The problem with the lack of nationalism

Jose Mathew P. Luga
'Heneral Luna' asks us this question: this was what your ancestors were willing to do for their country. What are you willing to do for yours today?

This is in response to the iSpeak article “The Problem with Heneral Luna” published on September 23:

As a citizen of an irreversibly globalized world, I often find myself cringing when I see people reacting against nationalist causes. Although it is true that nationalism is like an alcoholic beverage which requires moderation, it is clearly different from the idea of hyper-nationalism and racism. 

Truly, there are several definitions which can be used to define nationalism. From primordialism, constructivism, to modernism, such a definition changes according to one’s approach. However, if we are to abide with professor Teodoro Agoncillo’s definition, he would define nationalism as simply the defense of one’s independence. Hence to overstep these boundaries is to become hyper-nationalists, that is, when we seek to act aggressively towards other countries in the name of our superior race (its underpinning being similar to racism). 

So, how can we misconstrue one for the other? 

False presentist review of Heneral Luna

Photo from Artikulo Uno

Nationalism, as a concept, can also be seen not only from different perspectives but also from different time periods. 

During the days of Luna, the Philippines was still in its embryonic stage when the Americans decided to “benevolently assimilate” the islands. As the film depicted – which is also historically accurate – other Filipinos in the Aguinaldo cabinet were vacillating towards the idea of making the Philippines an American Protectorate, and it was this very idea that Antonio Luna was against.

He was not arguing for the annexation of the United States, nor did he lambast their cultural background. He simply wanted to protect the country’s freedom, and that was what he died fighting for, despite the disarray of the cabinet. This was the context that Heneral Luna dwelled on, and not on today’s generation of disillusioned nationalists.

Let us not forget that nationalism, at least in Asia, developed primarily as a response against colonial oppression and not as a tool for assimilating cultural minorities which is what, others may argue, it has become today. Hence, to judge a movie set in a colonial context from today’s post-colonial issues is a sin of Presentism.

Being a nationalist in a globalizing age 

Also, while it is true that nationalism is a difficult concept to use these days, provided the post-WWII consequence of hyper-nationalism, it is an exaggeration and an absurdity to equate Luna’s brand of nationalism (in defense of motherland) with Hitler’s Nazism (which sought world domination) and Marcos’ corruption (his “strong-society” is more akin to greed than love of country).

Be that as it may, what is wrong with a film espousing such nationalist sentiments in today’s variegated world? 

It is precisely because of this globalizing community that we need such films all the more. Our country has been lagging behind for the past 50 years in comparison to our Asian neighbors, and one culprit could be our lack of national identification. We are too preoccupied with self-gain that we forget the greater good. Is this not the case with today’s politicians? 

If you are to re-watch the movie, it not only aims to bolster nationalism but also directs our attention to this repetitive cycle of Philippine politics – personal interest, backstabbing and murder. 

How do we hope to compete in this global, not to mention the ASEAN community, if our very people are busy squabbling among each other?

Ultimately, what the movie endeavors to point out is not the need to die for one’s country since this act of nationalism is only true for Luna’s time. 

Today, we are free to express our love of country without the need for martyrdom. What Heneral Luna does is to therefore pose us this question: this was what your ancestors were willing to do for their country. What are you willing to do for yours today? –

Jose Mathew P. Luga is an instructor in history from the University of the Philippines-Baguio

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