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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Nationalism, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 9 of 9
1. Wedding Days


When the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality was announced, a friend who'd just heard a snippet of news texted me: "Is it true?"

"Yes," I replied. "My mothers' marriage must now be recognized in all 50 states."

This is true and wonderful. As others have pointed out, the ruling lets marriage just be marriage, without the modifiers that have dominated the discourse of the last fifteen years or so — it is no longer gay marriage or same-sex marriage or traditional marriage, just marriage. (Although marriage between two people only. Polyamory is still mind-bending to the mainstream.)

Inevitably, and immediately, there were countless thinkpieces written, plus plenty of grandstanding and righteous gnashing by people who disagreed with the Court's majority decision. Also, and just as inevitably, there were the folks who see marriage of any sort as a tool of neoliberalism and oppression. It really takes a special sort of self-righteousness to pour contempt on millions of people's celebrations. And as political strategy it's pretty stupid, since standing off to the side being Comrade Grumbly McGrumblepuss is not likely to build much of a movement. (Responding to "We're so happy!" with "NO! You are not ideologically pure!" has rarely led to good revolutions.) But hey, each to their own. I will defend to the death your right to be a wet, mildewy blanket.

But I get it, too. I have quite a few friends in committed relationships who have no desire to get married. (Now they can get harassed about their unmarried status in all the states unmarried straight couples can get harassed in!) And as much as I celebrated the ruling, because it has significant positive material consequences in the lives of so many people I know and love, as a contentedly single person I was unsettled by what Richard Kim called the "sentimental, barfy, single-shaming kicker" at the end of Justice Kennedy's written decision, in which Kennedy and the co-signing justices (one of whom, Elena Kagan, has never married) extol marriage as embodying "the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family", etc. Rebecca Traister writes:
This will come as news to the millions of people who aim their love, fidelity, sacrifice, and devotion high, but in directions other than at a spouse. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were,” Kennedy continues, just hammering it home: Married partnership, according to the Supreme Court, is not only a terrific institution into which we rightly should welcome all loving and willing entrants, it is an arrangement which apparently improves the individuals who enter it, that makes them greater than they were on their own. Those who have previously not been allowed to marry, Kennedy avers, should not be “condemned to live in loneliness,” as if the opposite of marriage must surely be a life sentence of abject misery.
As Traister goes on to say, plenty of married people are lonely and plenty unmarried people are not. The freedom to marry must also include the freedom not to marry. Marriage isn't everything. But it's also not nothing.

I am thrilled for my mothers' marriage (which began as a civil partnership when that became legal in New Hampshire, and then turned into a marriage when the law changed) because it's a relationship that works well for them in all sorts of different ways, including the very real benefits it provides for taxes, health care, etc. It's what they need and what they want.

I don't ever expect to be married myself. I never have expected to. Even if I met somebody I wanted to settle down with (an alien idea to me at this point), I have a hard time imagining my personality changing enough to want the kind of celebration a wedding involves. I can imagine that at a certain point the legal and financial benefits become worthwhile, even if it's unfortunate that they must be codified in this particular institution, but wedding ceremonies are ... well, I'll just say it's okay if you don't invite me to your wedding and I hope you won't mind if I just send a card or gift or something instead of attending. But that's me. You should be happy in the ways you can be happy.

When the Supreme Court first agreed to hear Obergefell v. Hodges, my mother and I were driving somewhere and she asked, "Did you ever think this sort of thing would happen in your lifetime?" and I thought for a moment and replied, "I don't really remember what I expected, but I know I didn't expect it would be marriage!"

