Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why America?

Roger Kimbal over at Pajamas media asks a fairly simple question today, "Where are the Americans?" While his article is a pretty scathing indictment of the Obama administration it brings up a different one to me, "Why America?" 

My lovely wife isn't from the good old USA, she's an Aussie.  Even more than that, she also spent her teen years in South America in the country of Uruguay. So needless to say she's not an "America First" kind of person.  In fact every time she hears a character or politician praising America or calling it "the greatest nation on Earth" it really irks her.  I understand completely and she does bring up a good point as well, "What makes America so great?" 

So "why America" and "what makes America so great" are two big questions I want to touch on today.

Well lets start with the simpler question, "Why America."  Why is it, that America is THE country everyone looks to for help?  Sure, not everyone will ask, not everyone will ask openly, but anytime a disaster happens, an incident is occurring, or danger is brewing who does everyone ask for?  The Americans. 

One reason is we're rich.  Quite simply we have a lot of money and we're not afraid to share it.  Not only our government but our people are the most charitable in the world. (Outstripping our nearest competitor by more than double in total contributions.) With a large middle class and lots of rich people we also tend to have the money to give away.  Remember, it's hard to help others when you can barely feed yourself!

Which brings me to my next point: food.  The USA is well known for not being the most populous country out there yet having a large throw weight in economy, this carries over into food as well.  The USA is the third largest food producer in the world (when the EU is removed as a single unit) and unlike India and China doesn't have nearly a billion people to feed with that output.  Granted both India and China, given improving farming techniques and such will be able to feed the globe right now the US is once again the one tossing their excess around.  (Problems with subsidies and how it messes with food costs is another story for another day. BORING stuff BTW.)

Finally probably the biggest and most obvious reason everyone looks to the US for help in times of the trouble?  The Marines.  Okay I'm being biased but seriously the US military is the number one face the world tends to see of the USA in times of need.  Heck entire countries can spend BILLIONS less on defense because they know for a fact that the USA will be there to defend them if things go bad.  Canada is a wonderful country but how big a military do they need?  It's like the little guy next to the big guy in the school yard, he doesn't need to be tough as long as he's next to the big guy.  South Korea, Japan, Australia all benefit from the US Pacific fleet and by extension the rest of the US military.  Without out "US intervention" all over the place most countries would have to worry more about defense than they do. 

Outside of armed conflicts in emergencies the first people on scene from foreign lands tend to be the military.  For one they have the logistics to put the butts in the field anywhere on the globe.  For another they tend to be strategically placed anyway so why not respond?  Finally we Americans have this silly thought of helping out our neighbors so that they'll be nice to us later.  I know it's silly I mean kindness is it's own reward right? 

The other question, "What makes America so great" is a hard question to answer and honestly I don't think there IS a right answer.  Is Australia great in it's own ways? Sure.  But is it "the greatest nation on the planet?" I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone outside of Oz to say that.  America on the other hand, in the past at least, HAD folks from outside our borders saying we were the best place to be.  My grandfather fled China and worked the rails to pay for his family to come here.  Millions of others have fled their own horrible countries to come to the US.  Does being the refuge for the downtrodden make us great?  No, I think that's just a result of greatness not a reason.

No our greatness is more than statistics.  More than image.  More than history.  More than even our huge tracks of land.  It is something that no one owns or can even hold onto.  It is a belief, an ideal, and a concept.  A belief that a country can welcome everyone, combine them all into something greater than the sum of their parts, and build a better world for all.  Is it a dream? Of course, but one that is worth believing in and striving for.  It is that belief and drive to live and fulfill that "American Dream" that makes America Great.  Do we fail? Surely.  Do we make mistakes?  Of course.  But at the end of the day do we keep trying?  Yes!

As long as we continue to try and improve ourselves America will continue to be great.  If on the other hand we settle for less, begin to drag everyone down to the lowest common denominator.  Shun and attack those who succeed, will we quickly slide from greatness to mediocrity.  A slide we may already be on...

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