Who's Number One – Competing National Interests

Should nations pursue national interest?

These two posters are examples of World War I nationalist propaganda issued by Germany and Great Britain in 1918.

German World War I Poster
"What England Wants!"

Year of Creation: 1918
Artist: Egon Tschirch.
Published by Selmar Bayer (Berlin).

British World War I Poster

Year of Creation: 1918
Artist: F. Gregory Brown; J.W. Ltd.

This German poster shows swarms of British planes bombing a Germany factory. At the bottom of the poster is a quote from British Labour Party leader Johnson-Hicks that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on January 3, 1918.

"One must bomb the Rhine industrial area day by day with hundreds of airplanes until the cure [destruction of German industrial production] has occurred."

This British poster shows German soldiers overseeing slave labour in a British factory while whipping one worker. Purchasing affordable war savings certificates meant the British people were contributing financially to Britain’s war efforts. It was seen as patriotic.

After the French Revolution, Europe went through many wars over nationalism. These feelings of nationalism helped to unify groups of tiny separate states into the new nations of Italy in 1870 and Germany in 1871. These new nations were very proud, as were all the European nations of that time, and the new nations resented any interference from other countries.

Before World War I, European nations showed much nationalist competition. Rising ethnic nationalism in Austria-Hungary, the economic race between Britain and Germany, and increased militarism among European nations led to a great deal of tension, eventually leading to the eruption of World War I in 1914. The two posters shown above reveal Germany and Britain’s national interests during World War I, which shaped their respective approaches to other nations during a time of great conflict. To understand the causes of WWI, you must become familiar with the national interests of the countries of the time.

About the Related Issue

Unit 3 focuses on Related Issue 2:

Should nations pursue national interest?

But what is national interest? How do nations pursue their interests?

National interests are the goals and motives that a nation uses to guide its actions and interactions in the global community. A nation’s government knows what their nation and its citizens need. National interests can be pursued through foreign policy, which is displayed through a nation's interaction with other nations of the world. Competing interests, such as limited resources and territories, also help shape a nation’s foreign policies. The impact of foreign policies and the ways in which nations pursued their national interests form a central part of Canada's history and national identity.

Past events may cause a nation to isolate itself from other nations, or to pursue, in the most extreme cases, a prejudiced approach to the rest of the world. Alternatively, some nations pursue peacekeeping endeavours and active partnerships with other nations in the global community.

The consequences of a nation’s pursuit of national interest can, and usually does, affect all the citizens in that nation, along with citizens in other nations of the world. Nations decide with whom (groups, other nations) they wish to align, and then they must consider the possibility of future punishments or rewards dealt by other nations.

By the end of this unit, you should be able to present an informed perspective on the following.

  • The degree to which you think national interests should be pursued
  • Whether the pursuit of national interests can ever be controlled by outside nations
  • The impact foreign policies, views held by citizens in Europe and Canada, and the results of the "war to end all wars" has on current national interests


Using the following tabs, view each of the pictures and captions, and respond to the Reflect question below.

This photo shows the Canadian 29th Infantry Battalion advancing over "No Man's Land" through the German barbed wire and heavy fire during the battle of Vimy Ridge, April, 1917. Canada's achievements during the battle of Vimy Ridge secured Canada a seat at the Treaty of Versailles negotiations, and was a move towards sovereignty from Great Britain.

WWI Canadian Recruitment Poster*
Artist: Patterson, C.J.
Lawson and Jones Ltd

In this poster, the flag (a symbol of nationalism) was used to promote patriotism to get Canadian men in the army.

*The flag shown is the British flag under which Canadian troops fought during WWI (1914 to 1918). The Maple Leaf flag was adopted in 1965.

This photo is of wounded Canadians on the way to an aid-post, battle of Passchendaele, Belgium, November, 1917.

Tip: Throughout the course, you will be asked to reflect on certain questions or issues. While the "Reflect" sections are not part of your course mark, they help you consider your own perspectives and ideas prior to going through the unit. When you encounter the "Reflect" sections, you should brainstorm your own perspectives and ideas, and record these impressions in your notes. Review the tutorial How to Take Notes to help you develop note-taking methods for Social Studies 20-2. Respond to the Reflect section below.

From your perspective, why might these images be important to Canadians today? In what ways do these images reflect Canada's national interests?

All Overview pages in Social Studies 20-2 have a  Checklist (at the top of the Overview page) that specifies the assignments, quizzes, and forums that students must complete. Download the Unit 3 Checklist to keep track of your progress before moving onto the next page.