When I was a college student in New York in the mid-'90s, just getting acquainted with queer politics and activism, I vividly remember how much I loathed Andrew Sullivan and his book Virtually Normal. Sullivan was all respectability politics all the time, and he was exactly the sort of blithely bourgeois conservative queer I would have rather died than become. His vision was a powerful one, though, because he recognized that a lot of gay people, perhaps the majority, really really wanted to be respectable, really really wanted to enter into mainstream institutions, really really wanted not to revolutionize society but to be able to participate more equally in it. One hugely meaningful path toward mainstream respectability is marriage, which carries immense symbolic weight. More importantly, marriage is something so common to the traditions of everyday society that it is entirely legible and normalizing. To speak of someone as my husband or my wife is to add a whole set of immediately clear meanings to a relationship, even as those meanings shift over time. While people may be used to thinking of the husband or wife as the "opposite sex", it's not all that hard to begin to adjust, because the meaning of the words is so well established.

You'll still have to pry my copy of Michael Warner's The Trouble with Normal out of my cold, dead hands, but these days I better value the ways that normal can be reconstituted, the ways a million tiny revolutions can lead to something big. Giving a commencement speech at RISD recently, self-declared "filth elder" John Waters said, "I didn’t change. Society did." A worthy goal. Don't change yourself, change your world. Even if that change is incremental, even if it doesn't right all the economic and social wrongs of our ever so violently wrong economy and society.

I've just begun reading A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster by Wendy Moffat, which begins with a prologue telling the story of Christopher Isherwood's receipt of the manuscript of Maurice shortly after Forster died in 1970 at the age of 91. Isherwood had first read the manuscript in 1933, and for decades had encouraged Forster to publish it, but the best he could do was convince Forster to allow publication after his death. That was why he received a typescript of Maurice and some of Forster's unpublished homoerotic stories, which he immediately shared with John Lehmann, (an old friend who'd encouraged Leonard and Virginia Woolf to publish Isherwood's first novel, The Memorial):
The typescript was weighed down by the care so many had taken to preserve it for so long. It was heavy with a history of stealth. For six decades Forster had nurtured it in secret, painstakingly revising and adding chapters. He commissioned two wondrously named lady typists — Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Snatchfold — to copy the contraband manuscript in pieces, to protect them from the novel's secrets. He carefully kept track of each copy of the typescript, requesting that the chosen reader return it to a safely neutral location... Late in old age, when he was almost eighty-five, Forster reflected on the cost of this lifetime effort: "How annoyed I am with Society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges, the self-consciousness that might have been avoided."
Heavy with a history of stealth.

More and more, that destructive, terrible need for stealth can be relegated to history, and the effort of bearing that history will be shared and thus less painful, less difficult. More and more, the energy necessary to survive in a world of hate, the energy that fueled subterfuges and self-consciousness, can be dispensed with or repurposed toward healthier, and perhaps even revolutionary, goals.

And we do still need those goals. Marriage equality is not queer liberation. Marriage equality is not economic justice. Marriage equality is not the end of racism, the end of transphobia, the end of violence. It is not universal health care, it is not a guaranteed living wage, it is not the abolition of police violence or the end of the New Jim Crow or a reconfiguration of how we think about punishment and mercy or any number of social changes that I, at least, desire.

But it is not nothing.

Nationalism and homonationalism reared up after the Supreme Court's ruling, perhaps most vividly with the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. singing the paean to war that is the U.S. national anthem, and with the video of a conservative pundit proclaiming the marrying kind to be patriots, and with much else — but even as I resist it I'm still embroiled in our patriotic mythology, and I hope these sentiments can be put to good use. Seeing the pictures of the White House lit as a rainbow never fails to move me, and looking at newspaper front pages from every state declaring the decision was breathtaking — so many pictures of happy people embracing each other, kissing each other — across the country — images that not long ago would have been assumed to be somehow disgusting or even pornographic, presented alongside stories seething with superciliousness — but now so much of the superciliousness is gone, and the stories share the celebration — across the country—

Twenty years ago, did I ever think this sort of thing would happen in my lifetime? No, I can't say that I did. Were I to go back in a time machine and take some of those newspaper front pages to my self in the 1990s, what would that self say?

"Imagine that," he might say, shaking his head, bemused and perhaps a bit awed. "Imagine that..."

