Freedom Rider: The legacy of 1918

Donald Trump is a racist boor, but the European leaders he snubbed are unreconstructed imperialists whose nations have enslaved and slaughtered tens of millions.

Donald Trump’s boorishness and stupidity always ruffle feathers but almost always for the wrong reasons. Such was the case with his decision to skip one of the World War I commemoration ceremonies held in France. A very public spat with French President Emmanuel Macron may have been the precipitating factor but the tempest is a teachable moment. Focusing on Trumpian mood swings is no substitute for a study of history.

Despite the pomp, circumstance and wreath laying, there is no reason to celebrate World War I. In 1914, European powers squabbled like predatory animals over their various imperialist claims. They all miscalculated and none of them foresaw a four-year long catastrophe that would kill millions of people. When it became clear that the stalemate would only result in more suffering they refused to relent. Instead they accelerated the deadliness of the conflict and developed mustard gas, the flame thrower and aerial warfare.

But the victors eventually got the spoils. Britain and France ended up taking the Ottoman Empire territories in the Middle East and snatching Germany’s colonies in Africa too. They stole Germany’s money and set the stage for another conflagration just 20 years later. The United States got in on the action towards the end of the war and ended up securing its own empire. Woodrow Wilson’s promise of self-determination was never intended to apply to the peoples of the global south, who were expected to accept colonialism without complaint.

One hundred years later the same nations are still making decisions that impact everyone in the world and they still do so with the worst of intentions. The NATO framework that resulted after the great war of the 1940s was a defensive apparatus against the Soviet Union which collapsed in 1991. The end of the USSR should have meant the end of NATO, too, but instead it expanded eastward right up to Russia’s border.

Now NATO members feel uneasy with Trump and his “America first” policies. There is no love lost between Trump and European allies and he surely is not missed if he chooses to be absent. French President Macron openly calls for a European army independent of the United States, while Trump repeats his trope of Europe owing money and allegiance to America.

The tit for tat certainly doesn’t make Macron the hero of the story. France has given up none of the colonial imperatives it took part in 100 years ago. They may argue over other issues, but France fully supports American efforts at regime change and still tries to impose its will in Syria, one of the territories it snatched from Turkey in 1918.

The never ending French desire to maintain colonial control is not the worst of its wrong doing. Macron publicly expressed admiration for Marshal Philippe Petain, the man in charge of Nazi controlled Vichy France. Macron claimed he wanted to honor Petain’s World War I service but the explanation was unconvincing. His desire to promote a right-wing, indeed, fascist political agenda is laid bare for all to see.

So what exactly is so terrible about Trump missing this mashup of foolishness? Of course every other American president would have dutifully attended, regardless of any disagreements with others. But Trump’s tantrums are opportunities to think and perhaps disregard what we have been told about world history.

The nations promoted as the good and benevolent are anything but. “Our” allies in Europe are certainly no allies of the people. They all promote austerity and warfare, just like their American counterparts. After years of struggle, they relinquished colonies in Africa and Asia but kept them dependent through a variety of means. One hundred years after the first war for empire, they still control most of the world’s wealth and make decisions that impact the rest of humanity.

The breakup of the Euro American alliance would be a good thing for the world. It is fraying around the edges as the Brexit vote proved but the European Union and NATO still demand unnecessary defense spending and austerity from their members. They are all corrupt and smash any efforts at independence for any country that dares to make the attempt. The United Kingdom recently rejected Venezuela’s request to return gold that actually belongs to Venezuela. American and European elites create poverty everywhere. Their corporations are destroying the planet. The sooner this power block is brought down, the better.

Let us end this foolish reverence of the world’s bad actors. The people we are told Trump insulted are themselves an insult. The dominance of the United States and European nations must come to an end. One hundred years is enough time to learn lessons. Macron and Angela Merkel and Theresa May and Justin Trudeau are the errand boys and girls of empire along with Donald Trump. Their rifts and quarrels are to be applauded. One hundred years is too long to believe in fairy tales.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

One Response to Freedom Rider: The legacy of 1918

  1. totally agree , its time