If nationalism is the assertion of legitimacy for a nation and its effectiveness as a political entity, why do many nations emphasize images of their own defeat in understanding their history? Using Israel, Serbia, France, Greece and Ghana as examples, the author argues that this phenomenon exposes the ambivalence that lurks behind the passions nationalism evokes. Symbols of defeat glorify a nation's ancient past, while reenacting the destruction of that past as a necessary step in constructing a functioning modern society. As a result, these symbols often assume a foundational role in national mythology. Threats to such symbols are perceived as threats to the nation itself and consequently are met with desperation difficult for outsiders to understand.
Steven J. Mock is a Morrison Fellow in Peace and Conflict Studies at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and teaches courses on nationalism, ethnic conflict and power sharing in the Political Science Department of the University of Waterloo. Mock is a past chair of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism and a former editor and current member of the international advisory board for the journal Nations and Nationalism. Working on issues related to racism, ethnic conflict and genocide and traveling extensively in Europe the Balkans and the Middle East piqued his interest in methods and theories for modeling symbols of identity and the emotions they evoke in conflict situations.
1. Theories of nations and nationalism; 2. Totem sacrifice and national identity; 3. Symbols of defeat in national monument and ritual; 4. The defeat narrative in national myth and symbol; 5. Implications to politics and diplomacy; 6. Exceptions.