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2. Rotten fish and Belfast confetti

Winston Churchill’s Victory broadcast of 13 May 1945, in which he claimed that but for Northern Ireland’s “loyalty and friendship” the British people “should have been confronted with slavery or death,” is perhaps the most emphatic assertion that the Second World War entrenched partition from the southern state and strengthened the political bond between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Two years earlier, however, in private correspondence with US President Roosevelt, Churchill had written disparagingly of the young men of Belfast, who unlike their counterparts in Britain were not subject to conscription, loafing around “with their hands in their pockets,” hindering recruitment and the vital work of the shipyards.

Churchill’s role as a unifying figure, galvanising the war effort through wireless broadcasts and morale-boosting public appearances, is much celebrated in accounts of the British Home Front. The further away from London and the South East of England that one travels, however, the more questions should be asked of this simplistic narrative. Due to Churchill’s actions as Liberal Home Secretary during the 1910 confrontations between miners and police in South Wales, for example, he was far less popular in Wales, and indeed in Scotland, than in England during the war. But in Northern Ireland, too, Churchill was a controversial figure at this time. The roots of this controversy are to be found in events that took place more than a quarter of a century before, in 1912.

Then First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was booed on arrival in Belfast that February, before his car was attacked and his effigy brandished by a mob of loyalist demonstrators. Later at Belfast Celtic Football Ground he was cheered by a crowd of five thousand nationalists as he spoke in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. Churchill was not sympathetic to the Irish nationalist cause but believed that Home Rule would strengthen the Empire and the bond between Britain and Ireland; he also saw this alliance as vital to the defence of the United Kingdom.

Churchill Side Image
Winston Churchill As Prime Minister 1940-1945 by Cecil Beaton, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Loyalists were outraged. Angry dockers hurled rotten fish at Churchill and his wife Clementine as they left the city; historian and novelist Hugh Shearman reported that their car was diverted to avoid thousands of shipyard workers who had lined the route with pockets filled with “Queen’s Island confetti,” local slang for rivet heads. (Harland and Wolff were at this time Belfast’s largest employer, and indeed one of the largest shipbuilding firms in the world; at the time of the Churchills’ visit the Titanic was being fitted out.)

Two years later in March 1914 Churchill made a further speech in Bradford in England, calling for a peaceful solution to the escalating situation in Ulster and arguing that the law in Ireland should be applied equally to nationalists and unionists without preference. Three decades later, this speech was widely reprinted and quoted in several socialist and nationalist publications in Northern Ireland, embarrassing the unionist establishment by highlighting their erstwhile hostility to the most prominent icon of the British war effort. Churchill’s ignominious retreat from Belfast in 1912 was also raised by pamphleteers and politicians who sought to exploit a perceived hypocrisy in the unionist government’s professed support for the British war effort as it sought to suppress dissent within the province. One socialist pamphlet attacked unionists by arguing that “The Party which denied freedom of speech to a member of the British Government before it became the Government of Northern Ireland is not likely to worry overmuch about free speech for its political opponents after it became the Government.”

And in London in 1940 Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club published a polemic by the Dublin-born republican activist Jim Phelan, startlingly entitled Churchill Can Unite Ireland. In this Phelan expressed hopes that Churchill’s personality itself could effect positive change in Ireland. He saw Churchill as a figure who could challenge what Phelan called “punctilio,” the adherence to deferential attitudes that kept vested interests in control of the British establishment. Phelan identified a cultural shift in Britain following Churchill’s replacement of Chamberlain as Prime Minister, characterised by a move towards plain speaking: he argued that for the first time since the revolutionary year of 1848 “people are saying and writing what they mean.”

Jim Phelan’s ideas in Churchill Can Unite Ireland were often fanciful, but they alert us to the curious patterns of debate that can be found away from more familiar British narratives of the Second World War. Here a proud Irish republican could assert his faith in a British Prime Minister with a questionable record in Ireland as capable of delivering Irish unity.

