(The second of a series on Christian hope in an age of ‘Pax Americana’)
Last week’s W e e k l y W o r d obviously raised an issue close to people’s hearts, judging by the widespread response.
But before we ask next week how the phenomenon of ‘Pax Americana’ (i.e. world peace under American domination) arose, let’s first pause to remember the significance of last Friday on the American calendar.
It was, of course, July 4th, Independence Day.
Here is the kind of speech I would like to have heard President Bush deliver last Friday.
Imagine you’re seated comfortably in front of the television, zapping through the channels, when suddenly the following appears on screen…
“…and so, my fellow Americans, on this day when we remember the birth of our nation, we are reminded of the values and ideals which have made this nation great. July the Fourth is a day to draw fresh inspiration and courage from our roots to face the challenges of tomorrow.
“Americans, as you know, are not like other peoples – like the French, Germans, Russians, Chinese or Japanese, whose genes have been mixing with kindred genes for thousands of years. What makes us Americans is not our blood or genes. America is a nation founded on ideas – of freedom, equality and opportunity. America has always been an immigrant’s land, open to anyone of any race or culture who accepts the American ideas of liberal democracy. President Lincoln at Gettysburg spoke of our nation as ‘conceived in liberty and dedicated to a proposition.’
“Americans have always sensed and accepted a special responsibility which accompanied the privilege of living in the land of opportunity. The Puritan governor of the colony of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, said back in 1630, ‘Consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.’ Even in colonial days, our founders were aware of a mission to embody the idea of liberty.
“Our nation has taken decisive action in recent months to protect the liberty of our own people, which came under attack on September 11, 2001. We have also taken action to effect the liberty of the people of Iraq, oppressed for years by dictatorship. Many around the world rejoiced with us in the overthrow of a hated dictator.
“But I would not be honest if I said everything has gone as hoped. Since I declared an end to major combat operation in Iraq over two months ago, we have faced strong challenges in winning the peace and establishing democracy based on the values on which our own country was built. We are discovering military power has limitations when it comes to winning hearts and minds.
“Yes, America is a great nation, and certainly the most powerful in history. And yet, a measure of true greatness must surely be the ability to listen to friends, to receive criticism and rebuke, and to recognize and correct one’s mistakes.
“With the approach of Independence Day, I have been reflecting on the lessons from our American experience under the tyranny of ‘taxation without representation’. Compared to Saddam, that does not seem such an evil tyranny after all. But a principle was at stake. Our forefathers suffered a form of tyranny, when someone else’s will was forced upon them. They knew what was it like to suffer under a dominant power indifferent to the feelings and aspirations of the underdogs. So they resolved to model an alternative, as a ‘city upon a hill’. The last thing they wished was to become tyrannical themselves.
“I have pondered on what President John Quincy Adams said early in the 19th century: ‘America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher of the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.’
“Yet the events of recent years, particularly September 11, have provoked us to go well beyond President Adam’s declaration. Under my leadership, we have divided the world into two camps, good and evil; those for us or those against us. We have changed our mission from promoting good to crushing evil; from changing the world by example and influence to changing it by force and imposition.
“Many – even among our friends – have disagreed with us. We have not always wanted to listen to criticism from friends. We have been convinced in the rightness of our cause. We have seen evil only in ‘them’, not in ‘us’.
“But I wish to say today, my fellow Americans, the prophet Isaiah speaks for me and speaks for us all when he says: “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips”.* This is true for the greatest and least of saints as in the greatest and least of sinners. Alexander Solzhenitsyn saw this truth years ago in the Soviet gulag, when he realised that the line dividing good and evil was drawn not between nations, but through every human heart.
“I must take to heart Lord Acton’s famous dictum that ‘all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. As the world’s only superpower today, we err to ignore the wisdom of experience.
“I have also come to appreciate the warning of the great British Conservative, Edmund Burke, to his fellow countrymen on being a superpower: ‘I dread our own power and our own ambition,’ he said of British might; ‘I dread our being too much dreaded… We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing and hitherto unheard of power. But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.’
“My reflections have also led me to respect the limitations of political freedom in the fulfilment of the deepest human longings, and to see the folly of absolutising democratic freedom, as eloquently stated by – well, yes – a Frenchman. Jacques Ellul, pleading the case for spiritual freedom, said: ‘Man can expect no freedom from any human movement. Man has not been freed, nor will he be freed, by a republican or democratic movement, nor by free thought, nor by collectivization, nor by the establishment of Communism, nor by the achievement of national independence, nor by technological progress, nor by the mastering of laws of economics or matter. None of these things can free man.’
“I must also admit that Henry Kissinger is right when he says we must resist basing our foreign policy on hegemonic power. Many world problems cannot be solved militarily. History does indeed show that sooner or later every powerful country calls into being countervailing forces. Kissinger is right to say that the United States will not be able to sort out every international problem alone without exhausting itself physically and psychologically.
“We need our allies. We need to fight terrorism and – more importantly – the causes of terrorism together. We need Europe’s ‘soft’ power to complement America’s ‘hard’ power. Without losing any of our resolve, we need to become what my father called a ‘kinder, gentler’ nation.
“Independence was what our forefathers aspired to – and that was appropriate and right. But over two hundred years later, the world has become a different place. Our world is a complex, interactive ecology of globalized communications, information-sharing and interwoven relationships – truly a global village. Stephen Covey has taught us that as individuals, we must mature past the adolescence of independence into adult interdependence. In our rapidly shrinking world, that is surely also true for nations.
“And so, on this Independence Day of 2003, I propose to you, the American people, that from now on, July the Fourth be known as Interdependence Day! And I invite all democratic nations and peoples everywhere to join with us in making this day their day!
“LONG LIVE INTERDEPENDENCE DAY!!”
Till next week,
* On his normal devotional routine, President Bush would have read this verse on July 3 in his daily reading of ‘My Utmost f
or His Highest’, by Oswald C