Sometimes one of our old soldiers, who risked his life and gave his youth fighting to defend this country, pops up to explain why the European Union is the imagined future he fought for. Pro-Brussels campaigners glibly make use of them. Eurofederalists exploit those brave combat veterans in the same way they dishonestly quote Churchill’s hope for a union of European nations, carefully leaving out the next clause where Winston added that Britain should not be part of that union.
This is partly a bad effect from promising British servicemen, not once but twice in the thirty years from 1914 to 1944, that they were fighting “the war to end all wars”. As if such a thing were even imaginable, never mind possible. Not unlike hoping for a future society where there would be no murders, not a single manslaughter. Only a culture giddily spanning the globe with steamships, railways, the first aeroplanes, intoxicated with self-belief in the early days of science fiction, could convince itself of something so silly and so sad: abolish war as we abolished cholera!
We wince today at the naivete of Alfred Nobel thinking dynamite would make war “too horrific to wage” but the same level of self-delusion operates in people insisting the EU ever could or would prevent a new war.
Part-cynical, part-gullible (depending on who is talking), the EU is a fantasy straight out of that era. Rooms like the central halls of the ‘European Parliament’ or the United Nations Organisation were built to evoke stage sets from Hollywood films like H.G. Wells’ ‘Shape Of Things To Come’. In these films tall, severe-looking men and women posed in capes and gowns. Like 1930s occultists in fancy dress, they gravely stood on High Modernist ramps, gesturing grandly behind large curved lecterns, speaking at some point centuries into the future. Woodenly they proclaimed mankind had learned bitter lessons from some terrible conflict in their by-then past and now had “outgrown the primitive custom of war.” Rather as if deciding not to bomb an attacking army was like learning not to bite your fingernails.
Some of those pushing ahead with the union that will itself cause Europe’s next big war are sincere suckers. They straightfacedly tell everyone it has brought peace (although of course the ten-year-older NATO and its stand-off with the Soviets was what brought peace).
On top of that, they buy the story the EEC/EC/EU was even intended to secure peace.
In fact it spun out of French fury at having to withdraw from Suez in 1956. That happened because Anthony Eden was persuaded Britain’s currency “had only three days left” in the foreign-exchange markets without Eisenhower’s blessing. Because of that Britain withdrew, forcing France to also leave the canal zone they, Britain, and Israel had just retaken after Egypt’s dictator Nasser invaded it. Mere months after this expensive humiliation came the 1957 Treaty of Rome, creating the EEC.
Right up near the top of that treaty’s wish list is a single currency. After some opening guff, a forex-pressure-proof EEC-wide currency enabling France to start new wars wherever and whenever it wishes is clearly the first down-to-business item of real substance. This closed a policy struggle behind the scenes that took much of the 1950s. The pro-British lobby inside French policy-making had decisively lost. The pro-German lobby inside the Quai d’Orsay had decisively won.
The EEC/EC/EU was from the outset a national power and influence project that concealed its military aspect. It was a deal between France and Germany with four main power goals carefully hidden behind the ‘trade bloc’ fig leaf.
1) Germany could do penance for the Nazi WW2 episode and coyly exercise (without seeming to) global influence through its close friendship with France.
2) France could carry on projecting military power in Africa and beyond supported by German wealth, buttressed against American disapproval by German industry, and otherwise continue playing its treasured role as one of the winners of WW2 when really it was one of the losers.
3) The leverage of the US in Europe could be politely reduced, in the guise of the kind of multilateralism the Americans officially supported, yet while still using US armed power to do the real work of keeping the Soviets out of western Europe.
4) British influence could be marginalised and contained, both while it was kept out of the trading bloc that mounted tariffs against those six countries’ postwar ally and wartime saviour in 1957, and after it was admitted to the EEC in the 1970s on condition it obeyed the Franco-German consensus.
Presenting this as a bold post-national co-operation project obviously sells better than the truth, which is that right from the start the EEC/EC/EU was a sly nationalistic power game.
Half a century’s accusations of British eurosceptics being nostalgic insular imperialists were designed to hide the truth. For actually it’s France and Germany who are nostalgic insular failed imperialists obsessed with past British, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch success and determined to build a new empire of their own.
In the same way, the sunny cover story about the EU aiming to secure peace conceals a darker reality. Which is it’s there to cement French and German global power, including the military kind. The oft-stated claim that trading partners never go to war could only convince some of the most history-ignorant generations ever. Britain and Germany were each other’s biggest trading and business partner in 1914. The same was true of the British and Dutch during the two Anglo-Dutch wars of the late 17th century. Other examples abound.
Nor can political federation prevent war. There are wars called civil wars that happen inside a larger polity, and they’re often the nastiest kind of conflict.
If 20+ or even 10 nations in Europe ever succeed in genuinely uniting into a single federal state, the war that follows on from this will be very nasty indeed. Alternatively, the police state we will be told is needed to prevent such a war will be deeply sinister.
The supposed evil of “nationalism” is routinely blamed for the last six or seven European wars (by the same people who incorrectly claim we’re in the longest period of peace in “recorded European history”) when actually the last five big wars were all French or German attempts to unify Europe. The EU doesn’t aim to transcend war or make peace in Europe permanent at all. It’s a continuation of a thousand years of projects like French/Spanish competition to rule Italy, French/Austrian contests to control Spain, and so on. Most diplomats and statesmen don’t see diplomacy as an alternative to warfare – however much courageous, self-sacrificing soldiers would like to believe they do. Most government officials, like Clausewitz, see diplomacy and war as different versions of one tactic, equivalent ways to get what they want.
There’s a difference between military men and the politicians who send them into battle. It’s not unlike the difference between the noble naive sportsmen who fight in the ring versus the crafty reptiles who manage their boxing careers.
Believing the EEC/EC/EU ever aimed at peace shows a frightening level of wishful thinking. Its ruthlessness might be softspoken, but it aims at power.
Mark Griffith is a financial trader whose weblog at http://www.otherlanguages.org follows news on AI computing, politics, economics, and other subjects. He is writing a book about whether AI will change how people live