No matter what country one lives in, we have all been exposed to nationalism. Whether it is flags, the pledge of allegiance, or history textbooks every nation has incorporated some type of national image of itself within its own borders. For example, look at the United States. As a United States citizen, throughout my life I have heard time and time again that we are the greatest country in existence because of our endless freedoms and our ability to pursue the American dream. Also, back in elementary school I would read history textbooks that painted the United States as the hero among all other nation-states. We were the country that overcame the tyranny of England to form our own country and successfully defeated the brutal Japanese and German regimes in World War 2. This phenomenon gave me the feeling that no one was better than the United States and, among other things, everyone else should strive to be like the United States. That is exactly what nationalism is meant to do. Nationalism can be defined as the belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals (Source).
I wholeheartedly believe there are good kinds of nationalism and there are bad kinds of nationalism. The good form of nationalism takes place within a nation-state. Look at infrastructure and the American Dream as examples. There would not be any infrastructure in place if the citizens did not contribute to infrastructure through paying taxes. Being nationalistic shows that one is willing to contribute to a cause greater than themselves, thus forwarding the development of a nation. Also, the American Dream is a perfect example to illustrate how nationalism inspires people to succeed. The idea that someone can come to the US and pursue their own interests without any external interruptions, gives people the sense they are independent. The American Dream phenomenon drives people to better themselves so they can make their lives more pleasurable along with their families’.
On the other hand, when nationalism is taken out of the domestic sphere and into the international sphere, it can take a selfish form. This is true of the United States imperialistic tendencies these days. The US government has repeatedly asserted that we need to spread our values of democracy to other countries so they can adopt our way of living. However, this has mostly led to more destabilized countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. What some people fail to realize is everyone is not going to be the same as you are; no matter what you try to do. The US government may believe we are the pinnacle of freedom, but other countries see the US as a power-hungry country that wants to dominate the international realm. When nationalism takes this form where one nation is thought to be above all others; that is where this phenomenon runs into problems. Another good example is the Nazi regime back when Adolf Hitler was in office. He created a universal image of the Nazi state that only accepted Aryans. This national image led to the extermination of millions of Jews and minorities because the Aryans were thought to be above all other races. Most are aware of what the Nazis did during WW2, but most do not understand why they did what they did. It is a result of a strong sense of nationalism.
Now, I have discussed some bright sides and some downsides of nationalism so it is imperative to understand when nationalism is good and when it is bad. Within a nation-state, nationalism can be used for good since it gives people a cause to believe in along with the feeling one is part of something greater than themselves. Nationalism can become distorted once it takes an international scope since one country’s values is placed above all other country’s values. Referring to the definition of nationalism above, emphasizing national goals within a country is usually good but it becomes a lot more questionable when a country puts their own self-interests above all other countries. History tells us once nationalism is taken out of the domestic sphere, it becomes a lot more nasty since many races and countries become marginalized. What every country needs to understand, especially the United States, is not all countries want what you have.
Contributed by R.A.