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Peace of Westphalia in the News, 6/2022

This post is a welcome change, for me at least, because it brings the Peace of Westphalia into completely different contexts than I’m used to reading about. The first article is “Spy x Family: 5 Things You Need To Know About Westalis,” an article at — not the usual source of Westphalia references. “Spy x Family” is a manga focussing around a spy for the nation of Westfalis who is trying to avoid a war with Ostania. The author claims that the characters seem to be setting up a new basis for international relations, and that the similarity of “Westfalis” and “Westphalia” can’t be a coincidence. She may be right, but it is hard to have confidence when she describes the Thirty Years’ War as “long-winded” and says that peace began as a reconciliation between Münster and Osnabrück.

The next article is called “The Power of Flags” in the online journal “The Critic.” Its only reference to Westphalia is as the origin of nation states, but I think the author is right that people underestimate the value of symbols such as flags. He indirectly quotes one author who dismisses them “as pieces of coloured cloth flapping from a stick.” Try burning a U.S. flag, or a gay pride flag during a pride march, or a black lives matter flag during a BLM event, and you will quickly find that this is not the case. The piece of cloth has the power to move masses of people.

Next we have the provocatively-entitled “The big idea: do nations really need borders?” from The Guardian. The article concerns climate change and how it can shift borders or even eliminate them entirely. They can even, theoretically, eliminate a whole nation, a point that Tuvalu’s foreign minister attempted to make in an address to the U.N.

Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe addresses the Glasgow climate conference in 2021. Photograph: Ministry of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs/Reuters

To emphasize the reality of sea level rise, he recorded his address standing in about a foot and a half of water. This would be a powerful image if he did so in a part of the islands previously above water. However, since he seems to have simply waded out into a lagoon for his photo op, I find it more amusing than anything.

Nevertheless, I think the article does have a fair point that Westphalia was at least a step in the direction to a more geographically defined sovereignty. The French negotiations for Alsace had to deal with one of the messier remnants of feudal lordship, and the French just didn’t seem to want to be bothered with it; they tried to wrap up their conquests in the simplest terms of complete superiority rather than delving into the legal niceties of jurisdictions that criss-crossed the region. And, it is true that climate change could theoretically undermine the sovereign state (whatever its origins), although it is worth pointing out that geographical features are always subject to change so they provide only the appearance of permanent borders. Rivers are particularly notorious for changing direction, and no doubt sea level changes — as well as erosion and buildup (accretion and avulsion) — have altered the shape of islands and coastlines in history.

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