USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Nationalism and Conflict

With rise and rapid spread of nationalism, there was, forming in the distance, like a thunderstorm, a volatile mix of elements. There was a rising sense of inclusion and exclusion developing in each state and within each national movement. Minorities, who lived within larger states, increasingly rejected the legitimacy of that state’s rule on nationalist grounds. Serbs, Croats, Czechs, Poles, Slovenes, Greeks, Romanians, Hungarians, the Irish, the Basque, the Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Slovakians, and more desired freedom from imperial, foreign governments. In addition to this, there was an increasing notion of national hierarchy, which was beginning to be linked to ethnicity and race. Germans, for example, saw themselves as more civilized than Slavs and Jews, the English more civilized than the Irish, and so on. Above all, as the idea of the nation became more concrete and real to the masses of participants in new parliamentary governments, competition between nations increased sharply. This nationalist competition created the atmosphere for the sudden wave of new European imperialism in Africa and Asia in the late 19th century. What started in the 15th century as a race for markets, trade, and merchant profit became in the late 19th century a race for raw materials, colonial subjects, strategic naval and military positions, and, ultimately, an increased slice of the global economic pie (or at least the imaginary pie). The prevailing theory held that if one country’s slice grew, the rest of the pie shrank. England, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Russia, and to some extent Austria and the United States scrambled to seize as much territory as possible. The most extreme cases of such a scramble were the U.S. Navy’s Robert Peary planting a U.S. flag in what he thought was the North Pole in April of 1919 and the race to discover the South Pole, which ended in the 1911 victory of Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who, like Peary, flew his country's flag in the harsh and barren landscape, "claiming" the territory to the surprise of the continent's bemused community of penguins.

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