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During the colonial period, the rise and spread of nationalism caused people to have a
strong sense of unity and identity. This ultimately increased competition among nation-states.
Nationalism essentially gave rise to the ‘us versus them’ mentality, meaning that people from
similar ethnicities came together against other ethnicities. Nationalism brought a great sense of
unity among colonial rulers as well as their colonies.
European leaders believed that they had the right and the authority to rule over other
peoples and lands. They wanted to create the strongest military, Many European people believed
that their nation was better than other European nations. They also developed a strong sense of
pride in their culture, which they believed to be superior to those of their colonies and less
developed nations. These feelings of superiority led to more conquests and competitions within
the empire. The justifications for empire were rooted in the thought that European culture and
way of life were better than the others. The main justifications include evangelization (spread of
Christianity), racial superiority, the pursuit of the mission for civilization, as well as for
economic enrichment. These factors are largely categorized into three – God, gold, and glory.
Here, God symbolizes the European culture, gold symbolizes the economic gains of
colonialization, and glory represents political superiority (Alcock 2009, 179).
Besides giving rise to colonies, nationalization also contributed to arguments for
independence in India and Indochina (Vietnam).
During that time, India was made up of several princely states, most of which were rivals.
This is something the British took to their advantage, making use of long-standing rivalries in an
effort to divide and rule. As they become more powerful and exploitative, states that were
formerly rivals began to unite and fight against the British. In 1857, there was a rebellion that led
to the elimination of the East India Company as well as the establishment of the Raj. This was
one of the results of the Nationalism ideals, which began to raise from under the surface and was
seen in terms of bombings, assassination attempts, and attempts to provoke violence and
rebellion. In 1905, when the Viceroy of India announced that Bengal would be divided from the
greater India, the news was received with outrage by united nationalists who wanted to fight
Britain’s ‘divide and rule’ policy. The Indians were greatly angered by the way the British
disrespected public opinion.
During World War One, Indians contributed greatly to the war efforts, and nationalist
leaders had a renewed urgency to agitate for independence. They argued that their contributions
to the war proved that they were capable of governing themselves. These sentiments, together
with the acts of rebellion, pressured the British to pass the Government of India Act in 1919
which led to the creation of a diarchy, which essentially meant that Britain and Indian
administrators would share power (Sengupta 2021).
Besides the violent nature of the anti-imperial movement in India, some efforts were nonviolent. After British troops opened fire on masses of Indians in 1919, the massacre ignited great
fury among Indians across the country. However, Mohandas Gandhi urged Indians to stop
complying with British laws that were unjust. He added that Indians should do this without using
violence of any kind. His end goal was to highlight the injustice of British rule against Indians,
and this strategy was called civil disobedience – the non-violent pushback against unjust laws.
These included the boycott of goods made by the Brits, refusal to attend lower-class schools, and
refusal to pay unfairly high taxes. These efforts hurt the British economy and it responded by
making arrests and beatings protesters. However, these protests continued and British rule
eventually ended in 1947.
Indochina (Vietnam)
Similar to India, Vietnam was under European colonial rule, specifically the French. The
French were interested in Vietnam’s natural resources, rich agricultural lands, and strategic
seaports. Even before the French captured Vietnam, Nationalism was largely popular. The
Vietnamese had strived to fend off the Chinese and regain their independence from them. They
viewed themselves as different people from other Southeast Asian groups. This nationalist
energy was then channeled towards fighting their French colonial rulers. One of the most
influential nationalist leaders was Ho Chi Minh. Although he was a young man, he was able to
garner support to start a resistance against France. He believed that his efforts would be more
effective if he joined forces with communists since they were forthright critics of their colonial
rulers (Nguyá»…n 2016).
During the resistance in the 1940s, Ho Chi Minh and his followers fought the French to
regain the country. Although the French maintained control of the major cities, the resistors were
able to regain control of the countryside. The French attempted to starve the nationalist
movements by appealing to Vietnamese traditional authorities to support the Vietnamese
emperor. Most of the new Nationalist and Communist movements were militant insurgencies
based in the urban regions. Although it took time before Vietnam fully regained its
independence, Ho Chi Minh’s efforts contributed to it (Singh 2015).
In conclusion, it is evident that nationalism inspires a great sense of pride, passion, and
patriotism among people of common ethnicity or country. It made the colonialists go out of their
way to forcefully rule over other people, and it gave colonies the brevity to fight against their
Alcock, Susan E. 2009. Empires: Perspectives from Archaeology and History. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Nguyễn, Thị Điểu. 2016. “Ritual, Power, and Pageantry.” French Historical Studies 39 (4): 717–
48. https://doi.org/10.1215/00161071-3602244.
Sengupta, Ritam. 2021. “Keeping the Master Cool, Every Day, All Day: Punkah-Pulling in
Colonial India.” The Indian Economic & Social History Review, December,
001946462110645. https://doi.org/10.1177/00194646211064592.
Singh, Sudhir Kumar. 2015. “Colonialisms, Nationalism and Vietnam’s Struggle for Freedom.”
Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 76 (1): 620–30.
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