As a starting point for this blog, and for Thursday’s discussion, please watch the following YouTube video comparing a US military ad with that of the Nordic Battlegroup.
Question: What does military say about national identity? – US vs. EU
As the video above shows, a military can evoke strong nationalist sentiment or, in the case of the Nordic Battlegroup, a supranational EU-sponsored military group, it can avoid national symbols altogether and instead focus on humanitarian aid. So, the question is, to what extent can a military encourage or discourage nationalism?
American culture and identity are historically linked to the country’s military and the wars it has participated in. The US was created out of the Revolutionary War, it was held together because of the Civil War, and the US arguably became the world’s sole superpower during and after World War II. It was also at this time that American ‘patriotism’ perhaps peaked.
While wars often create states – that is, geopolitical entities – wars created a nation in the United States. The US is a nation that universally embraces its military and its citizens are expected to be supportive of it at all times. With the exception of those labelled extremists, even staunch anti-war Americans would be quick to proclaim their support for the troops.
The bumper sticker seen above is one example. But the military is an institutionalized part of American society; the flag is seen as supporting the troops who defend it, military jets fly over the Super Bowl at the culmination of the Star Spangled Banner (even if Christina Aguilera is singing), and Veteran’s Day is a national holiday. The Star Spangled Banner, by the way, was written by Francis Scott Key as he watched the Americans defend Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. So, one might claim that American identity and ‘patriotism’ partially stemmed from and have been maintained by the country’s constant military presence.
The ad for the United States Marines reflects this connection, mentioning the ‘courage’ that it requires to join and the ‘honor’ it provides those who are part of this elite group of soldiers. Set to a dramatic and emotional dramatic orchestral background, the video reminds its viewers that those in the Marines are serving for the good of their country, after which it shows a Marine standing proudly in front of an American flag. This overt sense of national pride is commonplace in American military ads, and contrasts well with the lack of symbols and national emblems seen in the Nordic Battlegroup ad.
Overall, in the case of the United States Marines video, the military is romanticized and portrayed as an institution of national pride. It focuses on the prestige associated with enlisting in the Marines and serving one’s country, a stark difference when compared to the EU-sponsored ad, which focuses more on a humanitarian, nation-less perspective.
The primary difference, of course, is that one advertisement represents the military of one country, while the other represents a multinational entity, still in the early stages of its development. As we move on to discuss the EU battlegroup, continue to consider the impact that military has on nationalism. Also, consider how a nation’s/region’s political history is linked to the development of its military.
The Nordic Battlegroup/European Union
As we can see from the Nordic recruitment clip, many European countries are increasingly forming military alliances and recruiting on that basis. The Nordic battle group is one of eighteen European battle groups. It consists of around 2,200 soldiers including officers, with manpower contributed from the five participating countries Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland and Estonia. As a supranational military it is not possible to hinge this group on any single national affiliation or sense of duty. This explains the lack of national symbols in the clip and its evocation of humanitarianism rather than patriotism. How do these European battle groups and indeed a European army compare to national armies such as the US?
….A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH?
The prospect of a ‘European Army’ may have been once considered the dream of delirious Europhiles. However, is the dream on its way to becoming reality? Consider recent developments:
- In the last year, countries such as Germany and Sweden have abolished their compulsory national military service.
- In 2008, British defence secretary, John Hutton publicly supported the idea – a significant U-turn for the UK. The top three E.U. military spenders, U.K. / France and Germany, were in agreement.
- Alliances such as the Anglo-French Treaty (2010) – a pragmatic solution to dramatic cuts in national defence budgets.
- Aloys Rigaut, President of European Liberal Youth (LYMEC), has highlighted the potential benefits: ‘EU Member States have some 1.9 million soldiers, i.e. 50 percent more than the United States, yet the effectiveness of these armies is one-tenth of the U.S. military. We also have 27 armies, 27 airforces, 27 procurement agencies, etc. A common European military force would be much more efficient economically and effective militarily!’
So….what are the implications of this ambitious project on European nationalisms?
- Is a national military important for national self-image?
- Would people be as willing to die for a political institution as they would their homeland?
- As a multi-national entity, would a Euro Army erode or protect individual nationalisms?
NOTE: the current attitude of the New Flemish Alliance. The separatist party wants Belgium to evaporate within the E.U. and a decisive shift of power to Flanders: ‘Danny Pieters, the N-VA president of the Belgian Senate, says he sees no need for a Flemish army as one day Belgian forces will be part of a European one. For the N-VA, Europe is the acid that will help to dissolve Belgium’. (http://www.economist.com/node/18008272).
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