The phenomenon that history exhibits of occasionally repeating itself is extremely unsettling. It is a well-known fact that it does repeat, but is a completely different experience when you watch it happen. I can name another parallel that is occurring between a political conflict that is happening now and one that happened nearly a century ago. The current controversy over the Iranian regime had, during this year alone, made front-page headlines. Their lack of transparency with their nuclear program was met with frustration from Western governments for as long as this issue has lasted. I find the current path of history to share alarming similarities with the peacemaking process that occurred after World War I in which the governments of Europe were faced with a post-war German Republic. When one understands what happened in the conflict in the past, one can see the consequences that lie on the end of the current conflict.
This is what happened during the inter-war years and the peacemaking process: the aggressive anti-German attitudes of the French were the greatest threat to world peace at that time. It threatened to trigger another European war which would involve all the countries that were already devastated by WWI. France was actively seeking to cripple and humiliate Germany. This attitude, which is called revanchism by historians, blossomed during the time after German Unification—which concluded with France’s humiliation when the German emperor was declared after seizing Paris in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It wasn’t until after WWI when this animosity, which grew over time, really reared its ugly head. During the Paris Peace Conference that followed in the aftermath of WWI in 1919, France, as well as other influential countries, demanded that the new German Republic be crippled by having to pay an incredibly high price for damages incurred during the war, also ensuring that another dangerous empire is not allowed to rise again. However, French politicians at the Peace Conference allowed their personal attitudes to influence the amount they wanted Germany to pay in reparations, demanding ridiculous amounts from Germany that were infeasible for them to pay.
The crippling of the once powerful German Empire gave rise to reactionaries and political extremism. Such an extremist would be Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party, or the Nazis, who made use of the attitudes of humiliation, defeat and desperation among the German people to his advantage. This would lead to the start of WWII when the Germans, in an act of aggression, invaded Poland. This aggressive mindset was, in a sense, the result of the aggressive sentiment that had been directed to them by the French decades earlier. The ultra-nationalism which drove the Nazi’s was, in some way, the result of the overly aggressive anti-German sentiment of French lawmakers when they zealously crippled them.
Now, here is what’s happening in the East in the present day, nearly a century after Paris 1919. Having been on the International Atomic Energy Agency Model United Nations (2013) session at the U of A as the delegate of Romania, I have experienced first-hand what the situation is like as well as the severe tensions felt between countries. The aggressive anti-Iranian attitudes held by western countries such as Canada, the U.S. and Israel, threaten to trigger a possible war in the Middle East. Israel, whose government has been hijacked by a right-wing movement in recent years, has been clamouring for a war with Iran. What complicates the situation is that both the U.S. and Canada seem to have a policy of unquestioned support for whatever interests the Israelis have. Fortunately, the Obama administration has been telling Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that war with Iran is undesirable and that the problem of their nuclear program would be better resolved through negotiation. This is the situation as it stands, and it has been locked in a stalemate for the last few years.
Of course, in Iran and other countries in the Middle East, a strong sense of anti-Israeli sentiment has been developing for decades. This mutual hate has caused countless conflicts over the years and has only been getting stronger since the state of Israel was formed after WWII. This is not aided by the fact that all peacemaking efforts in the Middle East have been half-hearted and ineffective.
There are similarities that exist between these two times and places in history. Just as there were tensions between France and Germany between 1870 to 1919, Israel has failed to make peace with its neighbours for all these years. Just as French revanchisme was the greatest threat to another European war, the Israelis desire for war with Iran is the greatest threat to another major war happening in the Middle East. And like the French revanchisme, anti-Israeli sentiment is quite strong in places in the Middle East and has developed over decades of conflict and turmoil. In both cases, the extreme and aggressive policies of one party threaten to elevate tension between others. In the case of the tensions between the West and Iran, that war has thankfully yet to erupt.
Meanwhile, the Iranians are being driven closer to desperation as the West does nothing else but impose sanctions on their banks, or cut diplomatic relations as Canada did last year in an act that drips with ostentation, in an attempt to encourage transparency on their nuclear program, ending the supposed progress of what may be a nuclear weapons program that is the product of our government’s paranoid imagination. Even the sanctions against Iran are supposed to have the same effect as the reparations were to have on Germany: the elimination of a possible military threat. In the worst case scenario, extremist elements, who would be even worse that what we’ve seen so far, would take over Iranian politics as a part of the reaction to aggression from the West and in an act of desperation, lash out at its enemies with nothing to lose.
Back to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, there is a notion amongst political intellectuals that the issue of Iran’s nuclear program has been blown out of proportion by Netanyahu, whose time as Prime Minister of Israel has shown that he is very much a war hungry leader, having waged war and hostilities with neighbouring countries such as Lebanon throughout his time in office. Former members of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, have publicly advised against Israeli aggression towards Iran, attacking the right-wing notion that the Iranian government is irrational and would have no hesitation in using nuclear arms if they had them, and saying that the regime is indeed rational and that they realise that the use of nuclear arms would do more harm than benefit.
The neo-conservatives’ response to my analysis, I’d imagine, is that they would accuse me of siding with the theocratic regime of Iran, thinking in a laughably black and white manner. I do not in fact do so in any part of my writing. I find theocracy just as repulsive and immoral as they do. I am aware of the oppression that such a theocracy practices on its people and I despise it. I am also wary of the possible consequences of such a regime acquiring nuclear arms. I do not believe however that putting pressure on the regime is a solution to the problem. On the contrary, it is more likely that it is part of the problem. Alas, I do not know the solution, but I can confidently say that this is the wrong path to take.
After examining what happened in Europe during the inter-war years and today, with the Iranian situation, I can predict what will happen when Western governments continue to pressurize and provoke Iran. What will happen is that an even stronger, long lasting hateful sentiment towards each other will develop over time. That sentiment would act as the catalyst in accelerating the time it takes for the next Middle Eastern conflict to erupt as new extremist elements would rise to meet those that already exist. I said in the beginning that there are parallels that occur in history. There is however, one major difference that we should realize between the past and the present: that what occurred in the past is unchangeable. This however, remains untrue for the present and we should remember that.
“We won’t get fooled again”
Photography Courtesy of Cyrus Tung