Nationalism and wars

This video from the USA is called Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now! – Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Nationalism And War
edited by John A Hall and Sinisa Malesevic (Cambridge University Press, £19.99)

Sunday 07 July 2013

The contributors to this book, all leading historians and social scientists, engage historically, geopolitically, ethnically and economically with the relation between nationalism and war.

In the process they provide a wealth of detail and closely argued commentary on how, when and where both have colluded and collided.

Yet, surprisingly, there is little concern in the 14 essays with how religious fundamentalism fits into the picture.

In their introduction the editors make the point that the popular consensus that nationalism causes war is wrong, observing that “wars had been fought thousands of years before the advent of nationalism.”

Nations are in fact a relative newcomer on the scene whereas in recorded history empires have been the dominant form of politically organising societies.

Comparing and contrasting contemporary situations in different countries, Matthew Lang examines Sri Lanka and Canada, both societies with minorities demanding independence. Yet whereas Sri Lanka suffered from a lengthy violent conflict, caused by a weak national economy and brutal repression of the Tamils by the state, in Canada a healthy economy and skilful constitutional handling of the Quebec separatist movement defused any potential conflict.

Civil wars in Ireland and Finland are similarly compared and the differences in the respective responses of Denmark‘s and Holland’s equally xenophobic right-wing parties to their national involvement in the Afghan invasion are explored.

Particularly interesting is Michael Mann’s essay comparing the role of nationalism in the two world wars. His finding that nationalism played little part in the terrible mayhem of the “Great War” provides an acid comment on next year’s centenary shindig.

The editors remind us that “the monuments, cenotaphs and war memorials dedicated to the ‘glorious dead’ lionise the war heroism of past soldiers in order to set the boundaries of normative obligation to present and future generations.”

Other essays cover South America, Africa and the role of British counterinsurgency in the inter-communal conflicts of 1969 to 1972 in Northern Ireland. Broader thematic treatments such as the degree of influence of nationalist sentiment on fighting efficiency contribute to a collection that explodes popular myths.

In emphasising that nationalism represents a prime historical force that has reshaped the political outlook of the globe over the past 200 years, these essays help us to understand the multiple ways in which this force has operated and still plays a vital role today.

6 thoughts on “Nationalism and wars

  1. Whether we fight wars with so-called conventional means, or with unconventional means, war unleashes a social dynamic of terrible power. To motivate soldiers to kill and be killed requires an enormous amount of ideological and psychological indoctrination. We may have an innate instinct for aggression, but we also have an innate instinct for self-preservation. Organized political violence is a scary disorder in the body politic, necessary sometimes in extreme circumstances, but costly in what it does to the soul of the polis and the psyche of soldiers. Modern warfare occurs on a scale that bears little resemblance to the violence of our primate and tribal forbearers.


  2. I wonder if this book went into the roll that the advent of the media and then the Internet plays in stirring up the people’s support for going to war.

    In addition, in a democracy, it takes the support of the majority of a parliament or congress to declare war. Before the rise of democracy, one man/woman made that decision—-a king or queen/emperor or empress. Did nationalism have anything to do with that? Does a king need his people to support him to declare war especially when 90% of the people were illiterate and had little communication outside of the small village or farm area where they lived?

    And with the Internet, even in countries that are not democracies, the people play a more important roll in expressing opinions. Therefore gaining that support requires a sophisticated use of propaganda that uses rumors, exaggerations, and lies to stir up the public and manipulate them.


    • Thanks for your comment!

      I have not read this book myself. According to the review, it says that nationalism is often overrated as a cause of wars. I would say: Yes, that is correct for *causes*. However, once elites have decided there will be war, then nationalism often becomes important to whip up support for the war.

      Yes, you are right about the role of propaganda.

      Politicians can manipulate the rule of “support of the majority of a parliament or congress to declare war”. Eg, by lying to parliament, as Tony Blair did in Britain on the Iraq war. And the Vietnam war was officially not a war, but a “conflict”, with no US “soldiers”, but only with US “military advisers” to the Saigon regime in South Vietnam.


  3. Pingback: Yemeni journalist, jailed for drone report, freed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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