Nationalism: Is nationalism an asset or hindrance in today's globalized world?

Leah Rothman

Student at Manhattan High School for Girls


Nationalism: Is nationalism an asset or hindrance in today's globalized world?


Due to Enlightenment ideals such as those explicated by the French Revolution “Liberty, equality, and fraternity,” ethnic groups within nation-states began to explore the meaning of self-identification through their own, unique ethnic populace. Political, economic and social boundaries were called for by these “nationalists,” demanding freedom from the mother country to self-rule. Throughout the past 200 years, nationalism has been a topic of controversy. To one extent, ethnic groups who call for self-autonomy are fulfilling the dreams of the enlightened philosophes: calling for freedom and equality. Yet nationalism can lead to issues such as a hyper-division of ethnicities creating a lack of unity between neighboring states which sometimes creates wars and detestation. However, I would argue that overall, nationalism has provided nations, and in particular the United State of America, a means for self-motivation: helping nations with humanitarian crises to progress and contribute to modern-day technological achievements.

Due to nationalism, the US has created for itself an image of a compassionate nation, helping those nations and peoples who are lacking or in need. As expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution, the American nation was formed to “…[e]stablish justice, insure domestic tranquility for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…” Thus, it’s only natural that such a nation would want to express and expand these lofty ideals to the rest of the world, providing liberty and contentment to a miserable world.

During World War II, it was perceived “American” to fight the war against the “Axis of Evil.” The United States justified its involvement in the war effort by depicting itself as the savior of Free Europe. Famously, the American war effort described this world war as being a fight between “good and evil.” The Nazis and Japanese rebels were not just tyrants who abused their power, they were also inhumane monsters, a threat to American ideals. This sense of nationalism allowed for popular support of the army, helping them defeat the axis of evil. As history testifies, the American influence in World War II, namely aiding the allies and supporting the British who were the last nation which represented American ideals such as freedom and equality, helped the allies win the war and maintain concepts such as freedom and equality in our modern society.

Furthermore, American involvement in defeating terrorism can be argued as not just being an attempt of self-preservation, but also an expression of nationalism. After September 11th, America officially declared war on terrorism, specifically on Iraq. George Bush, in his speech declaring war on the Iraq-Saddam Hussein government and terrorism in general, explained that “they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism… We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live them.” ("Text of George Bush's speech." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2001. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.) Bush claims that a fair justification of the war is “our principles.” America stands for ideals like equality and freedom. A government or movement which threatens these ideals must be removed since they threaten American ideals. Due to these pressures, America has been a presence in areas where extremists group trod, removing them and saving Western civilization from devastation. As in World War II, America was involved and is currently involved in the fight against terrorism and extremism due to these nationalist ideas.

Another factor which nationalism stimulates, is the development of technological innovations. After World War II, America became a superpower. Its economy was thriving and its soldiers were returning to the country and contributing to society. However, there was another superpower who helped win World War II. That was the Soviet Union. ("American propaganda during World War II." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.) These two nations, though coming together to defeat the Nazis, were diametrically opposed. America was a nation of freedom, capitalism, individual rights, and democratic. However, the Soviet Union was a dictatorship, communist, and restrictive. These two nations clashed in post-World War Era in an era called the Cold War. One aspect of this “war” was the space race. This race in reality created no territorial grabbing or economic advantages. It was mainly competition which inspired a sense of nationalism and superiority. Throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, the US and the USSR were trying to be the first to send a man to the moon. In 1957, the USSR sent into space “Sputnik,” an artificial satellite to orbit space. This first attempt to “control the skies” spurred America to begin their own attempt to get to the moon. Competition continued throughout the 1960s. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin from the Soviet Union, was the first man send to orbit Earth in space. In May 1961, America responded by sending their first man, Alan Shepard, to space. America was determined to defeat Russia in this space race. ("Space Race." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.) Americans asked, how could a nation, which represented such ideals like freedom and democracy, lose in a technological war to the “backwards” Soviet Union? This question spurred the development of technological innovations which aided in sending a man to the moon. Finally, in 1968, Neil Armstrong, an American, was the first human being to step foot on the moon, declaring victory against the USSR.

The space race, prompted by nationalism, formed new inventions. Cordless tools which were invented to help astronauts perform scientific research on the moon were used for domestic usage. Additionally, the smoke detector was created to save astronauts from fire in space stations. This invention, now used in homes, has saved countless lives in America and throughout the world due to Americans’ involvement in the space race. Lastly, on the spacecraft Apollo, NASA created a handheld device to suck up small pieces of the moon that came through the spacecraft. Using this concept as a model, developers made hand-held devices such as vacuum cleaners to help people clean their homes with ease. (Smith, Jim. CNN. Cable News Network, 2007. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.)

Nationalism, in particular American nationalism, has been a contributing factor to a better world. From saving countries from extremism and injustice to advancing technology, nationalism has spurred positive efforts, making nationalism an asset to society.


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