Despite publically professed loyalty to the British war effort, unionist mistrust of the London government in London endured over the course of the war, partly due to Churchill’s perceived willingness to deal with Irish Taoiseach Éamon de Valera. Phelan’s book concluded with the words: “Liberty does not grow on trees; it must be fought for. Not ‘now or never’. Now.” Eerily these lines presaged the infamous telegram from Churchill to de Valera following the bombing of Pearl Harbor the following year in 1941, which, it is implied, offered Irish unity in return for the southern state’s entry into the war on the side of Allies, and read in part “Now is your chance. Now or never. A Nation once again.”

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3. Guest Columnist: Lisa Alvarado interviews Luz Maria Umpierre.

Lisa Alvarado - Interview with Luz Maria Umpierre


Luz Maria Umpierre has wrought a legacy, a challenge, a history, a love letter, a sinuous and sentient record of personal identity, revealing the crosshatched scars and singing victories of a warrior, the yielding body and the body politic in
"I'm still standing- 30 Years of Poetry -available through her website http://luzmaumpierre.com

"Luz Maria Umpierre is, quite simply, one of my heroes in a postmodern world that insists on rid­ding us of icons and pedestals in an attempt to level all people and institu­tions. Paradoxically, some institutions seem to merit such debasement when they never miss an opportunity to hound the historically marginal­ized and alternative voices out of the academy." Dr.Eric Pennington (Seton Hall)

She is an established scholar in the fields of Puerto Rican, Caribbean, Latina/o Studies, Poetry, and Gender Studies, with multiple publications in leading journals, including Hispania, Latin American Theatre Review, Revista do Estudios Hispánicos, Bilingual Review, Chasqui, Explicación do Textos Literarios, Chicana/Latina Studies and The Americas Review. Co-founder of the journal, Third Woman. Also published in internet journals, including La Acera, Diálogo Digital, Cruce and La Bloga.

Author of two books of literary criticism, ten collections of bilingual poetry, numerous book chapters and over 50 articles of literary criticism on Latin American scholars and writers from several generations, including a seminal article on writers and migration published in MELUS in 2002 and currently included in an anthology of essays in honor of Isabel Allende.

Her collected works and personal papers currently housed at De Paul University, Latina rare book collection housed at Bryn Mawr College.

She is recognized internationally as an authority on the interdisciplinary study of Literature, the Social Sciences, History and Language, especially regarding race, culture, gender identity and ethnicity. Complete list of publications available on request.

What do you believe is the purpose of poetry?
The purpose of poetry is to liberate the spirit, our soul, so that it has a concrete expression that is palpable. And as Julia Alvarez said in one of my favorite poems of all times, to be able to say "Whoever reads this poem, touches a woman." I am hoping that I am quoting her correctly because my copy of her book is at my rare book collection at Bryn Mawr. I can and will accept to be corrected in my quote but not in my idea. LOL

What do you consider to be "Latino/a" themes?
All themes are Latina themes. It is the vision or the approach we take as Latinas what gives them a sabor or authenticity that is ours. For example, many years ago I took Vanguardista poetry which was highly non-politicized and turned it into political poetry. From there, for example, emerged my Poemas Concretistas.

To say that there are Latina themes is to reduce us. Granted there are subject matters such as identity that we explore more than other groups of writers but I would not say that there are Latina themes and non Latina themes. All themes are human themes and that is overall the most important theme to me.

Describe the intersection of sexual identity and culture as it lives in your writing?
I learned from Audre Lorde years and years ago that I cannot be asked to divide my Self into separate pieces of identity and ignore some in favor of others. That to me would be mutilation. I refuse to mutilate my rich identity for the sake of pleasing the eye of a beholder or for an aesthetics of a political correctdness of beauty. Thus all aspects of my identity and culture live in harmony in my works.

What would you say to critics of your lesbian-identified work?
That they get a life and start living in the 21st. century. I never forced them to leave their heterosexist and nationalist macho agenda views through meanness, non inclusion or actual shuning. On the contrary, I questioned them publicly and made my dissenting opinions known to them. I did not go back stabbing them, making calls to bad mouth them into being denied jobs, I did not refuse to teach them in my classes. To the contrary, I included them because I wanted to have an open dialogue about difference. But "I'm Still Standing" as the only dancer on that inclusion floor because some of these people are so petty that they refuse to engage me in public and face to face or, as Lorraine Sutton marvelously said in one of her poems: "to cunt-front" me.

