America and the World

Scripps-Howard News Service 1.02.02
Balint Vazsonyi

One of the endearing qualities of Americans is the desire to be liked. Citizens of past great powers sought to be respected and feared. Americans will go a long way to earn the affection of individuals, as well as of nations.

From dropping food parcels for the people who harbor our enemies to the endless hours of public discussion trying to understand those who are sworn to kill us, the effort is unending. A typical example was presented by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times (Dec. 9), listing a lengthy roster of steps to make us "the best country, and the best global citizens, we can be. Otherwise," Mr. Friedman fears, "we are going to lose the rest of the world."

(Can you picture a commentator in the Egypt of the Pharaohs, the Roman Empire, Spain in the 1500s, or even Victorian Great Britain writing something remotely similar? Can you imagine a Soviet leader from Lenin to Gorbachev encouraging Pravda to print such an article?)

New Year's Day is appropriate, I thought, so I placed a large pad on my desk and began to list everything we might do to curry favor with the world. The task proved more difficult than one would assume. In two world wars, and a few others, America has already sacrificed untold thousands of her best and brightest to liberate and preserve other countries, without aspiring to gain a square inch of territory. America already has a unique record in rebuilding the countries of her former enemies, as well as friends. America has already granted "loans" to friend and foe alike, without collecting interest, much less expecting repayment. When the Soviets blockaded Berlin, instead of dropping a few nuclear bombs on Moscow, Americans dropped supplies for Berliners around the clock, until the blockade was lifted.

Just recently, we gave Pakistan an astronomical sum of money, in exchange for which they let only 80% of our enemies escape.

Thus I was left with the quandary - how to top all this? Well, for a start, we could embark on a three-year plan of depositing one-quarter, then one-half, then three-quarters of all payments (salaries, purchases, investment income) from anyone to anyone into a "World Fund" which would dispense a proportionate monthly amount to every member of the United Nations.

If this did not secure a sufficiently friendly disposition by the recipients, we could turn in all our material possessions, retaining only items defined as basic necessities by an international commission. Distribution centers would be established on all continents where people could come and get it.

If that still proves inadequate, we could all move to the North Pole (since most of Alaska is reserved for wildlife), and invite the rest of the world to take possession of our homes, cities and lands on a first-come, first-served basis.

The trouble is that, while I am being clearly ridiculous, Mr. Friedman - and others of his persuasion - sincerely believe that their equally ridiculous suggestions would do the job.

We have a truly insurmountable obstacle staring us in the face. It is called success. If the word is too strong for you, call it can-do. In any event, the combination of liberty and prosperity, the record of finding a way, no matter what the challenge, is hard to swallow for the less fortunate - which is the rest of the world.

No one who knows about America is neutral. Sentiments range from love to hate, from respect to contempt, from admiration to plain envy. The only time everyone loves America is when people are in dire trouble and Americans come to the rescue. But memories of the euphoria fade rather quickly. Just ask the French - which proves that it is not simply our wealth that invites resentment from the poor.

Our wealth, though, is greater than most of us realize. We discuss poverty in America, but only because most of us no longer have any idea what poverty is. Yes, we should share our wealth, as Americans always have. Nowhere else have the rich given so much to their community, to their country, to the world. And not only the rich. Giving is one of our leading industries.

But America has nothing to prove to the world. America owes nothing to the world. And America doesn't need any more ideas from those who like to give away what other people have earned.

Whatever we are able to give, we should expect nothing in return.