The Principle of Nationality, 1914–1919

  • Glenda Sluga
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)


There can be no historical dispute about the importance of the invocation of nationality and self-determination to the reorganisation of states and citizenship in the bloody and chaotic wake of the First World War. However there has been historical disagreement over their political significance. Some historians have presented Wilson’s wartime attachment to nationality as a strategic appropriation of the ideal of self-determination from the Bolsheviks, intended in one instance to distract the disgruntled from the politics of class.1 United States, British, and French government documents also show that toward the end of the First World War the idea of nationality was used by the Allied military as a ruse for undermining the strength of the Austro-Hungarian military, and for a strategic border realignment. The Western powers would provoke and assist the peoples of Central Europe to revolt under the banner of national self-determination in order to undermine Austria-Hungary’s military strength.2 To some extent the strategic concerns that lay behind official Allied interest in nationality rendered the question of the specific legitimacy of each national cause irrelevant. In 1918, Wilson’s closest adviser Colonel House wrote in his diary that he did not care ‘to go into the interminable question who does or who does not represent a majority of the Poles.’3


Foreign Policy International Politics European Review British Empire Political Virtue 
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Copyright information

© Glenda Sluga 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Glenda Sluga
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneyAustralia

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