Tuesday 8 October 2002

How the League of Nations ended up as debris

by Robert Fisk

So George Bush Jnr is now an expert on the League of Nations, is he? Across America, he's been telling the folks that the United Nations is in danger of becoming no more than the old pre-Second World War organisation. A "talking shop" is how he's been referring to the League. Would that he looked at a history book now and again. He might find that the League failed the world because of the same cynicism and disregard for morality by the major powers that the United States shows today.

The League was formed in the aftermath of the 1914-18 war. President Woodrow Wilson of the US was one of its midwives. He wanted to protect minority rights, to give peoples independence. His "14 points" were an inspiration to all the would-be nations of the world. He demanded a new international order – shades of George Bush Snr – and an equality of nations. "Europe is being liquidated," General Smuts announced in 1918, "and the League of Nations must be the heir to this great estate."

And so came into being a new Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, a reshaped Europe and, of course, a new Middle East. The modern state of Iraq (President Bush, please note) owes its creation to the League, whose British and French mandates gave us for better or worse – probably worse – Palestine and Syria and Lebanon. Others wanted states, too. The Kurds wanted a state. The Armenians wanted to reverse their genocide by the Turks and return to homes in Turkey.

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