Sunday 22 September 2019

Television review: The world's worst idea is back

  • They Shall Not Grow Old (BBC2)

  • Claire Byrne Live (RTE1)

They Shall Not Grow Old (Imperial War Museum/Peter Jackson)
They Shall Not Grow Old (Imperial War Museum/Peter Jackson)
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Emmanuel Macron could have said a lot of things last Sunday, during the ceremony in Paris to mark the centenary of the Armistice, but he concentrated on the most important thing: nationalism.

"Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying 'our interests first, whatever happens to the others', you erase the most precious thing a nation can have... its moral values," he said.

And it was important not just to establish that nationalism is a curse, but to do this in the presence of the nationalist Trump, and in the face of the British nationalism that is driving Brexit.

Because these things are all connected, and while Brexit is not The Somme, there is a similar mindlessness at work, a similar urge towards self-destruction that started when this plague of nationalism was released once more.

So there is this weird confluence going on here, with these ceremonies remembering 1918 seguing into the latest episode of barking madness from the Brexit front - and in both cases you keep asking yourself how such things can even be contemplated in a supposedly advanced society, let alone that they could become its official policy.

You have your answer too, supplied by Macron last Sunday. And later that night on BBC2 you had They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson's superb "colourisation" of those ancient scenes from World War I. This will always be regarded as a deeply important piece of work, but at this time it had a particular resonance - yes there really is no end to the insanity which can ensue, when these demons of unreason and bloodymindedness are abroad.

Which leads us eerily to the amalgamation of RTE1's Claire Byrne Live with BBC Northern Ireland's Nolan Live, Claire up there and Nolan down here, and two studios full of people trying to make sense of Brexit.

But that is something that cannot be done, no more than you can pause the Peter Jackson film at the point when all the jolly lads are marching off to war, and you can say: enough now, there's no need for this, it's completely ridiculous from every conceivable angle.

Which is why you need to keep a lid on nationalism while you can, because if it seeps out in any significant quantities, it will pollute everything it touches.

Jim Allister, the Traditional Voice of Unionism, was down here making his case, whatever it is, in front of a Dublin audience, some of whom would have recognised certain aspects of his performance - he left out the "r" at the end of Varadkar, and his pronunciation of "Juncker" was not right either, and as we know from our own politics, these are key indicators that our old friend Eejitry is in the room. Big Eejitry indeed.

Allister is a kind of nationalist in his own right, of the British variety, though he would excoriate the nationalism of David Cullinane of Sinn Fein - one of the essential elements of nationalism is that your own kind always appear to be wonderful, though every other variety of it is clearly terrible.

David Cullinane on this occasion was representing the Sinn Fein position on Brexit, whatever it is, a position which his party is not arguing at Westminster, only in TV studios. And when he was asked by Nolan why they are refusing to help the cause of Ireland at this time of great need, he talked about the "mandate", as is his wont.

They had received a "mandate" for their abstentionist policy, and they can't go against this "mandate". At which point, of course, Stephen Nolan or any of the other Nolans should point out that Donald Trump likewise has a mandate to Build That Wall, but nobody in their right minds is suggesting that that is the end of the matter.

Nolan didn't point that out, none of them ever do - you may ask yourself how do nationalists seem so immune from that better kind of questioning, you may ask yourself how they get away with it.

And I ask myself the same question.

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