Sunday, 27 November 2011

Is This World War 3?

In Paris, from where I am watching the European drama unfold, the Eurozone crisis is causing an underlying hysteria. Comment has been that without the Euro, France would have been in poor shape. We now have the hideous possibility that the Euro will crash and everything will revert to the former currencies. They can then be picked off one by one by the markets. The Euro has been the Euro Forte. And there are huge political overtones and undertones to this. We go back again to WW2.
Remember the story about the little princess who was cursed in her cradle by a nasty witch who turned up at her Christening? She was supposed to prick her finger on a needle and fall asleep for 100 years. She was locked away in a castle, far from sewing needles. But guess what! She managed to find an old crone somewhere in the upper rooms of the castle who was sewing. And guess what, again, thanks to Fate, she managed to prick her finger and fell asleep for 100 years.
Well, it took a mighty prince to hack his way through the forest and enter the castle to awaken her with a kiss. I’m not sure the same thing will happen to the European Union. It’s pricked its finger all right and it’s been fast asleep and dreaming for decades. It’s almost 100 years since World War 1 began. World War 1 led directly to World War 2. Shall we take a closer look at the historical scenario?
The political developments before and after World War 2 have been to try to avoid, at all costs, the possibility of any other conflict in Europe based on nationalist rivalries. Hence, and see my recent blog, ‘A Walk in the Woods,’ the altruistic attempts during the 1930’s and post war by Jean Monet to begin a long term diplomacy for a European Union. At that stage no one, except Winston Churchill, said they intended to bring about a United States of Europe. The aim was only to prevent further wars.
So, back to the fairy tale: the little princess, Europa, was put away in a tower in Brussels where no one could possibly let her get hold of a needle with which to prick her finger. But Fate, took a hand. Somehow, she did prick her finger and fell asleep for 54 years. Meanwhile the EU became more and more powerful, more and more burocratic and sucked in more and more money from its vassal states. Countries queued up to join the super state, which soon launched the common currency, the Euro and member states rushed to surrender their own currencies to become part of the Eurozone.
With all the desperate attempts of certain nations, Germany and France in particular, dedicated to the prevention of the collapse of the Euro, that lynchpin of the European Union as a State and its ticket to becoming a Super State controlling fiscal, monetary and budgetary policy in its vassals, the Euro has fallen into the hands of a big and nasty dragon. It’s called Reality.
To take a step away from the fairy story, let’s say the Euro drama, or Eurogeddon as some are now calling the present global financial horror based on unrealistic financial planning by several nations, is beginning to look like Fate. The creation of the EU and all the attempts to avoid another world war starting in Europe, have, like some wicked fairy prediction, produced the very conditions for a global war that it was intended to prevent.
The war is not, at present, one involving armaments but one involving the financial underpinnings of the State of Europe, as some Eurocrats would like it to be.
Once again, we have to ask about the Reality Principle involved in this mess.
The spectre of a European financial meltdown involving mega-debt default by governments and widespread banking collapse followed by liquidity crises, company bankruptcies, unemployment on a scale hitherto never envisaged, riots, economic and structural collapse, can never for a moment resemble the catastrophies of World War 1 or World War 2. Or can it ?
So much for a dream. I am afraid the worst may be upon us. We are only half way through the long sleep. The Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25th 1957, just under forty years after the end of World War 1 in 1918. 2014 will mark the 100 years’ anniversary since the start of World War 1 in 1914. Are we into fairy stories here?
Wake up Princess Europa. Your Prince is not the IMF, not other European countries, not China or the Arab States, certainly not the US which is in even more horrific deficit than any European state, not Magic Money that makes gargantuan national debts go away. The Prince is actually the Dragon called Reality.
If the so called democratic nations who depend on capitalism for their survival, really understand the principles at stake, they will stop sucking all the money in the marketplace into their state spending sprees and leave the vast proportion of global funds to the free enterprise system.
Capitalism will only work when the State has withered away; and democracy will only work when the State has relinquished its hold on spending.  Karl Marx did mention the fact that the State must wither away. That goes as much for free enterprise as for socialism, And that goes especially for the European Super State that is seeking more and more powers to control the taxation and budgets of democratically elected national governments.
Maybe the World War 3 of the Euro’s demise would be worth the trauma if the lesson is learned that super states and super-currencies can’t work unless they are truly democratic in every way. And that includes their public spending programmes.
Democracy has a long way to go. But the war in Europe will continue until these ultimate lessons are learnt.
Will the Euro collapse? I’ve a feeling some lovely Fairy Godmother may turn up right at the end of the story and the poor old Reality Dragon may have to go back into its cave for another long wait. Hmmmm…

Friday, 18 November 2011

Praise the Dead

In France we have just passed through two weeks of mourning. That is between November 1st and November 11th.
This is a heavy period. November 1st, “All Saints Day” is for remembering your personal dead and a pall of grief hangs over the country. People buy chrysanthemums in pots or in cut bunches to place on graves. I was, in my first year in France reprimanded by a florist when I asked for potted chrysanthemums at a different season: in London one bought them to decorate the house during the winter months. I remember their distinctive scent in my drawing room. I did not associate it with death. But I live in a country where such symbolism is not transmutable. Chrysanthemums mean remembrance of the dead.
November 11th is quite different. The dead are the dead of history. Whereas in the UK this day is a moment to pause with pride to remember the victorious dead, with poppies, in France it is a moment of terrible grief. There are no poppy sellers in the streets of Paris.
To know the difference between the suffering of France and the UK of WW1 for which November 11th is the Armistice Day one need only take a long walk around parts of rural Normandy where every hamlet has its War Memorial. This is also true in the UK, but somehow it has never had the emotional impact for me to read a list of war dead in the UK compared to reading such a list on an isolated cenotaph in the heart of rural Normandy. Why? This gives one pause for thought. Is it worse if the war took place on your own nation’s soil? The terrible losses for France in that war and the fact that the blood of the slain, yes and English blood also, soaked the soil of northern France, changed her history for the decades that followed. In France Germany and elsewhere in Europe, it was the source and cause of the political errors that led to WW2. France was not alone in making the political misjudgments that allowed Hitler to build a powerful army. The British government was equally to blame. But then, when WW2 came, Britain is protected by the Channel, and this gave time to rearm. Too quickly, France could only capitulate. Would a powerfully armed France with strong political leadership have been able to resist the Nazi invasion? If only: but the realities were otherwise. I have read what Antoine St Exupery wrote when he was a pilot in those early days before De Gaulle went into exile in England, the days in late 1939 and early 1940 when French pilots were flying against the Luftwaffe in Eastern France. He wrote that their calamitous attempts, in terms of casualties, to stem the Lufftwaffe’s onslaught was “like trying to throw a glass of water on a forest fire.”
This history is also behind the terribly poignant sadness of November 11th here in France. It is also behind the desperate attempts being made by France and Germany, especially Germany, to save the Euro and with it the European Union that is the phoenix arisen from the ashes of these two terrible wars.
I can only say that the terrible sadness of the losses of WW1 and the Nazi occupation in WW2 still lingers in the hearts of French people, handed on from one generation to the next: that and a terrible sense of defeat. On November 11th, I find it hard to hold back my tears at the thought of those tragic years and their historical consequences. November is a sad month in Paris.
I prefer to think of November 1st as the Celtic New Year, the beginning of life after the disquieting night of Halloween when the earthbound dead walk abroad. And as a part Celt, that is how I celebrate that day. Death passes into history. Life is reborn.