The United States of America: The one essential, exceptional, indispensable nation

I’m proud to be an American because we have done something no other great nation in the history of the world has done – we have used our great power not to enslave others, but to enable them.

I am proud because America is exceptional for many reasons:  for our constitution, our melting pot culture, our classless society, and because we, from our earliest days, have been the world’s land of opportunity. But it’s more than just our unique history, or geography, or resources, or system of government. It’s more than our ethnic diversity, our melting pot culture, or the land of opportunity, or our constitution that enshrines individual liberty.

We are exceptional also because we have built into our national DNA the ability to reinvent ourselves both individually and as a society, socially as well as economically.

We began as a nation of farmers, but used our abundant natural resources to reinvent ourselves as the world’s leading industrial power.  When our factories moved offshore, and our great industrial region became known as the Rust Belt, we reinvented ourselves yet again. A handful of young inventors in northern California created computers launched the internet, transforming the world overnight.  We are now on the verge of another revolution led by cheap energy and another batch of newly invented industries.

When we won the cold war without firing a shot we extended the hand of friendship to our former enemies in Eastern Europe and helped them build modern economies and democracies.

These all make America power the wonder and envy of the world.  But what sets America apart from all the great nations throughout history is what we do with our power.  We have created the greatest military the world has ever known.  We have been a global superpower for a century and the world’s sole superpower for decades.  We could have used our power to conquer lands, or demand tribute, or exploit the vulnerable.  Instead we have used our tremendous power to do good.  We are, of course, not without blemish.  We have sometimes intervened into the affairs of others or fought limited wars that were neither successful nor without destruction, despite our good intentions.

But when we have been at our best is when we have used our power to help others, when we have done well by doing good.

After World War II, our allies and adversaries were destitute.  Our treasury was empty, too.  But we did not demand reparations for the wars we didn’t start.  Instead we determined the world would be a better and safer place if we offered a helping hand to those we had fought against as well as those we had fought with. The Marshall Plan was one of the most generous acts in world history, and it has been the pillar of great power peace the world has enjoyed for the longest stretch of time since the fall of the Roman Empire.

When we won the cold war without firing a shot we extended the hand of friendship to our former enemies in Eastern Europe and helped them build modern economies and democracies.

Our navies have guaranteed open lanes of commerce and communication throughout the seven seas.  Our armies have maintained the peace in Europe and Asia, not by occupying defeated nations, but by alliance systems that kept the peace and gave them the breathing space to re pair and rebuild.

Years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury told our then Secretary of State that the Iraq War was just an excuse for us to build an empire in the Middle East.  Islamist radicals have called us the Great Satan.  But as former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “far from being the Great Satan, I would say that we are the Great Protector.  We have sent men and women from the armed forces of the United States to other parts of the world throughout the past century to put down oppression.  We defeated Fascism.  We defeated communism.  We saved Europe in World War I and World War II.  We were willing to do it, glad to do it.  We went to Korea.  We went to Vietnam, all in the interest of preserving the rights of people.

And when all those conflicts were over, what did we do?  Did we stay and conquer? Did we say, “Okay, we defeated Germany. Now Germany belongs to us?  We defeated Japan, so Japan belongs to us”?  No.  What did we did?  We built them up.  We gave them democratic systems which they have embraced totally to their soul.  And did we ask for any land?  No, the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead.  And that is the kind of nation we are.” (October, 1980)

That is why America is the one essential, one exceptional nation, the one indispensable nation.  It is why the American Dream is admired by our friends and foes alike.  And that is why I am proud to be an American.