Leadership isn’t always comfortable, but with great power comes great responsibility. To lead from the moral high ground, one must do the right thing, no matter how difficult that may be. Some may think that it is time for the United States to stop worrying about what is happening outside of its borders; however, an examination of history and current events demonstrate how dangerous that would be not only for the world, but for American national security as well.
Emerging from the great war that crumbled an entire continent and its once-mighty nations, the United States became the world’s sole superpower at the end of 1917. Europe had been temporarily ridded with dictators, and America had made the world “safe" for democracy. Under American leadership, the world resolved to establish the League of Nations and President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points. The platform was designed to facilitate dialogue between nations, something that had been rare in the past, and whose absence helped give rise to World War I. The United States Congress, despite President Wilson’s insistence otherwise, decided that the United States would not join the league, and would instead retreat into its own borders. Taking America’s lead, the great European powers of the past similarly retreated into isolationism and ignored what was happening outside of their borders.
The League of Nations was rendered obsolete as a result. Countries lost sight on maintaining the post-war global order. Fascists like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were given free rein to build up their militaries and prepare for world domination.
Hitler soon re-armed, invaded the Rhineland, and began working on “the final solution.” Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, and Hirohito’s Japan invaded Manchuria. The world stood by and did nothing. Instead of confronting evil, Western leadership—particularly under the United Kingdom’s Neville Chamberlain—decided to “appease” the aggressors and let them take what they wanted, in the hope that they would not do it again. Eventually, those who had once been appeased had decided to bite the hands that fed them.
Hitler aimed to exterminate all non-Aryans and establish a thousand-year Reich. Japan had made plans to invade the continental United States and sought to conquer the entire world. In a time when the world needed them, Americans—regardless of where they came from, what they looked like, what god they prayed to, or who they voted for—put on the uniform, and served in defense of country and humanity.
Tens of millions of unthinkable deaths later, World War II yielded the same result as World War I: it showed the world that the love of freedom defeats the forces of hate and injustice.
This time around, however, the United States was not the world’s sole superpower—the Soviet Union had joined it. This fact, paired with the realization that the absence of American leadership had helped spur some of the bloodiest years in human history, led the United States' resolved to not repeat mistakes of the past. From this point onward, the United States would enter a role from which it could never retreat.
President John F. Kennedy famously declared in his Inaugural Address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
During the Cold War, driven by a dangerous “us vs. them” mentality and a policy of perimeter defense, the United States expanded its military sphere of influence across all four corners of the globe. Its forces were prepared to maintain peace and engage in conflict wherever necessary.
The problem was that now there was no turning back: if the United States ever retreated from its leadership position, wars would break out across the planet.
Fast forward to today, and the same remains true. If American forces weren’t maintaining the armistice between North and South Korea, the two would likely fall back into war. If the NATO alliance weren’t strong, Putin’s Russia would be tempted to invade states like Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania the same way he did with Georgia in 2008 and with Crimea in 2014. If the United States weren’t involved in the Middle East, several states in the region would have nuclear weapons. If the United States weren’t allied with Taiwan, China might try to claim it. There are many more examples, but one thing remains clear: the world needs America. We, the American people, need to remember that.
While we as a nation regret our shortcomings in stopping the Holocaust, we must remember that if we are to be the greatest country on earth, we have a responsibility to make sure that one never happens again. That means that when we see genocide happening, we stop it, and when we draw a “red line,” we keep it.
There is no place for tyranny in this world. The world should be ashamed that it has allowed Bassar Al-Assad to gas children, run torture camps, and a murder over 400,000; the world should be ashamed that it still does business with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei, who actively support Assad. How can we be so complacent living with evil, and so afraid of doing the right thing?
Albert Einstein once said that “The world is a dangerous place to live. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it.”
In regards to removing Assad, most would explain that they fear the power vacuum that ensues--after all, the terror groups filled the vacuums left by the overthrows of Saddam Hussein and Muhammar Gadhafi. Those vacuums were eventually exposed because neither the United States or its allies could fill them forever.
But imagine a world where all freedom-loving countries realize that dictatorship is a threat to them all. Imagine a global community that decided to never tolerate regimes that torture, enslave, or murder. Imagine a global community that willingly filled power vacuums for as long as it takes in order to ensure peace and the survival of human dignity. Imagine a global community that would refuse to interact with those who aid those regimes.
That kind of world would be one in which the evil and their supporters would stand no chance—they would be brought to justice, not appeased. Those like Assad would be afraid to take power in the first place.
The reason why we don’t live in that kind of world is because countries are afraid to risk shouldering the burden on their own. Like the isolationists after World War I, there are those who fear that if the United States takes responsibility for stopping the injustices, it will be serving as a global police force—all alone. But if we don’t take the lead, who will? And if someone else takes the lead, will the rest of the world follow?
We must remember that America is more than a country—it is an idea. It is an idea that all people ought to be free, treated with dignity and respect, and that people of all backgrounds can love and live with one another. That idea is no longer an American phenomenon, as it has spread across the globe the world has become a better place because of it.
America is not involved in the world because it is a great country; it is a great country because it is involved in the world. Until the world follows, for as long as people are oppressed or in need, America must be there. It’s not about power; it’s about doing the right thing. We the American people must lead the way.
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