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For as long as there have been nations, there have been those willing to fight and die for

them. There
have also been those willing to commit atrocities for them. This seemingly-blind devotion to one's
fatherland has persisted throughout history, and gone by many names. In the time of Chaucer, it was
part of the code of chivalry. At the dawn of the industrial age, it was nationalism. And in modern times,
we call it patriotism. Patriotism plays a different role in every society, and while there are many different
studies on how it can shape a culture, there are but a scant few on how it is shaped by culture. This
paper will attempt to describe exactly how the aspects of a society can affect its patriotic beliefs, and is
structured as follows:
Section 1: Patriotism in the Past
The American Revolution
The Third Reich
Section 2: Propaganda - The Propagator of Patriotism
Uncle Sam - Fighting for the Fatherland
Nazism - Propaganda as a Way of Life
Section 3: Patriotism and Pretension
The Western Way
USA: Number One!

Patriotism in the Past

As mentioned in the introduction, patriotism is not a new concept, dating back to the farthest reaches of
antiquity, with one of the earliest recorded examples being at the Battle of Thermopylae, in which a
force of seven thousand Greeks fought in a suicidal last stand against the hundred-thousand strong
Persian army. While the Greeks initially succeeded in beating back the Persian onslaught, the tables
were eventually turned, and although a majority of the Greeks fled when this happened, a group of
fourteen-hundred Greeks stayed behind and kept fighting, eventually being slaughtered to the last man.
Despite this 'loss', the battle bought enough time for the rest of the Greeks to prepare their navy for
battle, and later win the war. Tales of the bravery of the Greeks in Thermopylae quickly spread
throughout the western world, and the event is referenced even today as a patriotic cultural icon.
As time progressed and nations grew, so too did the influence of patriotism, eventually reaching a peak
near the end of the colonial period. In Europe, Prussia had begun to unite the German people, and
farther east, a group of Slavs had conquered half of a continent in the name of mother Russia. However,

perhaps the country most greatly affected and influenced by patriotism was the newly-formed United
States across the sea, which was founded upon patriotic ideals from the start.

The American Revolution

Like all of the nations in the New World, the United States began as a colony, tied to its mother
nation both militarily and economically. However, these ties weakened over time, and
eventually the people of England's thirteen colonies didn't see themselves as English anymore.
They were Americans, and unwilling to submit to a 'foreign' overlord. Even after they became
an independent nation, they kept independence and freedom as their chief ideals, growing to
cover a third of a continent and becoming the enforcers of 'freedom' across the globe. Whether
or not freedom was actually being enforced is debatable, but so long as the people believed
that they were carrying out their grand ideal, they could be persuaded to do nearly anything.

The Third Reich

While there are mixed views on the patriotism used by the Americans, there has also been
patriotism used almost completely for evil. When the Nazi regime took over Germany and
began the second world war, they made use of propaganda and nationalist ideals in order to
commit a genocide. Before open war broke out, they were merely 'uniting the Germanspeaking people' and 'recovering the fatherland's lost territory'. And after the war broke out
they made out the groups that opposed them to be the scourge of the Earth and subhuman in
order to motivate their people to fight. While it can be difficult to get people to fight for a good
cause, it is borderline impossible to get them to fight for an evil one without impressive
propaganda to whip them into a frenzy. Even though the regime was eventually crushed,
they've left a lasting fear of nationalism and propaganda in Europe, which goes to show just
how much damage can be caused when people have been whipped into a frenzy by patriotism.

