Saturday, June 28, 2014

Looking Back at the Great War

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo, then a provincial capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The assassination, the act of a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, is regarded as the spark that touched off World War I. To mark the anniversary, many newspapers, magazine, and websites have prepared special collections of materials, including contemporary news stories, historical documents, and scholarly retrospectives. Here are a links to three of the best of these collections:
The Great War: This New York Times feature includes front pages of the New York Herald (the precursor of the International Herald Tribune and today's International New York Times) from key points in the war, and eight articles (perhaps with more to come) on the legacy of the war reported from Ypres, Chateau-Thierry, Kiel, Sarajevo, and elsewhere. 
First World War 100 Years On: The Guardian collects a large quantity of its reporting on topics related to the war in this section of its website. Even better (and somewhat more manageable), however, is a series entitled The First World War that ranges from "The Road to War" to "The Aftermath" with collected reporting--old and new--on each topic. 
World War One: The BBC provides timelines, maps, study guides, news stories, and much more in this collection of links.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


"The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable."

--Andrea Dworkin

Friday, June 06, 2014

Nationalism or Law?

In the New York Times today, David Brooks defends President Obama's decision to negotiate with the Taliban for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier captured in Afghanistan in 2009. The argument Brooks makes is based on nationalism.

Brooks asserts that "national solidarity is essential to the health of the country" and "especially important for the national defense." The loyalty that soldiers in combat feel for comrades in arms, regardless of religious, ethnic, or other differences, is "based on the notion that we are members of one national community." And as the only officials in our government elected by the whole rather than by a part of the electorate, Brooks says, the president and vice president must work to promote national solidarity.

And yet . . .

"National solidarity" is closely akin to "nationalism," a term Brooks assiduously avoids. (In addition to "national solidarity," he refers to "national fraternity" and "national cohesion.") And just a step away from nationalism is "nativism," a sentiment that already runs rampant in right-wing discourse about immigration.

"National solidarity" was an important factor motivating Americans (as well as the British, French, Russians, and others) to resist German aggression in World War II, but its perversion is what generated Nazism in the first place. "National solidarity" is undoubtedly something that Ukraine needs more of right now, but over in Russia its perversion has led Vladimir Putin to pursue policies that continue to roil Ukraine.

Nationalism is certainly a potent force in international affairs, but its ambivalence should not be overlooked. It has inspired anti-colonial movements and the imperialism against which those movements have fought. It has generated the "melting pot" idea and exclusion acts. It may be convenient to look to nationalism--or "national solidarity"--as a basis for supporting President Obama's decision to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the Taliban, but is it necessary? Perhaps the ancient and very straightforward idea that, at the end of the war, prisoners should be repatriated is enough.

If there are problems with this approach they no doubt flow from the same legal morass that created the prison in Guantanamo--and an ill-defined "war against terror"--in the first place.