George Orwell wrote that nationalism was one of the worst enemies of peace. He defined nationalism as the feeling that your way of life, country, or ethnic group were superior to others. These types of feelings lead a group to attempt to impose their morality on any given situation. When those standards were not met, more often then not, war would result.
In contrast he stated that patriotism was the feeling of admiration for a way of life etc. and the willingness to defend it against attack. The obvious difference between the two is that while patriotism is a passive attitude, nationalism is aggressive by nature.
Orwell was writing this during the years just prior to World War Two when nationalism in Europe was running rampant. Not only was Hitler stoking the fires in Germany, but Mussolini was taming the savages of Ethiopia, and Stalin had just finished Russiafying the Ukraine and was contemplating “reclaiming” Finland.
Since the end of World War Two nationalism has escalated beyond what Orwell’s worst nightmares could have visualised. The first wave began with the dissolution of the colonial empires through out the developing world. As they retreated they left behind cesspools of ethnic tensions.
In some countries it had been official policy to play the race card as a means of keeping unrest in check. By creating conditions where it seemed one group was favoured over another, especially a minority over a majority, resentments were built up to the boiling point. As far as the colonial masters were concerned as long as they were fighting each other they won’t come after us.
From one country to the next as independence was achieved nationalistic violence was the rule rather then exception. In India Hindu leaders like Gandhi who pleaded for restraint were murdered by extremists of their own faith. In Israel terrorist groups from both sides set bombs and attacked civilians in order to solidify their claims to territory.
But it was with the big two that most of drama became centred upon. The U.S.S.R. under Stalin did a quick land grab after the end of the war simply by refusing to leave the countries that they had “liberated” from the Germans. On their side the United States began their policy of propping up a variety of dictatorships under the guise of preventing the spread of communism.
It’s debateable whether these initial actions were driven more by “real politick” then nationalism, one side trying to limit the other sides power and influence more then an expansion and imposition of a way of life. But in the end the justifications for actions began to take on the sound of nationalistic fervour whatever the original intent.
American governments began wrapping themselves in the flag of protectors of freedom and democracy under more and more spurious circumstances. Meanwhile the Soviets claims of liberation from the chains of capitalism and oppression became harder to swallow during the post Stalin revelations of mass murders and famine.
Nationalism has a history in both countries as far back as their beginnings. Under the Tsars the Russian empire was just as expansionistic as the Soviets stretching their sphere of influence from the Balkans to the near east. In the U. S. it was first implemented as policy in 1810 with the Monroe Doctrine, which lay claim to the whole western hemisphere as being under American influence.
In both countries these policies continue unabated till this day. Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, and Cuba for the U.S. and Chechnya and Afghanistan for the Russians are all recent examples of hemispheric control exerted by both nations. Of course with the collapse of communism the influence of Russia has waned and that of America has increased.
The fall of communism combined with the death of Marshall Tito gave the world another fine example of nationalism in action. As Yugoslavia fell back into it’s divergent states majority ethic groups began to “cleanse” their territories of minority presences. Once again proving that nationalism knows no boundaries or is exclusive to any one race the cities and country sides of the former Yugoslavia became killing fields. Serbian killed Croatian, Croatian killed Muslim, Muslim killed Croatians and Serbians, Albanians and Macedonians killed each other and so on in a vicious circle of hate.
To claim moral superiority or believe that one way of life is superior to another is to pay disservice to the notion of diversity. How can one genuinely respect another’s beliefs if you feel inherently better then they are just because of an accident of birth? It’s one thing to take pride in who you are and what you believe in. It’s another altogether to think that yours is the only way.
This attitude has led to the extermination of whole nations of indigenous peoples throughout the world. Vibrant and living cultures that could have contributed thinkers and ideas were cut off because “they were not like us”. Through literal and cultural genocide our world is being homogenised to a point that will soon reach no return if we are not careful.
Look at Orwell’s definitions of nationalism and patriotism again. Think about the differences. Which do you think would contribute to a better world?