Let’s talk for a moment about the scourge of reason that is nationalism. Nationalism is a biting, blighting plague that creeps its way insidiously into the populace of a scared nation, licking its wounds and growling to make itself seem brave. It causes the nation to raise its hackles and arch its back, attempting to seem larger than it is, more dangerous than it could ever be. At the same time, nationalism wraps a blindfold around the eyes, further enraging the beast it has created, and whispers in its ear that enemies are all around. So blinded and mislead, the nation lashes out at any that would approach it with compassion. The first to fall are its own children.
And that’s that. A reasonable nation becomes rabid, rotting from within, because it wants to seem large in the face of adversity. Potentially the worst aspect of it? The adversary never existed at all. It was whispered in darkness, throwing blame whenever hardship was encountered. The great enemy was but an illusion created so that the cancer could thrive.
Flowery language aside, a casual reader might think that I am blowing this up, using hyperbole. I am not. I speak in metaphor, and rather vivid metaphor at that, but there is no exaggeration to be found here.
Let’s take a look at the roots of the issue.
Nationalism begins as a political tool. A crisis happens, man-made or otherwise. An economy is in shambles. Perhaps the nation is coming off of a war that they lost. In other words, the population is generally downtrodden, scared, or even simply hungry. Something is wrong on the national level. It even might be a single event that gets national coverage, where the perpetrator of the tragedy belongs to a minority of some kind.
Nationalist feelings almost always originate from a party that wishes to exploit them. They are out in a few numbers in communities, doing charity work or holding public office, and attributing their good works to the duty of a humble citizen of Nation ___. They interact face-to-face with members of their towns and cities, especially the elders of the community and the future generation. The elders are heads of households, pillars of the community, and have a strong sense of tradition viewed through rose-colored glasses. The future generation is still at the age where they are highly suggestible, open to others’ viewpoints purely on the grounds that they were kind to them despite their age. Come time to vote, the remembered kindnesses drive the Nationalist candidates into office. Babies are kissed, pictures taken, flags waved.
The Nationalists then go to the working class. The working class is more cynical, suspicious, but their children and parents are both proudly waving the flag of Nation ___, declaring their virtues. Worn down from all fronts, they are willing to hear politicians out. The politicians put on a sympathetic face, pretending to relate with the workers’ problems. They declare themselves to be true patriots, and claim to see the best of national values embodied in the workers. There is chest-thumping, meals shared, and trust is formed. More of them are voted in.
The Nationalists now have sympathizers on every level. Sure, said sympathizers might not have a complete idea of the politics of the party they are now supporting, but they know them personally and they seem like perfectly reasonable sorts. So really, how bad could their policies be?
A word in the right ears, and everywhere the next generation is, their policies begin to take hold. Classrooms are required to Nation ___’s flag on prominent display, and the day is begun by the students reciting the nation’s pledge. Holidays and festivals are held, public displays of national pride in which the Nationalists feature prominently. Their floats are decorated with symbols of national empowerment, heralded by rousing military marches both new and traditional. They stir up old myths and half-truths about Nation ___’s past, claiming the symbolism of Nation ___’s heroes as their own. The populace rejoices.
In those schools and fairs, the problems of the nation are forgotten for the moment. Sure, there might barely be enough money to put on the table, but the citizens are reminded that they have their dignity. They have their pride, and no one can take that from them, for they and their neighbors are all proud citizens of Nation ___.
Then, all of a sudden, the Nationalists bring the problems of the nation to the forefront. They shout them from the town square, waving their flags and playing their anthems. They initially make no claims, but they say what is wrong (Often creating or inflating issues in the process), and say that they will fix these issues, because that is what proud citizens do.
At this phase, the dissenters are phased out of power. The Nationalists have seized the public’s collective heart, and dedicated their victory to Nation ___ and her citizens. While it is never explicitly said at this point, it is strongly implied that any non-Nationalist must therefore not be a proud citizen of Nation ___. They are sympathetic, commiserating with the populace about having to pull the weight of society that people who are not proud citizens do not. They appeal to the individual providers, talking them up while talking an undefined “other” down.
Then, an excuse. Something happens, whether it is another crisis or a sudden surge of support for the Nationalist party. Using the momentum, they quickly find an easy target, and slap the label of “Other” on them. “The ‘Others’ are not like you. You are a proud citizen, a credit to Nation ___. By process of warped logic, the ‘Others’ must not be proud citizens. They are at best simply leeches on our proud nation, at worst, counterrevolutionaries. They see our proud movement, and wish us to fail, and by extension, for our nation to fail so that they can profit.”
Political steps are taken. Sanctions are placed, watch-lists formed, and suspicions stoked. Violence begins to erupt in the dark alleys against the “Others,” but people look away, because they are proud citizens, and they spare no pity for counterrevolutionaries. The climate grows more and more hostile, and nationalism grows, communities banding together over their shared love of Nation ___. The people who don’t show up to these celebrations of national pride are suddenly suspect. Any “Others” that show up are seen as spies, liars, informants. “The revolution is ever so tenuous, and proud citizens should be wary. Enemies and traitors are all around!”
