Threatening external enemies can strength a sense of national identity. The Harvard political theorist Karl Deutsch defined a nation as “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors.” According to the political scientist Clinton Rossiter, “There is nothing like an enemy, or simply a neighbor seen as unpleasantly different in political values and social arrangements, to speed a nation along the course of self-identification or put it back on course whenever it strays.”
The role of foreign enemy in collecting a sense of national identity may be especially important in the USA. American self-identity is not based on an ancient shared heritage, but rather on a set of political icons and symbols which they consider to be their hero or saver. For example the one who ensures the individual rights and apply democracy. This is a fragile basis for unity in a continent-sized country populated by huge masses from all over the world with multi-national identities. The existence of enemy might be essential to keep the American identity alive and to find a sense of political exceptions.
American history is connected with threats, based on the degree of external danger of the enemy. During threat times, foreign and domestic policies are viewed through this lens of competition. Threat times shaped the boundary between the American in-group and the enemy out-group. This boundary made sense of American national identity. Social consciences increase, and there result is a removal of racial, political or economic divisions among those who have a shared enemy. Within the in-group boundary, there can be new opportunities for social progress to occur. Moreover, wars that occur during threat times are the most powerful in American history.
In-group unity can become suffocating identical. While there is a foreign enemy, power may be centralized in the White House and the American Congress, as Americans prioritize security over liberty (We can notice this in the foreign policy of the USA). Americans will be intolerant of any opposition from other citizens who question the threat. The rights of Americans identified with the idea of that the enemy might be within their thoughts. Even if there is no enemy, the American Society will attempt to create an enemy in their thoughts.
Something similar may be happening today in our world. There are a huge number of explanations for the current discords in the United States, ranging from globalization and splintering of American communities. If there is a lack of a foreign threat, there will be an open conflict between different racist in the USA accompanied with huge mass of different identities. External threats can unify mass populations with multi-national societies. Psychologist studies have shown that people transfer quickly form in-groups and out-groups (us versus them), whether it’s two sports teams going head-to-head or two nations at war. The desire for mutual protection and vengeance can reduce enmity between in-group members and create a one-for-all mind-set. Furthermore, if the USA does not transform the attention of the people to an external threat, then the internal threats will take over the country, and the sub-identities will be there preference above on American identity.
What happens when there is no external threat? Citizens form new in-groups and new out-groups will bring the war and conflict inside the USA.As mentioned before, USA is a super multi-national country, and if they will not have something to unify them, then it will be so easy for these identities to collapse into small sub-national groups .In this case, we have to mention that these sub-national groups, will have loyalty to their origin and the group in that they are dissolved with. For Example the Arab community, Chinese Community, Italian Community and Latin American Communities in the USA now, started to keep their sub-national identities as a primary identity with small local communities in foreign country.
Last but not least, the USA government always have been using mottos’ (E.G: United we stand, divided we fall) to mobilize their mass super multi-national identities to drive their loyalty from their sub-national groups to the in-Group with one united American identity.
‘In World War II we fought to make the world safer, and then worked to rebuild it. As we wage war today to keep the world safe from terror, we must also work to make the world a better place for all its citizens.’ President Bush/Inter-American Development Bank/Washington, D.C. /March 14, 2002
As Abraham Lincoln remarked in his 1838 Lyceum Address, it was precisely the lack of an enemy that laid bare sectional division and smoothed the road to civil war. In the same speech, Lincoln announced that, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” Without a foreign danger to occupy their thoughts, Americans focused on domestic issues, especially over slavery and racism (Black & White). On the evening of the Civil War, the USA secretary of state suggested declaring war on France and Spain to deliberately create a unifying enemy and ward off disunion. If the United States were attacked by a foreign power, “the hills of South Carolina would pour forth their population to the rescue of New York.”
The Civil War was an internal threat which brought the USA into an era of grave danger. Furthermore, in his First Inaugural Address in 1861, Lincoln used the word “Union” twenty times and never said “nation.” Two years later, in the Gettysburg Address, he used “nation” five times and never said “Union.” The poet and historian Carl Sandburg noted that before the Civil War, people said the United States are, but afterward, they said the United States is.
During the 1940s, the threat pendulum swung again, and the United States entered an era of severe danger during World War II and the early Cold War. American security was menaced by the great powers of Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union, as well as by new technologies. The mood of unity continued during the “Cold War consensus” of the 1950s, when there was broad agreement among Republicans and Democrats that the country was engaged in a global struggle against a Communist adversary set on world conquest. During the Civil War, an external threat can strengthen the rights of minorities—so long as they fight for the American in-group.
As Cold War certainties were questioned, the in-group/out-group boundaries were blurred, creating greater discord for those inside the country. When there is a lack of threats, domestic divisions often widen. The post–Civil War era was a time of diminishing external danger and also fraying unity within the winning coalition. Moreover, the Soviet Union had collapsed and the lack of an external threat meant there was no common sense of what defined the national interest.
Tajfel (1979) proposed that the groups (social class, family, football team etc.) which people belonged to were an important source of pride and self-esteem. Groups give us a sense of social identity and a sense of belonging to the social world that we are living in.Tajfel suggested that stereotyping (dividing people into groups and categories according to our vision) is based on a normal cognitive process which is the tendency to group things together.
This is known as in-group (us) and out-group (them). The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that group members of an in-group will seek to find negative aspects of an out-group, thus enhancing their self-image and helping in shaping their identities.Tajfel and Turner (1979) proposed that there are three mental processes involved in transforming others as “us” to “them” or the opposite side, and these three processes are:
The first is categorization. We categorize objects in order to understand them and identify them. In a very similar way we categorize people (including ourselves) in order to understand the social environment. We use social categories like black, white, Australian, Christian, Muslim, student, and bus driver because they are useful. Similarly, we find out things about ourselves by knowing what categories we belong to. We define appropriate behavior by reference to the norms of groups we belong to, but you can only do this if you can tell who belongs to your group. An individual can belong to many different groups.
This strategy considered to be as a war strategy, which countries use to mobilize their soldiers and armies minds in order to win at war. The strategy considers that the secret to motivating people and maintaining their morale is to get them to think less about themselves and more about the group. Involve them in a cause, a crusade against a hated enemy. Make them see their survival as tied to the success of a nation or an army as a whole. As noticed, the USA uses this morale strategy to drive the loyalty from sub-national identities to American identity.