The current analysis of America’s complicated history, if one reads and hears what the blathering class has to say, has become unremittingly, unforgivingly, and irredeemably negative.
Given the ignorant absolutism that defines our current moment, one which seems entirely uninterested in any idea that cannot be reduced to a snarky slogan or castigating epithet, this is understandable. Perhaps because thoughtful nuance is nowhere near as adrenally stimulating as mindless extremism, shouting now has become our preferred method of stomping those with non-politically correct views of American history into abject submission. Our opinions about both our nation’s past and present have become the new battleground for today’s cultural, political, and religious civil wars.
First, the bad news.
America’s history has featured its fair share of moral compromises, fallacious assumptions, and economic imperatives disguised as exercises in national glory. Our nation, like all before it, has had three core missions: protection from harm, provision of food, and procurement of physical comforts. The quest to fulfill these needs has always driven public policies, determined governmental budgets, and separated our friends from our foes. Vainglorious pronouncements regarding truth, freedom, and justice have sometimes been used to elevate our interests in expanding our borders, feeding our people, and ensuring our families need not shiver against the winter’s bitter cold.
Unsurprisingly, America always has coveted potable water, arable land, and economically-beneficial natural resources in order to keep our citizens content, and we maintained whatever armaments were necessary to obtain these needs. Armies, raiding parties, and ships of war have been used to take territory and wealth from others for as long as our nation has existed, and our leaders have celebrated both the victories and the victors with feasts, fireworks, and finery. The cruelties inherent in armed conquest typically have been forgotten while we reveled in the spoils.
Next, the good news.
Whether some small portion of our true intent is to assuage our guilt, protect our own interests, or take from others what we believe is rightfully ours (or perhaps a mix of all three), America has still used its unparalleled wealth and power to many times provide aid and comfort to other nations and their people, protect victims of oppression in other lands, and create the conditions necessary for the adjudication of conflicts without resort to force.
Although it is now fashionable among the smart set to denigrate all that America is today and has stood for in the past, tyrants of all stripes have had no more implacable foe throughout the entire course of human history than the United States, and an incredible amount of our “blood and treasure” has been expended in laudable efforts to free nations and people from misery. Right alongside the raw self-interest has been a multitude of well-meaning—if sometimes naive or misguided—attempts to allow others to share the freedoms and comforts that we daily cherish. To forget this fact is both dangerous and insulting.
America’s good intentions have not always ensured good outcomes, but to fail to recognize those good intentions is to foolishly ignore the nearly bottomless wellspring of hope and compassion that Americans have possessed. Were our history only a crass record of conquests, the condemnation of today’s trendy academics and angry activists would be well-deserved, but the reality of America’s past is far more complex than the sloganeers and statue smashers of today are willing to admit. To conveniently forget all that is good and wonderful about America’s history and replace it with the simplistic hatred now used to justify the wholesale destruction of monuments, the burning of businesses, and the attacks upon anyone who dares to defend our nation is indicative of infantile angst rather than reasoned analysis.
America is not perfect because humans are not perfect, but we should still appreciate and celebrate the innumerable contributions this nation has made to creating a peaceful and prosperous planet that now stands in stark contrast to the routine despotism and savagery that was our sad lot before the United States stepped into a leading role upon the world stage. America is not immune to stupidity and duplicity, and our outsized power and influence often make our mistakes more damaging, but the ambitious, the hopeful, and the oppressed still flock to this nation for one very good reason: We have provided the best possible opportunities for prosperous, happy, and safe lives to a great many current and future Americans.
Let’s hope we can continue to do so.