How has academia enhanced/impinged upon your creative process?
They have always wanted to deny me a claim to my poetry as an academic achievement. However, I have not allowed them to infringe on my freedom to write. I have used my academic struggles precisely to question antics and tactics in academia and make fun, mock and criticize their elitism and snobbery.

Who are some authors who move you and why?
 Adrienne Rich, her book The Dream of A Common Language has been my Bible since the 1980s. Nemir Matos Cintron has poems in her collections A través del aire y del fuego pero no del cristal and in Aliens in NYC that have made me cry time and time again because of her portrayal of genuine human identity angst. I recently re/read a poem by Ana Castillo entitled: "I Ask The Impossible" and I am afraid that I ruined the Thai Lemon Tilapia dish that I was eating while reading it because I began to cry uncontrollably. I feel that we have all have wanted to be loved that way and her poem is a voicing of a human need that I had never read exposed in poetry. Lorde also moved me with some of her poems on women. Marge Piercy's book The Moon is Always Female has some of my favorite poems of all times because of her delving into what constitutes to be a strong woman. Julia de Burgos, of course she is part of our collective unconscious as Puerto Ricans. The theme of the river in her poetry and the sea attracts me.

What are some thoughts you would share with newer poetas/poetisas/Nuyorican poets?
To remember that many people paved a path for them and they should be honored, not bullied, harassed, shunned and most importantly, not disrespected.

I think Puerto Rican poets of the younger generation have no respect towards their elders, their sages, those who broke a path for them now to enjoy. They are not like other Latina groups. I am marveled by the respect of Mexican Americans towards their wiser older Latinas/Latinos something that is totally lacking among young poets be they Puerto Rican or Nuyorican.

I would like to let them know that one day they will inevitably be older and if they do not change their ways and attitudes, they too will be the subject of disrespect.

What sustains your creative and spiritual longevity?
The power to love, to find love, to see everything with fresh eyes, to be able to marvel at beauty and to be passionate about living. But also, as the poem says: "To be of use."

3 Comments on Guest Columnist: Lisa Alvarado interviews Luz Maria Umpierre., last added: 9/8/2012
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4. National Literature

From address given by Sema Kaygusuz, translated by Caroline Stockford:

If I were to have to talk personally of what drives my own writing I would quite naturally have to step outside the framework of national literature. In fact, all of the world’s writers are actually stateless. Like many of them, I too have a feeling of separation that cannot be alleviated, a deep feeling of exile and disquietude within stemming from feeling cut off from nature. I too feel the discord of not being able to conform to hierarchical time and the resulting sensation of innate fragmentation that comes from this. On the other hand, when, as a being endowed with memory, I try to create for myself an intellectual framework I find myself experiencing a narcissistically comforting feeling that comes from being an inhabitant of a geography that has deep historical roots spread from the Mediterranean basin to Mesopotamia and from the Middle East to Anatolia. In other words, thanks to something primeval I am able to confront the feeling of statelessness. This intellectual geography is, for me, made up of all the celestial religions, the Greek gods, the myths of Sumeria, the Persian poets and Arab philosophers, Jewish cabalists, Armenian legends, Kurdish dengbejs, Hellenic architecture, the horticultural skill of the early farmers of Rum who domesticated the vine, the traditional Shamanistic practices of the Turkmen tribes, Gypsy songs and the crafts and narratives of numerous peoples. But then the minute that I leave Turkey I am labelled absolutely and exclusively as a female writer who is Turkish and Muslim and I am only accepted by some literary circles if I bear these tags. The emphasis is always on these aspects.