Despite the fact that they have a voting majority in their party, the Nationalists keep up the image of being constantly persecuted. None fight harder for a cause than when they feel they are being suppressed. Slowly, the definition of “Other” is expanded. Proud citizens are offered benefits for informing on “Others” in their community. While some might be squeamish about turning on those they have known for so long, all it takes is one who buys into the propaganda to inform. When those who were squeamish see their friends and neighbors get taken, they suddenly realize what is going on. But by that point, it is too late. The fanatics of the Nationalists are all around them, and when showing misgivings over methods is enough to get declared “Other,” they make a point of attending the rallies, shouting louder than any of their fellows, simply for fear of being taken themselves.
The number of reasonable, scared citizens grows, but so too do the numbers of the Nationalists. The students are getting out of school, swelling with national pride, and are told that there is no greater sacrifice, no greater honor that a citizen can make than to join Nation ___’s army. They go in droves to be handed firearms and flags, and a bit of dyed cloth becomes more valuable than human life. The “Others” are no longer simply non-contributing citizens or potential traitors, they have had the labels of humanity struck from them. They are monsters, waiting in the dark corners of the cities, hiding among honest, proud citizens, looking for any opportunity to undermine national good for their own sick amusement. Again, “Other” is expanded, and “Proud Citizen” is shrunk. The favored people become more and more homogeneous, banding together in like groups against anything different, anything “Other.” Even Party members, who helped start the movement at the core, are dismissed as “Other” because they no longer fit the image of “Proud Citizen.”
“Others” flee, are imprisoned, or are executed. Agents are sent out to neighboring powers, feeling out sympathies among their own Nationalists. Eventually, Nation ___ declares Neighboring Nation ___ to be a true friend to the people. They offer their support in ridding them of their “Others” so that they may enter the age of prosperity that Nation ___ has. A “Security Zone” is established, usually consisting of the opposite border of nearby powers rather than the shared border.
All the while, the problems of Nation ___ are far from solved. Usually, they are much worse. But Proud Citizens don’t complain. Nation ___ is strong. It has to be strong. Otherwise, it will fall to the nefarious plans of the “Others.” Thus, the problems of Nation ___ are not spoken of. Anyone who brings them up is shouted down, fact dismissed in favor of rhetoric. Accusations are thrown, and dissenters are silent for fear of their lives, or are silenced.
Not a pretty picture, is it? It should feel very familiar. Sickeningly so in fact.
Some readers will read Nazi Germany. Some will read Soviet Russia. Some will read British Independence.
Some will read The United States of America.
Which of these is it truly speaking of?
The answer is yes.
I leave you all with an anecdote. The first year I attended of high school, in our homeroom class, we were expected to recite the pledge of allegiance before receiving our day planners. I and a few others refused. We were generally booed by the rest of the class, including a few declarations of “Love it or leave it,” and were asked by the teacher to stay after homeroom. Mind, these were 7-8th graders (Yeah, I know, my high school was weird. The first few years I attended it was 6-12, and still in the accreditation process). After class, we each received a one-on-one reprimand for holding up the class, and told not to make waves while the school was being accredited before receiving our planners and rushing to first period.
It doesn’t seem like a huge thing, but at the core, our education was held hostage to a statement of nationalism. And let me tell you, that was far from the last time I would hear the idiotic anthem of “Love it or leave it” at that school.
In our modern day, the festering tumor of Nationalism is growing in the U.S., and showing no signs of shrinking. Flag-burning, a protected form of protest, is seen by a good portion of the population as a lynch-worthy offense. The piece of cloth, or more often mass-produced plastic, holds more value than a human life. Skipping a few steps, perhaps, but both horrible and hypocritical. The same people calling for flag-burners’ blood don’t even bother following the inane list of rules for “respecting the flag.” They proudly fly their national flags in rain, unlit at night, etc.
Meanwhile, the whole world is watching Great Britain with horror, and quietly hoping that the whole thing crashes around their ears so as to act as a warning to the various Nationalists present in so many other countries. The world is at the same time desperately wishing that it could turn back time, help the British people realize and avoid the coming trauma. The people of Great Britain themselves are reeling, the younger generation that was outvoted by their elders having had countless opportunities ripped from them, the promises that they planned their futures around no longer existing.
Time waits for no one. We can’t go back, but perhaps it is not too late for us over in the U.S. to kill the Buddha in the road. Talk about the issues, don’t pass the blame, and we might just get through this.
I will say the pledge of allegiance when the U.S. deserves it. I will work towards making it a nation that I could be proud of without the risk of falling to nationalism. I will vote for humanitarian policies and candidates. I will acknowledge the problems, shouting the facts as loud as any Nationalist shouts rhetoric.
But until the day comes when a better tomorrow is built for everyone, I will pledge no allegiance to flag or nation. My allegiance belongs to the human race as a whole.