Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Enemy: The Uses Of Nationalism

Of all the devices employed by the Enemy ( the Capitalists, the Ruling Class, Mammon, call them what you will), nothing has been as useful a tool as nationalism. Even Religion is merely an arm of the modern bourgeois State's body- even in America, where supposedly they are separate. Time and again the workers of the world have been swept up in the tide of nationalism to slaughter each other in their millions for the gain of a few rich men. How can a student of the struggles of labor forget that in 1914, even as it seemed workers- organized on an international scale- were about to achieve great victories against the Enemy, the aristocrats and politicians of Europe plunged the world into war. Seemingly overnight proletarian cries for unity were drowned out by crowds roaring for war, with pro- war factions in the various social democratic parties being among the most vociferous.
Even so, old- style nationalism made a certain amount of sense. The class antagonisms were much more sharply defined than they are today, but in times of international conflict the Ruling Class actually made some sacrifices. Most of the officer corps of the warring powers of The Great War were made up of young men of the upper classes and machine guns did not differentiate between a metal fitter from Birmingham and the son of an Earl. This shared sacrifice increased the feeling of national solidarity, what the Germans called volksgemeinschaft (lit. people's community), a submergence of class interests for the good of one's country. Of course, while it was impressive that the Kaiser visited workers in their factories to " ask" them to increase production, the truth was that the middle and working classes were doing most of the sacrificing when it came to money and resources. But the impression, which grew rosier as the First World War faded into memory, was that everyone pitched in and worked together for the cause.
The last gasp for the old nationalism, at least in the West and Japan, was the Second World War. Despite the resurgence of British pluck during the Blitz and the dogged resistance of the German and Japanese populations to Allied bombing, the war was just too costly for that level of enthusiasm to be maintained, particularly for the war's losers.
Even the Americans, the people least touched by the Second Great Catastrophe, were sick to death of war. The Ruling Class was rapidly seeing that there was no need for their sons to set an example on the modern battlefield and indeed, the few rewards military service had to offer them, such as glory and fame for the family name, had been submerged in the mud of Passchendaele and incinerated by the atomic blast at Hiroshima. There was no room for the heroic individual in the age of industrial war.
Instead, a new nationalism had to be invented, a new way to bring glory and honor to warfare that increasingly took on the character of mechanized slaughter.
The age of conscription gave the American elites their answer. The mass armies gave rise to a new heroic ethos, one that embraced the faceless masses and wove it into a Homeric figure for military personnel and civilian alike: The Common Soldier. In the American Civil War he was Billy Yank and Johnny Reb. World War One gave us Americans the Doughboy. GI Joe came along in the Second World War. Finally the Vietnam War developed the latest incarnation of the American Fighting Man- The Grunt.
Of course war and nationalism are always closely linked, as the later is the psychological tool to get large numbers of people to fight the former. In the new nationalism, the ethos of the Grunt ingeniously relies on the negative aspects of armed conflict to romanticize its legend. A large part of the military's image about itself evolved in the Vietnam War. The Grunt is victimized by the horrors of war- killing, being maimed, losing comrades, and enduring mortal terror- but he endures all out of a sense of duty to the ungrateful civilians back home who ignore or actively oppose the conflict he is fighting in. The Grunt is wiser than those soft people back home, knows better than the politicians in Washington DC how to fight his enemy, and it is his burden to endure criticism of the mission from effete liberal protesters even as he protects them from a cruel and insidious foe.
It is a powerful image, and one that a lot of Americans wish to identify with. Thus the flurry of " Support Our Troops" magnetic car stickers. Of course the troops doing the fighting and dying don't get any real support from a shitty little sticker but it makes small- time jingoists throughout the nation feel as if they are involved, albeit in an absolute minimalist and chickenshit way.
In fact, in the new nationalism being a soldier is the only honorable profession a prole can have. Think about it. Right- wing propaganda has smeared the once honorable profession of teaching as a job that only lazy and talentless losers, protected by an all- powerful union, take on ( that you would take on such a low- paying job already makes you suspect to money grubbing right- wing assholes who measure everything's worth through the prism of greed). Autoworkers? Whiny,overpaid, fat bastards who take a coffee break every five minutes and get undeserved benefits. In fact it would be hard to find any proletarian profession that is not despised or just plain ignored by the right- wing noise machine. The new nationalism has no place for those who are not billionaires or Grunts. And the Grunt finds out very quickly that despite the constant flag- waving and fine words uttered by politicians, celebrities, and jingoistic shills, once he/ she is no longer a useful commodity to The Man ( i.e. wounded or otherwise unfit for duty) he/ she is thrown away. After all, the Bosses can't use a broken tool.
In fact, the remarkable thing about the new nationalism is how overwhelming its negativity is. Old school nationalists dreamed of improving the lives of the people in their empires, through progress and science ( it was mostly bullshit of course- squeezing profit out of the colonies was the main goal). The new nationalism doesn't even try to make that pretense. Even its favorite drum to beat, American Exceptionalism, is shot through with negativity. Other people hate us because of our freedoms, our wealth, or because they are jealous that Americans are so awesome. All those fuckers in those snooty European countries should be grateful because America saved their asses in World War 2 ( actually the Germans had committed most their resources to fighting the Red Army). All those Third World folks should love us because we give them so much foreign aid. Instead they bite the hand that feeds them ( most of the aid given to foreign governments by the U.S. is military in nature- when it comes to actually feeding people, or building infrastructure America kind of stingy). We need to punish them.
Ah yes, now we come to the heart of this beast- being a patriot these days is all about getting back at someone. The Muslims. The Immigrants. African- Americans. Homosexuals. The Left. Single mothers. Unions. Europe. The Gub'mint. The list of enemies is endless. Like any good foe they are weak enough to pick on but somehow strong enough to never really be defeated. And The Enemy knows this. Like Goldstein in George Orwell's novel 1984 the Other dreamed up by Fox News and other right- wing propaganda outlets leaves the red- blooded, flag- eatin' patriot in a seething fume, unable to focus on what to do about his own shitty life. " If only those ( insert evil people who are destroying the American Way Of Life here) would go away, everything would be better!" he rages.
The new nationalism is all about destruction. Destruction of governments, economies, people. The irony is that the creators of this philosophy, this New American Century, have more in common with their foreign allies among the Global Capitalist elite than with their followers back in the States. Quite brilliantly The Enemy has convinced a large section of the American working class that their interests coincide with the elite's. Thus do these deluded souls willingly support those who partake in the dismantling of the thing they claim to love the most- their own country.

1 comment:

Nullstellensatz said...

Fo-or he himself has sai-aid it,
And it's greatly to his cre-edit
That he is an Englishman!
That he is an Englishman!

For he might have been a Russ-i-an
A French or Turk or Pruss-i-an
Or perhaps Italian!
Or perhaps Italian!!!

But, in spite of all tempta-ations
To belong to other na-ations,
He remains an English man!
He remai-ains a-an E-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eeenglishman!