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5. Grammar Nazis - Lily Hyde


A couple of weeks ago I was at the Lviv Publisher’s Forum, talking about the Ukrainian translation of my novel Dream Land. This annual forum in the West Ukrainian city of Lviv fills libraries, universities, coffee houses and theatres with a bewildering array of readings, discussions, concerts and lectures. Highlights for me were an all-night poetry slam, a Crimean Tatar-Ukrainian jazz fusion performance, meeting Lviv publishers Stary Lev, and a session with authors Oksana Zabuzhko from Ukraine and Katerina Tuckova from the Czech Republic held in a fabulous, faded Baroque theatre than could have been a Hammer horror film set. 

In-between, there was time to wander the cobbled streets with their glorious central-European architecture. Over the last hundred years Lviv has changed its name four times as it has belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, the Soviet Union and Ukraine. It’s seen its fair share of 20th century horrors, and has a largely undeserved reputation for extreme nationalism. In fact, it feels like a city that is confident and at ease with its identity: consciously cultured; literary; tolerant; polyglot; central-European. 

This is a sign I noticed on a Lviv trolleybus window. Printed by the nationalist political party Svoboda, it is instructions in public transport etiquette: how to buy a ticket, ask the driver to stop and so on in polite, correct Ukrainian. “This may be a case when the term ‘grammar Nazi’ isn’t exactly an exaggeration,” a non-Ukrainian friend commented when he saw it. 

It made me think about the line between being proud of one’s language and heritage, and wanting to impose it on those from other heritages. Much of the publisher’s forum was about cultural exchange and translation, a celebration of how literature can bridge national divides. But this year, for the first time in 23 years, Russian publishers were not invited to attend.

The decision roused much furious debate and anxious soul-searching in literary circles. Russian and Russian-language books, publishers and bookshops have dominated the Ukrainian literary market for 23 years. A recent spate of openly anti-Ukrainian literature from mainstream Russian publishers undoubtedly influenced the forum decision. But when does pride and protectionism become chauvinism and censorship? Does wanting to protect one’s own language, and encouraging people to speak it correctly and beautifully, make someone a ‘Nazi’?


            

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6. Gentlemen, Samurai, and Germans in China

One hundred years ago today, far from the erupting battlefields of Europe, a small German force in the city of Tsingtau (Qingdao), Germany’s most important possession in China, was preparing for an impending siege. The small fishing village of Qingdao and the surrounding area had been reluctantly leased to the German Empire by the Chinese government for 99 years in 1898, and German colonists soon set about transforming this minor outpost into a vibrant city boasting many of the comforts of home, including the forerunner of the now-famous Tsingtao Brewery. By 1914, Qingdao had over 50,000 residents and was the primary trading port in the region. Given its further role as the base for the Far East Fleet of the Imperial German Navy, however, Qingdao was unable to avoid becoming caught up in the faraway European war.

The forces that besieged Qingdao in the autumn of 1914 were composed of troops from Britain and Japan, the latter entering the war against Germany in accord with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The Alliance had been agreed in 1902 amid growing anxiety in Britain regarding its interests in East Asia, and rapidly modernizing Japan was seen as a useful ally in the region. For Japanese leaders, the signing of such an agreement with the most powerful empire of the day was seen as a major diplomatic accomplishment and an acknowledgement of Japan’s arrival as one of the world’s great powers. More immediately, the Alliance effectively guaranteed the neutrality of third parties in Japan’s looming war with Russia, and Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 sent shockwaves across the globe as the first defeat of a great European empire by a non-Western country in a conventional modern war.

Samurai!: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Photo taken by Lorianne DiSabato available on Flickr (Creative Commons).
Samurai!: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. By Lorianne DiSabato. CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0 via Flickr.

In Britain, Japan’s victory was celebrated as a confirmation of the strength of its Asian ally, and represented the peak of a fascination with Japan in Britain that marked the first decade of the twentieth century. This culminated in the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, which saw over eight million visitors pass through during its six-month tenure. In contrast, before the 1890s, Japan had been portrayed in Britain primarily as a relatively backward yet culturally interesting nation, with artists and intellectuals displaying considerable interest in Japanese art and literature. Japan’s importance as a military force was first recognized during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and especially from the time of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan’s military prowess was popularly attributed to a supposedly ancient warrior spirit that was embodied in ‘bushido’, or the ‘way of the samurai’.

