Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Editorial | Collecting on our blood at Somme and Ypres

Published:Friday | November 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Today in Paris, the 11th day of the 11th month of 2018, scores of world leaders, Donald Trump among them, will join French President Emmanuel Macron for ceremonies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Andrew Holness will not be among them. But Jamaica has a profound stake in this affair. By most estimates, just over 11,000 Jamaicans, all volunteers, served in the British forces in the Great War. Around 1,000 of them, or nine per cent, were killed. Many were wounded and maimed. Some, even if not so declared, emerged as heroes.

Perhaps the most famous of the Jamaican veterans of that war was Norman Manley, the national hero, premier and founder of the People's National Party. He fought in the nasty battles at Somme and Ypres, was decorated for his bravery, and emerged from the war with what today might have been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. Happily for Jamaica, and its political development, Mr Manley made a full recovery.

So, Jamaica has an investment in blood in the battlefields of Europe in a war, which, when the armistice sounded at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Lloyd George, the British prime minister, heralded "an end to all wars". As the last century has revealed, Lloyd George's aspiration, unfortunately, hasn't been fulfilled. In some respects, the world is displaying many of the symptoms, as Mr Macron has observed, that erupted into the global conflagration of 1914 and, merely two decades after the cooling of that affair, the Second World War.

Which is where Donald Trump is significant. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and the resulting Austro-Hungarian demands on Serbia, were the proximate trigger for the First World War. Yet, behind the events of Sarajevo was a toxic blend of nationalism, ethnocentricity, religious intolerance and bigotry, political rivalries and the absence of a global mechanism for preventing and mediating disputes. Greater power assertion, ultimately, was law, unless otherwise declared in bilateral agreements, or contested on the battlefields.




The weaknesses and dangers inherent in those arrangements were clearly understood - though disastrously underappreciated by others among America's political and economic elite - by American President Woodrow Wilson. In the aftermath of the Great War, he, rightly, championed the establishment of the League of Nations and warned against America's "retreat ... to isolationism".

Unfortunately, he wasn't heeded. America, whose presence would have added to the legitimacy to the institution, stayed out of the League of Nations. America looked inwards. Within two decades, an ascendant xenophobia and extreme nationalism gave rise to the Nazis, the Second World War and the extermination of six million Jews.

We are again hearing echoes of the ethnocentric ideologies and jackbooted intolerance that gained traction in the latter part of the first half of the 20th century - in, among others, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Andrzej Duda in Poland and Germany's AfD (Alternative for Germany) party. They are emboldened by Mr Trump's 'America First" nationalism that rejects multilateralism for old-school, greater-power politics.

"America is governed by Americans," Mr Trump told the United Nations at its general assembly in September. "We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty, not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination."

This newspaper, of course, sees no contradiction between patriotism and adherence to the multilateral arrangements that offer small countries like Jamaica the only real insulation against arbitrary action by big, powerful ones, except in a sublimation of sovereignty. That is why Jamaica has a stake in the maintenance of global order based on multilateralism.

A century ago, thousands of young Jamaican men paid down that ideal with their blood in places with names like Somme, Ypres and Verdun, and others they probably couldn't pronounce.