Nationalism can be a danger zone

Nationalism is sweeping our country, spurred on by the rhetoric of our new president. There is nothing wrong with being proud of the country where you live, but there is fine line between nationalism and patriotism.

Nationalism tends to divide people, drawing perceived differences between the people who do not necessarily have the characteristics of the nation as a whole. Case in point: during World War II, Asians, particularly those with roots in Japan, and to a lesser extent, Germans, were singled out in America as possibly dangerous to our national security. And so, without cause thousands of natural born citizens as well as immigrants, were rounded up and placed in camps, losing their homes, their businesses, their livelihood simply because of the color of their skin or their lineage from an undesirable country. This was nationalisms ugly head; the singling out of a people who were different and perceived as a threat, with no proof thereof.

Nationalism gripped Germany in the 1930s. Nationalism at its worst was the extermination of Jews in Germany, blaming them for all the country’s woes. Estimates are up to 6 million Jews were put to death during the Nazi regime. But it wasn’t only Jews that didn’t fit the political leader’s definition of desirable humans: almost 2 million Poles, 300,000 Serbs, 200,000 Romas (Gypsies), 250,000 people with disabilities, and 70,000 repeat offenders were disposed of by the German elite; all in the name of Nationalism.

George Orwell, the pen name of Eric Blair, writer and critic of the early 20th century, distinguished nationalism, “power-hungry tempered by self-deception” from patriotism, “a devotion to a particular place.” He went on further to say, “A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or negative nationalist – that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating – but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.”

The Monroe Doctrine in 1823 stated in essence that any interference by European nations into the affairs of the countries in North or South America would be viewed as a hostile act; likewise, the United States would not interfere in the affairs of European states. This declaration of isolationism was fundamentally in effect until World War I. The resulting losses to American troops and the opinion that the war had been fought over nothing, led to the United States’ reluctance to enter into World War II.

Since World War II, however, the United States has taken an increasingly large role in the affairs of all nations, so much so that several nations rely solely on America for their very existence. We now bear an obligation to continue our support of money and military protection or stand by as millions of people are displaced, killed or starved to death.

But our administration has decried our involvement with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), a military alliance between European and North American democracies that has stood since the end of World War II. This alliance has served to strengthen international ties between our nations for over a half century. Nationalism is in the process of isolating the United States once again.

Bertrand Russell, British pacifist, criticizes nationalism for “diminishing the individual’s capacity to judge his or her fatherland’s foreign policy.” The adage “might makes right,” seems to be the focus of the day.

There is no question, the United States of America is a great nation. We have been a world leader for over a century. I am proud of our country. I consider myself to be a patriot. But being a patriot does not blind me to policies that I think are wrong for this country. I do not blindly defend every policy this country formulates. As a patriot, and a citizen, I have the right to criticize my government; to participate in efforts to change what I believe is wrong. I love my country, but I do not love what we are becoming.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to