Romanticizing America

As the world watches, waits, and wonders as it relates to Russia, Ukraine, and what may or may not be next, America, like usual these days on any and every topic, is split.

There seem to be three camps on this specific topic; stay out, go in, and our current policy of split the difference.

The stay-out crowd has always existed. They’re the group that, ironically, saved the world. Back in 1939, an insane madman was encroaching on European territories using the most asinine propaganda to justify his actions (sound familiar?), and Americans overwhelmingly said, “we have our own problems, you guys figure it out.” Two years later, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked, and America was forced into World War II…and history correctly records that we led the way to literally saving the world from a Nazi regime.

The split-the-difference crowd is the pragmatic group that says that America can’t, in and of itself, be the world’s police and certainly doesn’t need to send its sons and daughters to die everywhere, all of the time. But they also acknowledge we also can’t sit on the sidelines. Their approach is to work with multiple allies, find common ground on strategies, and, working with our partners, do everything we can to both assist and stay at an arm’s distance.

The go-in crowd has won the argument historically. This is the group that lives off of the fuel that is World War II. America saved the planet and is the greatest fighting force and liberating army on earth and should go where people need it to go.

The problem with that latter group is that they live off of a romanticized fairy tale of what America is and ignore actual results.

Pop quiz: when was the last time in history that America actually liberated and freed a nation, leaving it better off than when we entered it?

Take your time…

Also, while you’re thinking about it, do what those of us in the business world call a cost analysis…or perhaps, more relatable, think of it like a batting average in the sense of how many times has America proclaimed to be charging in as the superhero of the world, and how many times has she achieved her goal?

And the answer is…The Persian Gulf War of 1990. End of list.

To be clear, this is not in any way meant to demean or dismiss the amazing men and women who serve nor to in any way suggest that their sacrifices have been in vain. This is merely an exercise in understanding why the whole “America liberates the world” argument is so absurd and provably stupid that those of us who claim to be patriotic really need to lose that as a justification.

If World War II was America’s defining moment, then start the clock there; The Korean War was a disaster…Vietnam more so. We liberated essentially no one in either of those conflicts, and many would argue that we plunged both nations into decades of poverty and suffering. To argue that South Korea’s relatively recent explosion as an economic power is in any way directly tied to our efforts in the Korean War is to completely re-write history.

While there have been minor operations (relatively speaking) with some, more mixed results, such as Grenada and Bosnia, the recent history of America leaving a country in better condition than when we left it is hardly brag-worthy.

Mogadishu aka “Black Hawk Down,” was a disgrace in 1993 and God knows the disaster that was last August’s pull-out from Afghanistan showed us all we need to know about the state of that nation after 20 years of American military occupation. While Iraq and the world are far better off without Saddam Hussein, that nation is no friend of America’s and teeters on authoritarian rule once again.

The always promised pictures of American soldiers being cheered and hailed as liberators rarely ever actually develop, and even if they do, they are replaced months or years later by the reality that little actually changed. This is the result of many things, almost all of them having nothing to do with the actual soldiers, and everything to do with our romanticized hubris highlighting our endless national ego that somehow dictates that we can, will, and have so many times, been successful in unleashing people from the chains of their oppressors. Since World War II, not so much…so maybe we should rethink our yee-haw, let’s go save the world policy and drink a tall cool glass of reality based on results.

This is not to say that we do nothing, nor that we need to do things better. Most of the blame for our goals not being achieved lie at the feet of political leaders for a variety of reasons, usually not being willing to truly unleash the might of the U.S. military in order to allow it to actually achieve the stated goals. And therein lies a rub; like usual, we’re the problem. Many Americans support the idea of helping others and maintaining democracies for a variety of reasons, but there’s always a but. In this case, the “but” is that Americans can’t stomach what real war looks like. It’s as close as we get to what we also can’t often handle watching; nature and the wild at work. The actual liberation of a people is bloody, gory, brutal, and impossible to achieve without endless death, many of them of civilians, most notably, women, the elderly, and children. As a collective nation, we can’t lay our pillows on our heads in our comfortable suburban homes at night and sleep with those images on our consciences. Our elected leaders know that, and thus, the cycle continues.

So stop with the chest-pounding and battle crying, and start with acceptance, understanding, and humility. We’ll all get a lot further from there, whether it be at your kitchen table or at the Pentagon.

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