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The country is painted red, white, and blue and the national anthem is being heard nation wide. Everywhere you look you see little American flags posted in peoples front gardens or big flags hanging in their windows. Many stores are closed, even supermarkets usually open 24 hours close for a while, and those that are open for a while have all baked goods with American flags on them. People line the streets for parades, in big or small towns alike, and everywhere you look people are dressed in red, white, and blue. It could be no other day than the 4th of July in the United States. The big day when people remember history and unite together to enjoy their country's independence. This display of the American flag, the sound of the national anthem, and the pride people feel as they watch the morning parade is nationalism.
To have the devotion to die for one's country, to hail to one's flag, to sing one's national anthem with pride, and to fear or hate others because they are not one of you are a few of the many characteristics of nationalism. Nationalism makes a person have love, pride, and an emotional union with the nation to which they belong. Being happy and loving one's nation can be a good thing as long as this pride is kept within reason and does not engulf a nations entire existence and lead to racism and the feeling of superiority towards others. A persons pride and loyalty for their nation-state has been a recent development, since previously a persons loyalty went to one's "crown, religion, city, or clan" (Weatherby, 39). A nation-state is a legal entity with people sharing a common identity, land, government, and independence, such as the former Soviet Union. Nationalism results from four types of bonds and is displayed through four types of symbols. However, even though nationalism can bring nations together it can also hurt the unity of the entire world by causing nations to measure other nations by their own value system which leads to inferiority and racism.
One bond of nationalism is common territory, which is a natural bond since people are located close to each other. When traveling to other countries or even other areas in your own nation a person would feel closer and sometimes more comfortable in the new place if they met someone who was also from where they lived.
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A second bond of nationalism is common language. When two people speak the same language they are automatically going to be able to communicate and this leads to fewer feelings of inferiority. If for example you traveled to Brazil, not being able to speak Portuguese and met someone there who spoke English you would most likely feel close to this person and start talking to them.
Another bond of nationalism is a common culture or tradition. People in the same country can have similar history, religion, and ways of living daily life. Therefore, people with a common culture can understand each other better. People many times do not understand people who do things different from themselves and many times feel awkward around those who are different. When someone you know lives in the same culture as you do and celebrates similar traditions then a bond is formed.
Common enemies is another bond of nationalism. When two countries are having trouble with the same country there is often a bond formed between these two countries to fight the opposing country. Similar to back in elementary school when one child is labeled as being mean the rest of the children in the classroom would join together to get back at the bully.
Nationalism is built on these four connecting bonds, but nationalism is seen throughout a country by the symbols used to depict a peoples pride. The flag is the first type of symbol all countries use to depict nationalism. With the right color combination a flag can magically produce feelings of pride and love to one's country. As in the 4th of July description the red, white, and blue, stars and strips of the American flag reflects the nationalism many Americans feel towards the United States of America. Flags can become very highly worshipped pieces are material and countries can become very protective of their flag, as it represents everything they stand for.
The national anthem is another symbol and strong reflection of pride to one's country. The words are usually strong and dynamic to encourage the feelings of loyalty and love. The United States national anthem is played most everywhere, especially before sporting events and other events that gather large amounts of people. Along with Americans other all countries have an anthem to be a daily reminder of the pride to their nation.
A third symbol of nationalism is a countries historical sites. Many places around a country have special historic significance. Whether they are the place of a major battle in the fight for independence or the birthplace of a famous leader these places hold special meaning to the nations history and survival.
Legends and slogans is the fourth symbol of nationalism. Legends passed down from generation to generation are important in keeping the history of a country alive, but also in giving people a story to hold onto. Examples of slogans and legends in the United States are apples pies, the saying "my country right or wrong", and the legend of George Washington and the cherry tree.
Nationalism is good to bring a nation-state together, but a strong nationalist country can and has in the past had negative effects on the world. A consequence of nationalism is that a nation feels it is the center of the universe and feels superior to other countries. Once a nation feels it is the center of the universe it then begins to evaluate and measure other nations in comparison to themselves. So they take their own value system to measure other nations, even though it is already established that they have different commonalties as your nation.
Another consequence of nationalism, which relates to the idea of feeling your nation and its beliefs are the only beliefs with any value, is racism. Nations begin to see other nations and peoples as inferior through nationalism. Because nations can have such a love, pride, and loyalty towards their own nation all others seem inferior to them. This was seen in the Germany under the rule of Hitler, known as Nazi-nationalism.
The principle of requiring silver and gold is called mercantilism another consequence of nationalism. The rise in mercantilism, which lead to greed and also the feelings of inferiority, drove many countries into colonialism. As countries began to feel better than other countries they wanted more power and a strong characteristic of power is wealth. To gain more wealth countries went to less powerful countries and began to make them into their colonials. An example of colonialism destroying a country is when the British went into Ghana for its gold and made Ghana its colonial. Britain drained Ghana of its wealth. Many "underdeveloped countries", today are underdeveloped and poor because of the European countries with strong nationalism who destroyed these countries by making them their colonies.
Nationalism is a strong force both positively and negatively. For people of a nation to love and have pride in their nation can be a great survival technique to keep that nation together. When people form these bonds of nationalism such as common territories, language, culture, and enemies people begin to feel connected to something and part of a great thing. These bonds can allow a nation to really prosper when it has its people loyal. However, this loyalty is many times taken too far. Once symbols of nationalism start becoming symbols of war and fighting then nationalism needs to be curbed. People fight over a flag, a simple piece of material just to prove their loyalty and others weep and feel such emotion when they hear their national anthem. How can the sound of a song and the sight of colors on a flag make people love and hate people with such force? The consequences of nationalism are strong and countries need to not allow peoples pride and love to take over their minds. People can not feel superior to others just because they do not share similar bonds as those of their nation. Nationalism needs to be contained before racism spreads too far and the desire for power and wealth takes over the original concept of nationalism joining people together.
Weatherby, Joseph N. et al. The Other World: Issues and Politics of the Developing World. 3rd ed. Longman, New York: 1997.