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Pax Americana!
In Dissent, Number Ninety-Three
by Brian S. Wise
11 March 2003

If America is the greatest nation on Earth, what's so wrong with saying so?

Circumstance recently commanded the need for a taxi, my destination triggering in the driver the sort of incoherent recollections one normally expects from a great-grandfather who’s no longer allowed to touch the remote control. “I used to live down there, 1970,” he began, “Drove a 1968 Camaro, paid $1,495 for it … had a factory installed tape player.” Sorry, I didn’t ask whether it played eight track or cassette tapes. “Back then, gas was 27.9 cents a gallon, and smokes were 30 cents a pack. Now it’s two bucks for gas and three for smokes.” He laughed. “And they have the nerve to say prices are adjusted by the rate of inflation. [Actually, who says that?] It’s the New World Order, man. That’s the problem.”

What followed was a brief (and yet, much too long) explanation of exactly what constituted efforts to achieve the New World Order, to which I listened silently. He concluded with, “Well, I’m almost 50 so it’s over for me, but you’re still young. [I genuinely have no idea what he meant.] Imagine what things will be like in 30 years!” I would have liked to imagine a taxicab ride without being subjected to elaborate conspiracy theories; alas, no. What I didn’t say (partly because I was being polite, mostly because I didn’t want to walk) was, “You know, there’s probably a reason you’re a cab driver and not a Harvard professor; it’s because you’re simple enough to believe in things like the New World Order.”

Funny how the New World Order never reared its ugly head when Bill Clinton was approving of bad global pollution treaties, negotiating international trade pacts and bombing foreign countries without United Nations approval (that approval being one of those things the Left has been so keen on lately), only when Republicans are in power. (One casually suspects the die-hards were always hanging on faintly, but you get the point.) But he was speaking about it in terms of the war – the United States is about to invade Iraq and overthrow a dictator; that dictator happens to be sitting on oil. The working theory is that said overthrow clears the way for America (presumably America by itself, without even one of its 35 sworn allies) to claim it, which would put a stranglehold on the Iraqi people. They would be forced to play along and … democratize.

What our cabbie friend meant to call this is Pax Americana – a term meant to suggest America undertakes concerted efforts to suppress those countries, mostly third world countries, that fail to fall into line with the American model. Pax Americana is an idea gaining favor among those politicians otherwise at a loss for genuine ideas, and many self-styled intellectuals. Consider Dennis Kucinich, who explained that we are going to Iraq for Empire, and Charles Hagel, who said, “I detect a dangerous arrogance and a sort of ‘Pax Americana’ vision which holds that we are more powerful, richer and smarter than the rest of the world, and we are going forth to impose democracy.”

First thing’s first: Anyone refusing to admit that the American experiment has produced a standard of living and a freedom of thought unparalleled in world history, and that those standards would brilliantly serve any nation willing to fully employ them as openly as America has, is lying to themselves. Fact is, we are more powerful, richer and (here and there, outside the public classroom) smarter than the rest of the world; what exactly is so wrong with saying so? Furthermore, what’s so wrong with thinking so much of the citizens suffering under toilet regimes that we wish upon them that sort of freedom?

If the answer is that America should wish upon them that freedom and not force it, I’ll meet you halfway in the following respect: America should not demand of those generally indisposed to democracy such a thing, but the fact remains that democracies generally don’t attack and go to war with other democracies. Therefore when it comes to things like forced regime change, it benefits the United States first, and those people living in the conquered places second, to ensure such a movement toward democracy is in the cards before the job can be considered done.

Lastly, there is no harm in passing onto anyone those moral beliefs we know are, well, superior to the alternative. There is obvious superiority in not, let’s say, setting a Kurd woman on fire for trying to sell kerosene and using the proceeds to feed her family (as happened in Iraq this last weekend). Again, we will concede that forcing those morals down the throats of the Arab nations (to keep with the modern point of reference, though there are, of course, others) is problematic, but we should remember there is a profound difference between contrary positions on morality and condoning outright barbarism. That we are allowed here a chance to restore some semblance of freedom to a people who deserve it (under the theory all human beings inherently deserve freedom) is good, and to act on it is a moral opportunity we cannot afford to bypass.

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