War and Peas

This Thanksgiving, Americans should show a little humility

| November 2003

'And also that we may beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions...'
-- George Washington, from the 1789 proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday

Peace and peas. Many Americans will be praying for one this week and getting the other instead. My guess is that few in America's current political leadership will even silently ask for the divine national pardon envisaged by Washington in the original Thanksgiving proclamation. And that's precisely why peace isn't currently on the American menu and won't be for some time.

So what should America be asking forgiveness for? Well, there are a number of things that come to mind all of which fall under a single catchphrase: ignorance at home, arrogance abroad.

It would be convenient for the more liberally inclined to pin blame for these American attitudes entirely on Bush administration officials. They are after all the chief architects of a war built on ill-informed pretenses that has killed thousands of innocents, weakened our key alliances, and emboldened our enemy. They are also the ones who have backed out of and, in some cases, attempted to scuttle a number of international treaties designed to make the world healthier, more just, and sustainable. These acts alone would seem to justify a collective 'sorry'.

Yet, the roots of America's foreign policy arrogance reach back many years and enjoy fertile ground in both political parties. Recall that it was President Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who declared that the United States is 'the indispensable nation' that 'stands taller' and 'sees farther' than the rest of the world. You can guess how well that type of comment goes down in diplomatic circles.

Clearly, our arrogance comes at an international price in terms of lost credibility and damaged working relationships. So why not dispense with it and replace it with a foreign policy based on integrity and humility? That's where the other side of the coin, domestic ignorance, comes into play. Many, if not most, Americans think that America really is superior in every way and want to hear this opinion echoed by their political leaders, be they democrats or republicans.