Today is July 4th, or Independence Day in the United States, one of our most important and revered holidays. So it seems appropriate to pontificate on nationalism.
What is nationalism? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it thus…
The term “nationalism” is generally used to describe two phenomena: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination.
…and that seems pretty accurate, albeit in something of a sterile aspect. It doesn’t address the individual mindset, the *why*.
There is certainly nothing wrong with pride. Pride in who you are, pride in your Nation or “tribe”, and so on. The US certainly has a lot to be proud for. That doesn’t mean we don’t have areas for improvement, of course, we certainly do. In spite of all our faults, people the world over still have historically emigrated here instead of other countries in overwhelming numbers. My opinion on this is not always popular, but emigration/immigration is a measure of the relative worth of two countries. In other words, people emigrate from where they are to another place because, simply put, they view the place they’re going to be better than the place they are. America must be a good place in a relative sense if it is here so many people are choosing over other options, and that make me just a bit proud of what opportunities our nation has to offer.
That ties in, of course, with the attitudes of people and their nationalism, as I’ve already hinted. I do not view nationalism or pride in one’s country as necessarily a bad thing, but it can be taken too far.
Donald Trump’s current anti-immigrant rantings and the mindset of many Brits over the recent Brexit vote notwithstanding, I’m going to go a little deeper, to a more personal and individual level… war and the infantryman.
In the movie Saving Private Ryan there is a scene where a wall collapses and Americans and Germans are suddenly facing each other. There’s a great deal of yelling and shouting and gun pointing, followed closely by shooting and killing.
Why did these lower-level soldiers hate each other so? As individuals, if they had met at some social gathering in peacetime they’d have likely shared a beer and maybe even become friends. They all have families and dreams and desires and fears that aren’t all that disimilar. They are more alike than they are different. So, back to the question, why do they hate each other so? Is it because their leaders told them to?
I think that’s pretty much it. The enemy is demonized… not unlike current politics, but I digress… and the rank-and-file is sold a bill of goods that says the “enemy” is not like us, is not to be trusted, and is to be thwarted at all turns.
Now, to be fair, if I were in a battle situation, I would try to kill the enemy as well, but primarily out of a personal survival interest, kill or be killed, not because I have any animosity against that individual.
This is where nationalism goes too far, in my opinion. If you sit down and look at it rationally, it is really absurd. Which leads to my final question, something that I have always pondered…
…What if they held a war and nobody came?