergence of blood-and-soil nationalism should be startling. Nationalist parties have come to dominate in countries such as Hungary, Italy, and Poland while gaining footholds in France, Germany, and Sweden. Here at home, President Donald Trump has declared himself to be an “American nationalist.” To be clear, there is a very important distinction between a nationalist and a patriot. While a patriot has immense pride in their country, fear of others and rage at the status quo are the basis of a nationalist’s conception of nationhood. This can be seen in Europe, where nationalist parties have expressed their discontent with institutions such as the European Union and the massive wave of refugees fleeing Syria and Libya. In the United States, increasing governmental skepticism over the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance also demonstrates rising nationalist attitudes. On a larger scale, a general attitude from the Trump administration is that the world’s problems are not our problems, whether these issues involve climate change, free trade, or military alliances. As a result, increasing nationalism has led to increased isolationist attitudes within our own country.
Isolationism is not the path to follow. Sure, there are legitimate gripes about countries’ unequal contributions to NATO and overly broad EU regulations that cause more harm than good. The answer to such issues is not the abandonment of bedrock values and institutions. Instead, we must embrace our global relationships while working to smooth out the flaws. These global alliances have brought great prosperity and security for all nations. For the United States especially, it was with negotiation and cooperation, not stubborn pride and arrogance, that President George H.W. Bush was able to foster a peaceful world order following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it was with the help of our friends in NATO that he managed to organize the successful defense of Kuwait against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi dictatorship. America has always been a proud global leader. At the same time, we have greatly valued our friends and allies, and we have worked hand-in-hand with them to achieve the peace and prosperity of our modern age. We must not stray from these roots. We must continue to uphold our rightful global standing.
Photo Credit: Elise Ko-Davis