The ‘bushido’ ideal was popularized around the world especially through the prominent Japanese educator Nitobe Inazo’s (1862-1933) book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, which was originally published in English in 1900 and achieved global bestseller status around the time of the Russo-Japanese War (a Japanese translation first appeared in 1908). The British public took a positive view towards the ‘national spirit’ of its ally, and many saw Japan as a model for curing perceived social ills. Fabian Socialists such as Beatrice Webb (1858-1943) and Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) lauded the supposed collectivism of ‘bushido’, while Alfred Stead (1877-1933) and other promoters of the Efficiency Movement celebrated Japan’s rapid modernization. For his part, H.G. Wells 1905 novel A Modern Utopia included a ‘voluntary nobility’ called ‘samurai,’ who guided society from atop a governing structure that he compared to Plato’s ideal republic. At the same time, British writers lamented the supposed decline of European chivalry from an earlier ideal, contrasting it with the Japanese who had seemingly managed to turn their ‘knightly code’ into a national ethic followed by citizens of all social classes.

The ‘bushido boom’ in Britain was not mere Orientalization of a distant society, however, but was strongly influenced by contemporary Japanese discourse on the subject. The term ‘bushido’ only came into widespread use around 1900, and even a decade earlier most Japanese would have been bemused by the notion of a national ethic based on the former samurai class. Rather than being an ancient tradition, the modern ‘way of the samurai’ developed from a search for identity among Japanese intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century. This process saw an increasing shift away from both Chinese and European thought towards supposedly native ideals, and the former samurai class provided a useful foundation. The construction of an ethic based on the ‘feudal’ samurai was given apparent legitimacy by the popularity of idealized chivalry and knighthood in nineteenth-century Europe, with the notion that English ‘gentlemanship’ was rooted in that nation’s ‘feudal knighthood’ proving especially influential. This early ‘bushido’ discourse profited from the nationalistic fervor following Japan’s victory over China in 1895, and the concept increasingly came to be portrayed as a unique and ancient martial ethic. At the same time, those theories that had drawn inspiration from European models came to be ignored, with one prominent Japanese promoter of ‘bushido’ deriding European chivalry as ‘mere woman-worship’.

In the first years of the twentieth century, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance contributed greatly to the positive reception in Britain of theories positing a Japanese ‘martial race’, and the fate of ‘bushido’ in the UK demonstrated the effect of geopolitics on theories of ‘national characteristics’. By 1914, British attitudes had begun to change amid increasing concern regarding Japan’s growing assertiveness. Even the Anglo-Japanese operation that finally captured Qingdao in November was marked by British distrust of Japanese aims in China, a sentiment that was strengthened by Japan’s excessive demands on China the following year. Following the war, Japan’s reluctance to return the captured territory to China caused British opposition to Japan’s China policy to increase, leading to the end of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1923. The two countries subsequently drifted even further apart, and by the 1930s, ‘bushido’ was popularly described in Britain as an ethic of treachery and cruelty, only regaining its positive status after 1945 through samurai films and other popular culture as Japan and Britain again became firm allies in the Cold War.

Headline image credit: Former German Governor’s Residence in Qingdao, by Brücke-Osteuropa. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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7. Antiquity Corner: Has the Sun Set on Nationalism?

Casablanca: Victor Laszlo leads the café in singing "La Marseillaise."
As a young, budding historian, I was taught certain axioms–great truisms which, it was believed, provided the key to understanding world affairs in the 20th century. One of the most oft repeated was that nationalism is a force which transcends all other forces. Nationalism, after all, was regarded as one of the five long-range causes of World War I. And combined with the megalomaniacal racism of Adolf Hitler, nationalism made it easier for millions of post-World War I Germans to accept the Nazi belief that they were ein herrenvolk, a master race with a special destiny to rule the world. As a young teacher, I illustrated the transcendent power of nationalism by referencing a scene from the 1940s film Casablanca. In Rick’s Café, an argument between a jealous Vichy French officer and a young woman is interrupted when Victor Lazlo, a leader of the resistance to Nazi rule in Europe, strides to the band and orders them to play the “Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. The French in the café are instantly united, singing their emotion-laden anthem with all their might. At its conclusion, the young woman shouts “Vive l’France!” A riot erupts, with the Vichy French attacking the Germans, who are technically their allies.


