Along the Tracks

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

American Atlas

From Saturday’s Bryan Times (if you want it sooner, subscribe!):

World order rests on American Atlas

By Paul A. Miller

You may have heard of Atlas, the mythological Titan who holds the world on his shoulders. In fact, you may recall seeing illustrations of his feat, an ancient Arnold Schwarzenegger type with rippled muscles and bent knees, a globe resting squarely between his shoulder blades. The strain is evident on his face. I pity his massage therapist.

Atlas’s career was not of his own choosing: The god Zeus put him in that position - literally - as punishment for the hulking hunk’s part in the Titanic revolt.

After all, who really wants to carry the world on their shoulders?

Nevertheless, the real world also is carried by a giant: The United States of America.

Like Atlas, America did not ask for this job. However, most do not look at this position as a “punishment,” even if the U.S. taxpayer sometimes understandably groans under the burden. Rather, Americans accept that, but for U.S. efforts holding up the international community, the world would roll toward chaos.

It is considered bad manners to mention America’s burden in mixed company - that is, when speaking with so-called “progressives,” anti-globalizationists, “peace” activists, the French, etc. The reason is obvious: this dirty little secret of American might and necessity demonstrates the bankruptcy of their anti-American posturing.

Consider the shape of the world if America dropped the ball. The immediate result of a U.S. withdrawal from international affairs would be an explosion of violence around the globe. What keeps Kim Jong Il from annexing South Korea? Why has China not sent its battleships to shell Taiwan down to its rocky core? Why does the Indonesian army not reclaim East Timor, guns a-blazin’? Why are the Serbs not rounding up every Muslim in the Balkans and giving them shovels to dig their own graves?

The questions could go on for another several paragraphs, but the point is clear. American military might keeps a lid on international and intranational slaughter. The world is a violent place even with U.S. efforts, and the exercise of American power is not without its mistakes. Nevertheless, the world would look far worse without U.S. carrier groups off every continent and American troops based in key locations near every hot spot.

The violence of the 1930s and the resulting world war demonstrated the international community in its natural state. Today, with an American withdrawal, the picture would differ little - except the weapons would be far more destructive. From 1930 to 1950, more than 100 million people died of political violence. Armed with modern chemicals and germs and nuclear devices, today’s tooth-and-claw world would multiply those totals - anyone for a billion killed?

So it seems clear America’s defense budget goes to much more than defending America. But what of other burdens borne by the United States? Consider the trade deficit. What does this economic statistic represent? In a nutshell, it is the dollar figure of America’s private international aid. Where other nations set high tariffs, ostensibly to “protect” their domestic industries, the U.S. maintains low taxes on imports, giving foreign enterprises an opportunity to compete for the huge stockpile of American wealth. Third World nations are literally pulled from the depths of poverty by the American consumer, not by donating food for a day, but by providing jobs at which these populations can build their own wealth.

As the assets of foreign consumers grow, these nations become markets for the value-added goods the United States produces. American wealth grows with that of the Third World.

When international critics point to America’s supposedly low levels of international aid, they conveniently ignore the above forms of assistance. A world dominated by regional aggressive powers, murderous thugs and self-interested economic conglomerates would be brutal, bloody and wretched.

The globe is riddled with problems which require international cooperation. But for that cooperation to succeed, there must be moral leadership by a power willing to lift the burden.

As anti-Americanism throws body blows and envious competitors try to kick out the knees, the rest of the world should be grateful the American Atlas does not shrug.

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