NATIONALISM TRANSFORMED, NOT TRANSCENDED

Together these perspectives suggest an epochal change in the way that people now perceive the experience of war and its significance for nation-state cohesion and national identifications. What is being claimed is that in the West there is a general loss of faith in the cult of national sacrifice. This has affected the status of the military, now problematic in an age where the virtues of the warrior are looked upon with suspicion, and where there is a general predisposition to view war as a moral anomaly rather than as an honourable practice. Although outside the West conflicts proliferate, casualty aversion saps enthusiasm for long-term military commitments, especially if the objectives are politically diffuse, such as nation- or state-building. This is particularly so when there is a loss of confidence in spreading Western norms as imperialistic. An identification with minorities against the nation state has led to revisionist criticisms of the past, including its heroic cults.

Although there is force to these claims, they require heavy qualification. I will argue that they are West-Eurocentric, and nationalism and military commitment remain strong in many areas of the world, even if suffused at times with a sense of the tragic. In Europe the absence of an obvious enemy, until Russia’s recent invasion of the Ukraine, has produced a scepticism about war and casualty aversion. This, however, is related to the legitimacy of specific wars, not of war itself. Even far-distant humanitarian ‘wars of choice’, though less likely to obtain popular support, may reinforce a sense of national allegiance. Outside the West, many of the ‘new wars’ are far from novel in their features and contribute to nation and state formation. Finally, although commemoration of the war dead is contested and is more individualistic in its expression, it relies on repertoire and practices that are embedded in everyday life and the frameworks provided by ‘sacred’ ceremonial occasions.

 
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