Another 20th-century axiom was the belief that “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” British schoolchildren were taught geography by looking at maps on which much of the world was colored red, indicating the many colonies, protectorates, and spheres of influence of the empire in which they were taught to take such pride. Eventually, of course, the sun did set on the British Empire. After World War II, Britain no longer had the resources to control or police their far-flung possessions and were forced to grant independence to their African, Asian, and West Indian subjects. Some elected to join the Commonwealth of Nations, which some contemporary scholars regard as little more than a social club, rather than the remnant of a once-mighty empire. In contemporary Britain, or the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, nationalism is no longer the force it once was. This downward trend was given impetus during the administration of Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997–2007), which implemented a policy of devolution–the transfer of political power and control of domestic affairs from Parliament to elected law-making bodies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In these countries, people have increasingly come to think of themselves as Scots, Welsh, and Ul

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8. What Does the American Flag Symbolize?

Flag Day! What's that? On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the stars and stripes as the nation's flag. In 1916, President Wilson officially proclaimed June 14 to be Flag Day.  Since then, it has been a day to commemorate the American flag. Consider it a warm up for Independence Day.

Like apple pie, the bald eagle, and Lady Liberty, the flag symbolizes our nation: it is a visible sign of invisible things. Look at the pictures in the collection that follows and for each ask yourself the question, "What does the flag represent here?" Share your answers by writing a comment below.

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9. Europe: it’s not all bad

By John McCormick


Few times have been worse than the present to say anything good about the European Union (EU). It has faced many crises over the years, but none have been as serious as the current problems in the eurozone. Since news first broke of the difficulties in Greece in late 2009, pundits and political leaders have been falling over themselves in their efforts to ratchet up the language of doom and gloom. Under the circumstance, euro-optimists might be well-advised to lay low, and certainly they seem hard to find at the moment.

And yet this is the very time to remind ourselves of the achievements of the EU, because if we are to make sensible choices about where we go from here, we will need to have a clear idea of both its successes and its failures. Whatever happens to the euro, the EU is obviously on the brink of some major changes, generated not just by its immediate problems but also by some broader political and philosophical questions about the meaning and purposes of the European project.

Critics have focused on numerous themes in their recent attacks on the EU, among which is the recurring question of just what it means to be European. The EU is regularly accused of lacking clear purpose, and conventional wisdom suggests that Europeans have too little in common to weather the crises. After decades of convergence, we are now often told that Europeans are moving apart, with a growing backlash against European integration and – more specifically – a right-wing reaction against immigration, and talk of the failure of multiculturalism.

In truth, however, Europeans have a great deal in common , but they are often the last to realize this because they are repeatedly told about their differences, and the EU is repeatedly castigated for its lack of leadership and its failure to make a mark as an actor in the international system. The result is that many can no longer see the wood for the trees. It is only when we compare the European experience with that of other parts of the world that the patterns begin to emerge.

One of the clearest examples of Europeanism (if we understand this term as meaning the distinctive set of values and preferences that drive choices and preferences in Europe) is its secularism. Where support for organized religion is growing in almost every other part of the world, in Europe it is declining, and this is impacting the way Europeans think about politics, science, social relations, and moral questions.

Another example is offered by the redefinition of the role of states. It was in Europe that the Westphalian state system was born, and yet Europeans since the end of the Second World War have been reviewing their association with states: more are thinking of themselves as Europeans, while identity with nations has been growing. Meanwhile, Europeans have been rejecting traditional notions of patriotism, which – thanks to its long association with nationalism – has a bad reputation in Europe.

On the international front, the Europeanist model is notable for its support of civilian over military means for dealing with threats to security, its support for multilateralism over unilateralism, a

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