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Nationalism in Dublin and Paris

Nationalism in Dublin and Paris            Gerry O'Shea

The recent rugby match in Dublin between the All Blacks and Ireland provided a vibrant example of one dimension of Irish nationalism.

All 52,000 seats in the Aviva Stadium were sold out well in advance. The game was billed as a titanic struggle between the legendary New Zealanders, number one in the world and never beaten in all their previous visits to Dublin, against a promising and ambitious all-Ireland national team, captained by a charismatic Belfast man and rated number two internationally.

It was a ferocious game of rugby played at breathtaking speed and  with fierce intensity, and the Irish crowd, indeed the whole nation, aided by the excellent television coverage, cheered every move by the men in green shirts. With twelve minutes remaining the Irish were deservedly ahead by seven points, 16 to 9. Still the vaunted visitors were pressing and everybody knew that a try and conversion would tie the game and cancel the euphoria that would accompany a historic win.

The crowd roared louder; national pride demanded this victory. "The Fields of Athenry," a moving famine story that pitted a hungry tenant farmer from Galway against the powerful Trevelyan, a despised and inhumane English administrator, was roared from every corner of the stadium. Indeed, "We had dreams and songs to sing!"

 Perhaps at a deep psychological level the Athenry  famine ballad reveals a residue of unspeakable emotional  pain that remains in the national psyche, submerged memories of awful suffering from hunger and starvation endured in the middle of the 19th century by hundreds of thousands of families in all parts of the island. For whatever reason, this powerful rebel song resonates with an Irish sporting crowd like no other, and the effusive emotion it generated in the stands at the Aviva was transmitted to the players.

Reporters said they never heard a crowd so vociferous, so demanding of heroic acts by the Irish team - and they held on magnificently to win, to finally defeat the All Blacks. A week of national celebrations followed!

Just the previous Sunday before the big rugby showdown, a very different type of nationalism was dominating an important meeting in Paris. Fifty world leaders gathered there to commemorate Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918, which ended the Great War. There were various solemn ceremonies that recalled the horrors of the trench killing that claimed the lives of close to seventeen million people - nearly two-thirds of whom were war combatants.

What was it all about? What was all the killing meant to achieve? Historians continue to try to explain fully the origins of the First World War and the narrator of the hauntingly powerful Australian anti-war song about that era "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is also befuddled about this issue: "And the young people ask what were they fighting for, And I ask myself the same question."

Whatever about the proximate causes of the conflict, it was a nationalist war with the Germans leading one side and the British heading up the opposing armies. The leaders in both capitals wanted more political power and national prestige and expanding territorial domination was always on their agenda.

The Germans lost and were stripped of their empire. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles imposed large reparation payments on them and set the stage for Act Two of the last century's European wars which lasted from 1939 to 1945. This time it was an openly nationalist conflagration started by the Nazi invasion of Poland.

In this war the death toll was mind-shattering, in the region of sixty million, with civilian deaths exceeding the military carnage by two to one.

After two destructive nationalist wars, it was clear that the old ways had to change in Europe. American leaders, especially General George Marshall, appointed Secretary of State by President Truman, persuaded the Congress to pass what came to be known as the Marshall Plan.

 Instead of compelling war reparation payments by Germany and the other defeated Axis powers, his plan provided all western European countries with substantial grants to allow them re-build their roads and railways, to reconstruct their infrastructure, and so to move gradually to normal economic development.

Secondly, there was almost unanimous agreement that the era of the nation state had to give way to more combined structures which encouraged countries to work together for the benefit of all. A sense of solidarity had to stretch beyond  borders, past lines on a map. Within a short quarter century from the end of World War Two, the common market   enshrined economic co-operation at the heart of the European Union, which is now the biggest trading bloc in the world.

 In addition America designed and continues to lead NATO, a strong defense group of European countries focused on dealing with any threat from Moscow or anywhere else. The United Nations in New York was the final building block to help secure international peace.

The huge refugee crisis in the last decade elicited a negative and fearful response to re-settlement in Europe, and narrow nationalist parties have gained credibility, changing the political dynamics in the continent. Poland, Hungary, Italy and Austria have closed their doors in fear of the stranded stranger.

Brexit emerged as the reaction of English nationalists, who despite the economic boon to them of EU membership, decided that Brussels has too much political power and they voted against continuing to pool their sovereignty.

And in America President Trump is openly hostile to emigrants, especially those attempting to come from Muslim countries. His America First policies have led him to call for a massive wall along the southern border and to reject a peace treaty with Iran and the Paris Agreement on protecting the environment. For President Trump every issue is viewed through the narrow lens of what he considers only benefits America.

During the armistice commemorations, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, had Mr. Trump in his sights in an oration he delivered  close to the Grand War Memorial in Paris. He condemned the rising tide of claustrophobic  nationalism, calling it "a betrayal of real patriotism." The French leader lambasted this narrow exclusivist political perspective as xenophobia, doomed to fail because in its sprouting it was bereft of any anchoring moral values. He concluded his speech by ominously alerting his listeners about "old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death."

Macron warned about  a puny and dismal culture of fear of vulnerable refugees fleeing oppression and war, a very different nationalist theme from the " Athenry" forces that the All Blacks encountered in Dublin.








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