Nationalism is Dead

Is Nationalism dead?

            If you ask a person – just a random stranger on the street – if he or she considers him/herself a patriot, you’d probably get a noncommittal shrug of the shoulders as an answer. Unless you live under an explicitly authoritarian government where your level of patriotism determines how much food your family will receive this year, I think the nonchalant response to be the reponse du jour a la monde. If this is true – and by all means feel free to discount my claim or support it through hard evidence – the question is, “Why is this happening?” You may, at this point, say, “Who cares,” but that too would be quite telling because just a few short years ago, the U.S. and her staunchest allies (read=western civs) experienced a tremendous resurgence of patriotic fervor as a direct response to the 9/11 incident.

Let’s take a look at some case studies (read=casual observations on my part) of the recent and not-too-distant past. Hong Kong has recently been in the news and it is primarily due to the residents of the port city desiring more choice in who governs them. Interestingly, no one is raising a nationalistic flag for the Hong Kongese (Kongites? Kongians?) because Hong Kong’s past is a colonial one. After WWII, the British claimed the port city as part of the British Empire and thus under its laws and protections. For decades the communists in China dared not lift a finger overtly to take the city for fear of disrupting the delicate balance of powers in the region. Finally, however, Hong Kong “won” its independence in 1997 only to come under the wings of The People’s Republic of China – a notoriously authoritarian government that surprisingly kept the peace in Hong Kong for many years until now. The people of Hong Kong are not crying out to be British again, nor are they seeking the label of “Taiwanese” – Communist China’s traditional “thorn.” Rather, they consider themselves as nothing less or more than Chinese but that comes second to what they really want: commercial, property, tax law, and civic freedoms. This is a whole new ballgame.

What about in a region at China’s ideological polar opposite? A few short years ago, when Osama bin Laden was assassinated by SEAL Team Six there was less of an exuberant celebration and more of a subdued, measured exhalation of a long-held breath. How do I know this? First, subjectively: when I saw a mob of people gathering in front of the White House with little flags and wide-eyed children on their daddy’s shoulders waving said flags after the news of bin Laden’s death broke open, I did not feel a sense of solidarity with them. In fact, their cheering and roaring made me feel sick. I felt physical revulsion, partly because the crowd’s reaction grotesquely resembled some kind of NASCAR crash event or any kind of fan response from Philly Fan but also because the killing felt more like revenge than justice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really really glad that that madman is no longer around to terrorize anybody, so – yes – he got his, but a part of me wanted him to be alive so he could answer for his crimes before the whole world.

Secondly, I know that America’s response to the killing was more subdued because of her reaction to President Obama’s grandstanding after the fact. There is no question that Obama felt a tremendous sense of relief but also elation that we got Osama on “his watch.” You could tell from his posture, his gait, even the choice of words in his speeches (he used “I” a lot) that he was going to milk this moment for all its worth. Unfortunately, it backfired. Several SEAL Team Six members came out against their President for taking too much credit for the killing and, what’s more, he couldn’t leverage the full weight of it for reelection – he and his reelection team had to dance around the topic a bit lest they be viewed as crass.

All in all I think Nationalism – as a movement, as a practical ideology – is, in fact, dead as dead can be. Partly due to the fact that in order for Nationalism to flourish there must always be the “other” and partly due to an ever-changing commercialized world, Nationalism has had its brief time in the sun but has now gone the way of the Dodo. Who is the “other” now? He wears no uniform, he bears no flag, and he certainly does not march at the head of an invading army across easily definable borders drawn on a map. And, most damning of all, is the fact that your average citizen – whether she be Chinese or Alabaman – is more concerned with whether or not her new iPhone will bend than the notion that something very fishy was going on in New York when the World Trade Center came crashing down and that we haven’t been told the entire truth about 9/11…yet.

Posted by Paul Yim

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