The good, bad and ugly side of national pride

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2011, 12:00am


What is patriotism

Patriotism is devotion to one's country; it is closely linked to nationalism. While patriotism mean loving your country while acknowledging its deficiencies, nationalism is blind love for a country - and the denial of its imperfections. Patriotism is found mainly in times of peace, and nationalism most obviously in times of war.

Before the 18th century, much of the world was focused on city states. People were loyal to cities, local leaders and their religion. Yet the 18th century upheavals, such as the American Revolution (1775-83) and the French Revolution of 1789-99, fired nationalism. Countries began functioning as whole nations instead of groups of cities. It led cities to merge and form nations. Italy's Il Risorgimento (The Resurgence), starting in 1815, led to Italian cities and states to form into what is now Italy.

In times of war ... and peace

In times of war, patriotic fervour is at its strongest. In order to keep morale high, at home and where the troops are fighting, governments use different ways to bolster support. Countless posters during the second world war urged men to join the army and women to sign up to work in factories - all for the love of their country.

In times of peace, patriotism is dealt with in different ways. National signs, such as coats of arms, flags, anthems, flowers, currency, heads of state and colours, are used to encourage a sense of unity.

In Britain, the Union Jack flag is widely associated with patriotism; in Australia, it's the nation's flag and animals such as koala bears and kangaroos. In the United States, the eagle, the colours red, white and blue and green bank notes are on display everywhere. In Hong Kong, the flag with the bauhinia flower, is an emblem of the city. Even humble dai pai dongs, trams, the Star Ferry and double-decker buses create a sense of identity.

Wartime nationalism and propaganda

Use of propaganda, such as recruitment posters, was widespread in all nations fighting in the second world war. But countries, including Japan, which invaded neighbouring territories during the war, used propaganda to emphasise to inhabitants that they had new rulers. Japan's invading soldiers were intent on extending their country's empire. To help change Hong Kong into a Japanese city, the use of Hong Kong dollars as the currency was outlawed on December 26, 1941 - the day after the territory's British forces surrendered to Japanese forces. The Japanese military yen was introduced in its place.

As a British colony, Hong Kong residents spoke English and Cantonese. After the Japanese occupation, English road signs were rewritten in Japanese and many main roads and districts were renamed; Queen's Road Central became Meji Road and Aberdeen became Hong Kong Yuen. English was removed from school curriculums and schools had to teach a minimum of four hours of Japanese each week; students were beaten if they did poorly.

Patriotism and sports in times of peace

Many countries look to sports to create surges of patriotism. The World Cup football tournament and Olympic Games, both held every four years, promote a strong sense of patriotic feeling in the host nation, as well as among the participating nations.

The Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008 were broadcast extensively on television. When the Olympic torch was carried through the streets of Hong Kong there was a strong pro-China feeling among people in the city that had not been known before or since. The Games are useful for countries seeking to enhance their reputations among their own citizens, as well as the international community.

However, in 1936, Nazi Germany hosted the Summer Olympics in Berlin with less positive motives - the intention of promoting Aryan supremacy.

Extreme Nationalism

The Nazis

Nazis believed not only in the superiority of the German state, but the Aryan race. In Nazi thinking, the Aryans were Caucasian (white European) people that were not of Jewish descent. Nazis believed Aryans were a master race and all other races were inferior. This concept has been generally rejected by scholars.

In order to maintain the 'purity' of their race, the Nazis carried out widespread racial cleansing, most notably targeting Jewish people. The Jews were regarded as a foreign presence within Aryan society. The Nazis published stories in which Jews were shown as conniving villains to spread hatred of that race among children.

Jews were first reclassified as 'sub-citizens' and lost most of their rights. Whole Jewish communities were transported to concentration camps, where they were murdered in gas chambers. It is estimated that one third of Europe's Jewish population died.

Apathy (anti-patriotism)

Sometimes individuals will identify with more than nationality, or fail to have strong support for their country's views. Anti-patriotism comes from the idea that, simply because someone is born in one country, it does not mean that they agree with the philosophy and practices of that country.

In Hong Kong, expatriates are engaged in cultural pluralism - where smaller cultures exist within a larger, more dominant culture. People live not only side by side, but also consider adapting to each other's traits. So people that might have had only one view of the world - be it American, Australian, Filipino, or British - now have a number of perspectives. Some people may regard this as being anti-patriotic because they do not share the same culture and ideas of the country of their birth. Anti-patriotism can also stem from a sense of shame over past events. The defeat in the second world war of Japan and Germany - who both had plans for imperialism - led to a sense of national shame and discomfort among many of the nations' inhabitants.

Patriotism and the European Union

The European Union presents a unique case study of patriotism. In recent years, because of the creation of the union, many people are moving away from thinking of themselves as, say, French or Italian; they regarded themselves as European.

This European identity is emphasised by the use of a common currency, the euro, by 331 million people in 17 of the 27 member states. One euro is worth HK$10.8. Moving from one EU country to live and work - or simply visiting another EU nation is easy; students from EU nations can also study in other EU countries.

Some people have proposed EU member states participate in international sports as one. The Ryder Cup golf competition involves a European team competing against the United States.

The EU nations also share a flag, an anthem, passport design - all characteristics that normally belong to a single nation.