Patriotism shown by the people of North Vietnam against the U.S. forces provides the most outstanding example of the power of patriotism. The poor and backward people of North Vietnam defied and challenged the most powerful nation of the world for nearly two decades. The Vietnamese suffered untold hardships and starvation but they doggedly resisted the Americans. The latter were no match for the former as they lacked the spirit of patriotism which fired the Vietnamese to pass through every ordeal and ultimately forced the Americans to leave their country.
Just as mutual affection binds the members of a family, similarly, spirit of patriotism binds the diverse people of a nation into a strong bond most of the time, patriotism lies dormant. But the moment there is a threat to the nation from an enemy or an act of aggression takes place, the patriotism of the people is aroused.
The people forget their petty differences of caste, creed and class and stand behind their leaders to inflict a crushing defeat on the enemy. Wars, though otherwise harmful, confer an unintended benefit on people by dissolving their differences, resolving their conflicts and fostering a spirit of unity among them. Chinese aggression against India in 1962 aroused great patriotic fervour among the people.
Forgetting their internal animosities, Indians stood as one nation. While men donated blood and volunteered for joining the armed forces, women contributed their gold and jewellery generously to the National Defence Fund. The patriotic passion unleashed by Chinese war produced many memorable songs and feature films which have inspired two generations of Indians since then.
The war also revealed glaring inadequacies in the fighting skills and equipment of our armed forces and compelled the government to initiate both short term and long term measures to upgrade the war preparedness of our army. But for the war with China, we could not have adequately responded to Pakistan in the 1965 war and might not have been in a position to inflict a decisive defeat on Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh war.
Patriotism breaks the barriers not only between different castes; it also transcends the religious affinities. The common religion of Islam could not keep the two regions of Pakistan, the West and East Pakistan together. The Muslims and the Hindus of Bangladesh united against the tyranny of West Pakistan and fought for their liberation. The common suffering and discrimination experienced by the Bengalis of East Pakistan made them rise against the tyrants and they carved out a new nation of Bangladesh falsifying the notion that religious loyalties are stronger than national loyalties.
Common memories of the past relating to the brave deeds of the historic and even mythical heroes foster spirit of patriotism. People derive inspiration from the lives and adventures of their heroes. They commemorate their deeds in epics and mythology. While the lifelong battles of tenth Sikh Guru Govind Singh against the tyranny of the Mughals inspire the people of Punjab, Shivaji’s successful defiance of Aurangzeb’s generals imparts inspiration and a spirit of emulation to the people of Marathwada country.
The relentless struggle for independence waged by Lok Manya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Bose is the greatest lesson in patriotism for the people of India. Netaji organised Japanese prisoners of War into Azad Hind Fauj which marched through the jungles of Burma to liberate India. Azad Hind Fauj (I.N.A.) liberated many towns of Manipur from British Rule and fought pitched battles in many parts of Eastern India including Kohima. Although I.N.A. lost the war to the British but the latter were terrified enough to leave India in the hands of the Indians at the earliest opportunity.
The surge of patriotism overpowers the resistance of political ideologies. Communism is international in its inspiration but even its great apostle Stalin had to stir the patriotism of the Russians to stem the advance of German troops on the Russian soil. When the patriotism of the Russians was sufficiently aroused they fought like lions and inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans. The Russian troops had to wade through the dead bodies of their soldiers to capture and control the conquered territory.
Patriots rejoice in the glory of their country. When Amartya Sen wins Nobel Prize for Economics, every Indian holds his head high to exhibit the tallness in her intellectual status. When India wins world cup in cricket, the people from all parts of the country burn fire crackers and distribute sweets. Victories in the international sports or beauty contests are the grist to the mill of patriotism. It nurtures fellow feeling and brotherhood among people besides being a source of personal inspiration to a host of striving souls in the field of academic pursuits or athletic prowess.
Strange as it may seem, but it is a regrettable fact that patriotism is a manifestation of man’s aggressive instinct directed against the enemy of nation. Under the influence of patriotic zeal, men inflict such tortures on the men across the countries’ borders as if inflicted against their own countrymen will be termed as criminal acts liable for punishment under the laws of the land. Obsessed by patriotic frenzy, soldiers treat their enemies including civilians across the border no better than animals which are to be killed and annihilated.
Dropping of atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima was an act of patriotism on the part of American fighter bombers and was hailed as such by the American people. But for the citizens of many other countries of the world, it was an act of barbarism which killed thousands of innocent men, women and children.
Patriotism is a transitory stage in the cultural evolution of man. Man’s loyalty has progressively developed from the family to the tribe and thence to the city state and nation. As the economic and communication revolution are bringing different nations closer, a new loyalty, which is to mankind, is gradually developing. Organisations like Amnesty International and United Nations Commission on Human Rights which work for the protection of Human rights, including those of the prisoners of war, are instrumental in promoting humanism which transcends the boundaries of nations and binds people of diverse nations into the bonds of humanity.
Thus a famine in Ethiopia or an earthquake in Afganistan moves to pity citizens of different countries in the globe who help the victims by donating money, foodstuff and medicines. It is hoped that bonds of humanity will strengthen in the years to come putting an end to wars among nations. A sublimated aggressive instinct will find expression through friendly battles on the play grounds and sports fields throughout the globe.