The Role of Nationalism in Modern History

Nationalism, or loyalty to one’s nation state, can be said to have characterized and shaped the course of modern history. With the spread of nationalism in Europe during the 19th and 20th century many nations, like Germany and Italy, reasserted their power through unification under leaders like Bismarck. Nationalism increased the confidence of the people, which led to new developments like imperialism. This caused an unbalance of power in European nations, leading to the Great War in 1914. With new military technologies and the horrors of trench warfare, World War I saw unprecedented levels of destruction. Specifically, Germany was forced to take complete responsibility for the losses during the war, which led to German hostility towards the Allies. This prompted WWII and the rise of nationalism in Germany with Hitler and the Nazi Party securing their rise to power; the implications of nationalism are manifested through violence, like the Holocaust. The strong feelings of nationalism in Europe caused many conflicts to break out between nations, led to World War I, and violent disputes in decolonization. Thus, the development of nationalism predominantly shaped the world for the ill.

The 19th century was marked by an explosion of European nationalism, shown in the form of the unification of Germany. This offset the balance of power and threatened European stability. In the years before World War I, Germany destabilized the balance of power in Europe by using nationalism as a motive for imperialism and increasing its military and industrial might. Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck united Germany through the idea of nationalism and Prussian strength. Bismarck’s speech, Blood and Iron exemplifies his policy in unifying Germany. Bismarck believed that a strong industry and military was needed in a nation for success. The blood represented the military while the iron was a symbol of the industry of Germany. In 1871, Bismarck united Germany and a powerful and well militarized German nation emerged. It was nationalism created through conquest that led Germany into a position of a world power. Thus, nationalism in European nations, like Germany, conspired to forcefully shift the power among European nations and played a role in the cause of WWI.

Revolution, war, and immense losses for nations demonstrated the emotional power of nationalism in World War I. New countries like Germany and Italy wanted to show their power by pride in their own nation. One of the factors that turned a regional dispute in the Balkans into World War I was nationalism, which served as a motive for imperialism. The Balkans were eager for their own independence from other powers. In 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was carried out by nationalists seeking an expanded Serbia. As a result, the Great War broke out; however, the expectations of the war differed from the reality. People believed that the war would be a glorious opportunity to show and fight for one’s country. In showing the terrors of the war, the book All Quiet on the Western Front presents a critique of nationalism, showing it to be a tool used by those in power to control a nation’s populace. The protagonist Paul and his friends are forced into participating in the war and are seduced by nationalist ideas. Remarque shows that war became more about survival than mission. World War I impacted the lives of soldiers in negative ways. In the long run, the soldiers fighting in the front were mentally scarred and forget how to think and act normally. This shows that the soldiers who fought in war believed that the real enemies were the people who sacrificed them simply to uphold nationalist values. The result of World War I was disastrous; millions of soldiers lost lives and empires like Germany and Austro-Hungary lost great amounts of territory. There was also lingering effects of the war: Germany was forced to pay reparations and became bitter towards the Allies and its own government. This proves that the idea of nationalism within nations caused huge losses and destruction for nations. The damages in WWI was beyond recovery, showing that nationalism had negative impacts on the course of history.

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