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The folly of nationalism

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I once read a bestselling novel about the Great War called The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. The author vividly describes the horrors of the costly and tragic conflict; however, she also provides invaluable historical context that ultimately reveals the underlying rot of nationalism.

Not only was the Great War a failure in American leadership and an excuse for imperialism, but it was also an expression of militant nationalism that shocked—and nearly destroyed—the modern world. The Great War thrust a leaderless Europe into a failure at Versailles, guaranteed a violent conflict with xenophobes, fueled ethnic pogroms, and destroyed the rule-of-law for pride and profit.

In America, an all-too familiar compromise of ethics and morality led to the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which forbade interference with the war effort and limited free speech, as well as instigated a pair of infamous "Red Scares" that demonstrated our deep-seated prejudices and inability to learn the lessons of the past.

In the wake of the global destruction of Europe came a terrifying new form of government, fascism, which used this unique historic opportunity—and weakness in international unity—to manipulate the law, undermine tradition, demonize the opposition, discredit the media, misdirect the public, undermine self-determination, and consolidate power through intimidation and violence.

You'd have thought (with tens of millions dead by war, ethnic cleansing, starvation, and disease) we would have learned our lessons about the perils of authoritarianism, and you certainly wouldn't expect an outgoing generation intimately familiar with these historical events to tolerate the rebirth of nationalism, much less fall victim to its putrid lure.

Yet here we are.

"Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." –Albert Einstein

Erik Huber

Cuesta College


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