Uncle Sam - Fighting for the Fatherland

One of the most effective tactics when making propaganda is making it relatable to its
audience, and there are few way to make something more relatable than by personifying it.
One of the most famous of these personifications is Uncle Sam, representing the United States
as a whole, and a cornerstone of most pieces of American propaganda. Appearing most
famously in a recruitment poster for World War 1, he's a fatherly or avuncular figure meant to
remind everyone not only of the country that they're fighting for, but also of the people that

they're protecting. Even outside of wartime, he serves as the country's mascot, and has
survived even into the modern day. One has to wonder however whether Uncle Sam's longevity
says anything about the USA's militaristic nature. After all, there would be no need for him to
want us to enlist were we not always fighting someone to enforce freedom or put down a

Nazism - Propaganda as a Way of Life

While most countries used patriotic personifications during the first and second world wars, the
Nazi regime took things several steps further, using their propaganda as a metaphorical
bludgeon in order to convince their people that they were in the moral right. The youth
especially were targeted, with books such as The Poisonous Mushroom and Trust no Fox issued
in order to turn children against Jews at an early age. As these children grew older, they were
advised to join organizations such as the Hitler Youth, and after that, they were directed
towards the war effort. By targeting children before they could develop a sense of morals, the
regime ensured that their wrong and right were the same as the wrong and right of the people.
This, combined with the already militaristic and expansionist tendencies of the German state,
converted a large portion of the nation to Nazism, which had an almost religious level of zeal
behind it once the war was in full swing.
Germany's allies also had similar levels of zeal during this time. In Italy, Mussolini used history
to his advantage, inspiring the people with tales of Rome, and speaking of how Italy would once
again become a great power. And in Japan, the people worshipped their emperor as a divine
being, and were so devoted to him that they refused to end the war even after the atomic
bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, waiting instead for the emperor to give his
official statement of surrender. An eerie blend of these three types of propaganda can also be
seen in today's North Korea, where the despot Kim Jung Un is worshipped as a god, and
everything from the schools to the stores to the loudspeakers in the streets is meant to enforce
the idea that the US and the western world as a whole are a group of savages who want to see
the entire world burned to the ground.

The Western Way

As has been mentioned, propaganda has the ability to become a very dangerous thing, due to
its tendency to create lopsided and unrealistic views of the world. A very clear example of this
can actually be seen during the Age of Exploration, where western countries would routinely
invade foreign lands, bringing with them 'culture', 'civilization', and 'sophistication'. While the

Europeans genuinely believed that they were doing just that, this behavior was the cause for
the genocide of the American natives and the destruction of countless ways of life because
theirs was 'better'. This behavior also led to the start of the Atlantic slave trade and later on the
deeply rooted racism that many former colonies still have trouble with today. Europe went
from being a relatively unimportant peninsula to the center of all things civilized, and even
today the word 'western' tends to be used as a synonym for culture and correctness.


As was mentioned before, the United States has always had patriotism as a particularly deeply
rooted part of its society, and one could argue today that patriotism is higher than it has ever
been. Unlike Europe, who avoided war and patriotism after experiencing the second world war
firsthand, the United States continued to involve itself in foreign military affairs, and still does
so with a passion even to this day. Russia, our old enemy during the Cold War, also had the
same tendencies, although they too died down after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving
the USA alone in its nice as 'the world's policeman'. Whether we're fighting the Vietnamese, the
Koreans, or the various despots in the Middle East, we always have the people in a frenzy,
cheering "USA! USA!" with a fervor that most nations reserve only for sporting events and
matters of religion. We've also come to see ourselves as superior to the rest of the world in
some way, perhaps because of our massively funded military that we are always showing off in
far-off wars. With the events of 9/11/2001, we've also been given a 'perfect' enemy of sorts.
Unlike Russia or Germany which are countries that can be forced to surrender, terrorism is an
idea which can't simply be invaded. Because of this, we always have someone to fight, so
there's always someone to direct our ever-growing fervor towards.

Works Cited
Brewer, Susan A. Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq. Oxford:
Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
"The Most Famous Poster (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress." The Most Famous Poster
(Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
"Nazi Propaganda." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 20 June
2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
Sobel, Robert. The Origins of Interventionism; the United States and the Russo-Finnish War. New York: Bookman
Associates, 1961. Print.