Former Australian PM Paul Keating just gave a speech about World War I on the 20th anniversary of a legendary Remembrance Day Speech he delivered in 1993. Both were delivered at the tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. From Keating’s 2013 address:
The First World War was a war devoid of any virtue. It arose from the quagmire of European tribalism. A complex interplay of nation state destinies overlaid by notions of cultural superiority peppered with racism.
The First World War not only destroyed European civilisation and the empires at its heart; its aftermath led to a second conflagration, the Second World War, which divided the continent until the end of the century.
But at the end of the century, from the shadows, a new light emerged. Europe turned its back on the nation state to favour a greater European construct. Individual loyalties are now directed from nationalist obsessions toward an amorphous whole and to institutions unlikely to garner a popular base. It is difficult to imagine these days, young Europeans going into combat for the European Commission, or at a stretch, the European Parliament.
This advent means that European leaders are no longer in a position to ask or demand the sacrifices which once attended their errant foreign policies. A century beyond Armageddon, young men and women are now freed from that kind of tyranny.
Homage to these people has to be homage to them and about them and not to some idealised or jingoistic reduction of what their lives really meant.
One thing is certain: young Australians, like the young Europeans I mentioned earlier, can no longer be dragooned en masse into military enterprises of the former imperial variety on the whim of so-called statesmen. They are fortunately too wise to the world to be cannon fodder of the kind their young forebears became: young innocents who had little or no choice.
Commemorating these events should make us even more wary of grand ambitions and grand alliances of the kind that fractured Europe and darkened the 20th century.
Conservatives like me often make fun of Brussels and the bloodless, soulless institutions of Eurocracy. But then you read something like Keating’s speeches, and you realize that there is something worse than the European Parliament. That the EU came from somewhere, out of concrete and annihilating experiences.
Can European nations thrive absent nationalism, or some kind of animating idea and Geist aside from consumerism and EU abstractions? I don’t know. Nobody knows. If they cannot, though, what does that say about human nature and civilization?