SEIZING DESTINY

EXCERPT

Pages 600-603

 

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SEIZING DESTINY                                                                  Pages 600-603

 

 

Seeking global dominion

 

 

DESPITE THE ILL GRACE with which it was accomplished, the surrender of the Panama Canal at the close of what was deservedly called the American Century marked a level of maturation no less noteworthy than the nation's abandonment of unbridled territorial expansion a century earlier. Many historians have identified the Spanish-American War and the McKinley-Roosevelt era as an escalation from dormant manifest destiny ideology to imperialist adventurism, aping the European powers in their last spasm of colonialism as they grabbed up what Henry Cabot Lodge called "the waste places of the earth:" But as strong an argument can be made that although the United States had been greatly tempted to do so – and for a dismal interlude had succumbed to this sort of contemptible bullying in the Philippines – the nation chose instead to turn away from annexing additional large portions of real estate, as it did in renouncing any intention to own Cuba. When the western frontier closed at the sunset of the nineteenth century, Americans were satisfied that they needed no more physical space to ensure their prosperity and security. They chose to sublimate their compulsively acquisitive drive by redirecting it from the massive accumulation of land they claimed as their just (and destined) reward – no matter that such acts usually required liberating the soil by force from its nominal occupants – to other forms of expansionism.

In making this transfer they proved no less fabulously successful than they had been in asserting dominion over a gigantic territory in a blink of eternity's eye. The economic growth of the United States so far outstripped the rest of the world's that by the year 2000 its gross domestic product was larger than that of the next three most productive nations combined. Americans, accounting for not even 5 percent of the world's population, consumed nearly one-third of all the resources used on earth annually in their orgiastic pursuit of material goods and comforts. Their phenomenal dynamism generated so much cash flow that many were convinced the nation was capable of indefinitely sustaining huge trade deficits and an astronomical national debt without unduly endangering its solvency – as if ifs creditors were the ones who could not afford to let it perish, no matter how irresponsibly it behaved.

In expanding its military power, the United States proved similarly peerless – and spendthrift. It fought more wars (at times with mixed results because it brought less than maximum force to bear) than any other nation but never for the sake of territorial aggrandizement. Its forces selectively eradicated monstrous tyrants and murderous regimes, though at times faltered in the swamps of ideology. It developed doomsday weapons to deter all foreign governments from threatening its security. And to maintain its death-dealing supremacy, it lavished as much money on its war machine as the rest of the world combined did on theirs, all the while stinting on the care of its own purple's bodies and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

SEIZING DESTINY                                                                  Pages 600-603

 

 

In the realm of science and technology, American inventiveness was no less wondrously expansive. In biochemistry, pharmacology, medical devices and procedures, cybernetics and telecommunications, air and space travel, and astrophysics it pioneered advances undreamed of by Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, men of questing minds. And the influence of American popular culture – its  music, arts, media, apparel, celebrities, even its manner of speaking and eating – have  become, for better or worse, virtually inescapable anywhere on earth.

So much showy success inevitably brought envy and loathing among the onlookers and a swollen ego and preening sense of entitlement in the perpetrator. It is understandable, of course, that Americans, many of them faith-professing people, should have reasoned that if they had not deserved their beautiful land, overflowing abundance, and preeminence among nations, the Supreme Being or moral design of the cosmos would not have bestowed such gifts. Nor, to be sure, have Americans been altogether negligent in expressing gratitude for their fortunate condition; at times they have bean hugely generous with their blood, coin, and kindness toward others in need or distress, though often with a price or ulterior purpose attached – no one ever mistook them for saintly. Perhaps more than most other people, they have seemed refreshingly candid and self-critically funny. Yet they have also shown themselves to be fully capable of callous neglect toward those among them unblessed by their genes or family circumstances and of petulance toward those abroad who question their values, dispute their policies, and accuse them of indifference to the delicate ecosystem of the planet. Americans' matchless achievements, in short, have not yet made them the kinder, gentler people that President George Bush pθre once called on them to become. But then, kindness and gentleness are not what got them where they are.

Still, many in the great republic are mindful of its gathering challenges. Systemic inequities, evidenced by the cruel and growing gap between the grossly affluent and the desperately struggling, have polarized American society, created a permanent underclass of the disaffected, and cast liberty and social justice as antagonists to, not twin pillars of, the national creed. The battlefields of Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, and Iraq have disclosed the limitations of American weaponry and the folly of trying to police a fractious world by firepower. The collaborative skills and historic resources of the European nations, the disciplined craftsmanship of the Japanese, and the sudden awakening of China, India, and other thronged societies from their arrested development have inevitably eroded American economic supremacy. Catastrophes of nature have struck hard blows at home as well in those "waste places of the earth"; pandemics threaten, while official U.S. policy clings to the delusion that global warming is humbug. At the opening of the twenty-first century Americans were jolted from their complacent assumption that they were immune from suicidal international terrorism. The resulting post-traumatic stress syndrome was shamelessly preyed upon by national leaders who failed – or chose not – to recognize that fanatic hatred of the United States was harbored not within the boundaries of alien states so much as within the confines of the pathological human mind – and that to wage retributive war on the former would only further inflame the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

SEIZING DESTINY                                                                  Pages 600-603

 

 

But new and perhaps wiser leaders will follow. They may yet guide Americans to see that, having risen so high and mighty by seizing every opportunity their fortunate geography presented to them and then creating new modes of growth to enrich their own – and the world's – existence, they cannot sustain their primacy by claiming entitlement to mastery abroad and continuing to neglect the social pathogens stalking their homeland. Destiny has never been fond of lingering in one place, or favoring one people, forever.

 

 

 

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