100 Years After World War I, We Must Still Remain Guarded Against Nationalism [Opinion]

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Chris Kleponis / Getty Images

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary since the end of World War I. Despite the many years since it ended, some of the lessons from that war continue to go unheeded.

One of the major lessons that has had a renewed focus in recent months is the need to be guarded against nationalistic tendencies, especially among political leaders around the world. Nationalism played a large part in the run-up and aftermath of World War I, according to experts speaking to the History Channel, and it could be making an unwanted return in our discourses.

Indeed, per previous reporting from the Inquisitr in October, President Donald Trump decided to embrace the term, bringing about criticism following a speech in which he proudly called himself a “nationalist.”

Trump uses the term in a simple way, as someone that defends one’s own nation. But history has stronger connotations for the word that cannot be overlooked.

In comments made over the weekend, recognizing the 100-year anniversary of the end of the “Great War,” French President Emmanuel Macron himself denounced the ideology of nationalism.

“By pursuing our own interests first, with no regard to others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds most precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values,” Macron said, per reporting from Reuters.

What is nationalism exactly? It’s a broad definition which can mean many different things, but historically nationalism “promotes the nation at the expense of others,” according to reporting from the Street. This isn’t just at the expense of other nations, either: individuals within a nation, who don’t fit what leaders view as culturally positive for the nation, are often excluded or discriminated against within nationalistic models of governance.

This is problematic for what should be obvious reasons. In my personal view, nationalism is an immoral concept. It requires strict definitions of who can be included in the “nation” and who must be excluded. Often, those definitions are created by a hegemonic group that disregards the experiences and needs of others.

Many wrongly conflate nationalism and patriotism together, and that’s likely what Trump was trying to do in October. But patriotism is different: it is a love for your country, which can be coupled with a belief it can do better and recognizes that differing points of view are worth acknowledging and sometimes embracing. Nationalism rejects those viewpoints — its ideology requires adherents to love the country, but to view the nation as never wrong, always right, and see those who doubt this belief with skepticism and animosity.

I’m optimistic in believing that a majority of Americans reject this point of view. Unfortunately, a large segment does embrace nationalism, either ignorantly believing it to be synonymous with patriotism, or because they like the idea of excluding others from becoming American.

Nationalism is not something we should endorse as a country. And it’s not something the president of the United States should proclaim himself proud to be. One hundred years on from the end of World War I, it’s clear to see that many in our own nation still have a lot to learn about what nationalism truly is — and why it’s dangerous, too, for the preservation and future successes of our country.