When you think of a figure in your life that sets an example for you without the feeling of annoyingly high expectations, who is it? Maybe it’s your parents, or teachers, or other adults in your life. Mostly, though, if you have an older brother, he’s the guy you’d expect to encompass this compromise. This relationship is interesting, mostly because the way in which he leads you and has a slight advantage over you is by setting a good example, whether it is by doing more of the good or less of the bad. In watching this year’s State of the Union Address, reading transcripts of those of past presidents, and noting situations the U.S. gets itself involved in, I have come to realize that the United States is to the world what most people’s big brother is to them. This usually involves protection (whether it’s asked for or not), and the attempt to standardize a way of living that this figure sees as morally suitable.
I know this idea of America as a “big brother” to the world is not new, nor unpopular. But I’d like to defend our nation, including the presidents who have made their diplomacy choices, against those who find our involvement overbearing to say the least. Although there are circumstances in which the U.S. should have stayed at home and not interfered with fellow nations, the individuals who have decided in the past and continue to decide today are faced with innumerable conflicts, and even more notable the pressure of the people to act and an entire nation’s history to show how this action shaped America today. After all, hindsight is always 20/20. Mr. John F. Kennedy talked about the necessity of the United States on the global stage, saying, “We are pledged to work with our sister republics to free the Americas of all such foreign domination and all tyranny, working toward the goal of a free hemisphere of free governments, extending from Cape Horn to the Arctic Circle” (John F. Kennedy, January 30, 1961). The United States, especially in such trying times as the Communist uproar during JFK’s administration, feels that it has an obligation to those who are not allowed the bountiful freedoms we are here.
Militarily, economically, and democratically, the U.S. has been a bastion of success since the Revolution, and our image as a nation has only grown more powerful and more influential with time. These three aspects of our nation are always under scrutiny, and there have been many great men to comment on our successes and failures. Firstly, the United States military has been involved in intense wars abroad in the hopes of spreading the ideals the nation possesses across the globe, a diaspora of freedom and rights. President Obama said on Tuesday, “You see, in a world of complex threats, our security, our leadership depends on all elements of our power, including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries…” (Barack Obama, January 28, 2014). In this way, not much has changed since Mr. Kennedy made his pledge, except for the increased number of examples for the efforts of the United States in bringing freedom to the world. President Obama commented on the end of the longest war in U.S. history, and the benefits the world has come to enjoy from our efforts in the Middle East. The United States has carried the burden of many dead and wounded soldiers, and these losses are undeniably tragic. It is not in vain though, that these victims have increased in what seems to be an exponential way. They were contributors to the life America has chosen as the world’s big brother.
The economy of the United States has taken the highs and lows from the past to work out our current status. Not only were the Presidents who spoke on this matter concerned for internal affairs and jobs, but the competition and possibility of leading with capitalism in the world. In 1997, William Clinton spoke before the joint session of Congress, stressing the importance of the economy not only for the positive statistics many look for, but for the worth the skills of the American people have. He said, “We should challenge all Americans in the arts and humanities… so that we can remain the world’s beacon not only of liberty but of creativity…” He also claimed, “The American people must prosper in the global economy. We’ve worked hard to tear down trade barriers abroad so that we can create good jobs at home” (William J. Clinton, February 4, 1997). This opportunistic language directly reflects our nation’s economic motives, even in times of depression and unemployment. While arts were the concern of this past president, the competition President Obama spoke of pertained mainly to technology advances and the effect of foreign power on America. He stressed the importance of our advancement, saying, “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” Just as with a big brother, competition is healthy for the relationship the United States has with the rest of the world.
Finally, democracy is what the United States was founded for. The idea of being led by and for the people has brought our government to sometimes problematic representation and our nation as a whole to new heights of freedom and equality. Although there is even more to be done here for the rights of more members of society, the expansion of our core values has never ceased to be a priority for the United States of America. President James (Jimmy) Carter spoke very distinctly about the moral obligation the country has to the rest of the world. In this time of relative peace, he found it especially crucial to influence morale around the world, saying, “We’ve come through a long period of turmoil and doubt, but we’ve once again found our moral course, and with a new spirit, we are striving to express our best instincts to the rest of the world” (Jimmy Carter, January 19, 1978). The especially interesting and distinct facet of this call to action is that it is a hope for our newly adopted morale to spread by an osmosis-like process of the world watching and simply adopting our optimism. Although this may seem impractical, I find it refreshingly abstract and hopeful. Similarly, Obama expressed his beliefs in the American standards of morality and standards of living: “My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might, but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them.” I’d have to agree with the President, and with all of the men cited in this blog. America sure makes one heck of a big brother.
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php (SOTU Transcripts)
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=104596 (President Obama)
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=8045 (President Kennedy)
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=53358 (President Clinton)
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=30856 (President Carter)