The Statute of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, which became America’s symbol, carries this inscription:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
As if falling under the influence of a magical wand, the poor and huddled masses of the world got the message and came to America every which way, en masse. They came from the great countries of the old civilization of Europe; France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy as well as the poorer and backward ones. Everyone came to America. Because she gave humanity hope – hope that good would triumph over evil forces. No philosophic message could be simpler or nobler, it seemed. This became America’s dream, to become the world’s haven, its beacon of hope.
But opening its doors and borders to newcomers and giving them hope was not enough -- America practiced abroad what it preached at home: Charity. It practically single-handedly rebuilt Europe through the Marshall Plan. And America’s generosity, though not as elaborate, spread around the world.
America was welcome around the world as a global policeman – one who did not come to intimidate or to punish, but to teach, give generously and spread a message of hope and democracy to the suffering masses of the world. To “Speak softly but carry a big stick” is said to be an African proverb often quoted by American President Theodore Roosevelt; that became America’s metaphor for spreading its influence globally.
The Great War had ended and the Cold War had begun. A rivalry was born between America and the Soviet Union. It seemed the world was divided between West and East, between Capitalism and Socialism, and some would say between good and evil. America was easily the good cop.
While the Soviet Union rivaled the Unite States in the space and arm races, Soviet citizens were finding it difficult to acquire such staples as bread and milk; there were long lines to purchase life’s necessities. Such trivialities seemed to be unheard of in America; this was the land of plenty, the land of conspicuous consumption.
The Soviet Union became a classic example of the biblical saying, “gaining the world while losing your soul”. While the Soviet government was busy being a superpower and gaining global respect, the Soviet citizens lost confidence in the government. In a blood-less revolution, the citizens dumped Communism and went wild for a new social theory; they wanted to become democrats (that’s with a small “d”). The Soviet Union fell, as Humpty Dumpy did, and America became the lone and sole superpower.
But America was to soon find out the reality of the Shakespearean saying, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. Oh, how so true! In becoming the world’s lone superpower, America has come under more scrutiny then ever before and some of what we have since uncovered is not good; some of it is doggone outrageous.
Lesson one: “Charity begins at home”, it is so written in the Good Book, but apparently someone forgot to tell America. Combine that to another biblical lesson, “For what shall it profit you to gain the world but lose your soul?” America, while being gracious, kind and caring to folks around the world, has not been equally kind to some of its own segments; just ask African Americans and Native Americans – it is an open secret.
It was about forty years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson, faced with an ugly reality of American life, riots that plagued the cities each summer since 1964, ordered a commission to study and explain the phenomenon. An 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the Kerner Report, issued this assessment: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal”. It was true then and four scores later still true. America, instead of building a great society at home, had jumped at building a great world. Now what might have been a glorious exercise has turned into a fiasco. America cannot build a great world while it leaves the lives of certain population segments marginalized and disenfranchised.
While America sends teams of election monitors around the world to assure that everyone gets a fair and equal chance at voting, who’s monitoring the folks at home? The two past elections have convinced us that there are kinks or major glitches in the system. We must observe it is not all the voters that are disenfranchised; many of those in question belong to a certain segment, you know which. But until America can assure the world that everyone’s vote counts at home, that message abroad will be greeted with skepticism and scorn. To build a unified world, build a unified nation first. The immutable truth was stated by Dr. Martin Luther King when he said, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link”
America is now estimated to be spending two billion dollars a month on a war in Iraq. The government accuses Saddam Hussein of being a dictator who waged a war of genocide against his own people. Even a pacifist will consider it justifiable going to war to prevent or correct genocide. But why doesn’t America lift a finger against Sudan? After all, the State Department has agreed that the war going on in the Dafur region of Sudan is genocide, plain and simple.
Other questions baffle the rational mind: Why has America deemed it necessary to befriend dictators why making a federal (global) case against others? Some dictators or leaders of questionable moral character to whom America has given the red carpet treatment in the past include the late Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, and Mobutu Seko Sese of Zaire.
America is seen as an accessory in bringing some dictators to power, working against democratic forces in their respective forces. The stories of Iran, Chile and Zaire stand out as sad chapters in modern American history. Recently unclassified documents give chilling accounts of American involvement, in the case of Congo (Zaire).
Those that suffered America’s wrath have included Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeini, Muamar Khadafi and Manuel Noriega; the latter still lingers in an American jail cell. It is fair to say his “due process” has been suspended. Falling in double category is Saddam Hussein. First they loved him and then they loved him not; the world knows his story.
Today the American government says it cannot support a Palestinian government that calls for the non-recognition of Israel. Its official policy is to support a government that respects Israel’s right to exist; that Israel’s security is tantamount to any recognition. But for a long time, America recognized and supported the Apartheid regimes of South Africa. Those bigots that ruled the land did not respect black lives, but did it matter? No.
In a previous article along these lines entitled, “The American Immigration Debate: Walls, National Anthems and Languages”, I made the point that it was contradictory for President Ronald Reagan to call for the demolition of the Berlin Wall while the US legislature has recently passed a bill to build a seven-hundred mile long wall along the US-Mexican border. If a wall wasn’t good between East and West Germany, why is it good between the US and Mexico?
America is urging Europeans to admit Turkey into the European Union; this in essence means Turkish citizens should have the right to migrate and live anywhere within the European Union. But America is keeping one of its closest neighbors, Mexico at bay. After all, there is a free trade agreement in North America (NAFTA). Why doesn’t it have this all-important clause, calling for freedom of movement by its member states?
Instead of fostering free movement, America is building a wall between itself and Mexico while calling for an open border with Canada; all of this is based on a fear of terrorism being imported by way of Mexico. But while there is documented evidence that some of the terrorists that have entered America and wreaked havoc on the country came by way of Canada, no such connection has been made to Mexico. At least two or three ploys have been hatched in Canada of people planning terrorist attacks on the United States. So why build a wall along the Mexican border instead of the Canadian border?
This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully the point is made. America has undermined its domestic and international agenda by sending mixed messages. While these signals might not have been well understood a few decades ago, they become as plain as daylight now in this Internet age in which we live. America may yet be a great beacon of hope for the world’s suffering masses, but it needs to take inventory of its policies. There are too many contradictions. Before you straighten out the world, set your own house in order; before you spread your generosity abroad, take care of your people; before you save the world, save yourself… until then it all becomes an exercise in futility.
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