In 1964 I was a Mormon missionary in Argentina.
The thing that struck me in my first city, Santa Fe, was the “Yankee go home” signs painted on the walls all over the city.
The same has held true in every city, in every country I’ve lived in, worked in, and visited in fifty plus years since then.
I had no idea that I would spend the majority of my life traveling and working around the world. During that time I’ve been occasionally called out for being an American. For example, one time, a big muscular blond guy from southern Italy called me a “filthy North American.” He was hiding out in the same city, Carlos Paz, where I was living when the confrontation took place. I knew from local residents that he was a gangster, and that periodically those types would come there until things cooled off in their own city. Knowing that, I said nothing back to him, because unless you have overwhelming odds in your favor, you bide your time. That has worked well for me in my adult life.
On the other hand, in every country, no matter how small, remote, or far away, I have also been received with respect and most of all with admiration because I was an American. Examples abound, but one is worth mentioning.
In Mendoza, Argentina, when I was twenty one years old in 1966, I had an appendicitis attack and was taken to a small, out of the way hospital, where I had emergency surgery. When I woke up from the anesthesia late that night, I found a man I knew sleeping on the floor next to my bed. He was a local business owner, who designed molds. He had refashioned a shoe of mine that helped me walk better because of my polio. He stayed in the hospital that night to make sure I was safe. That man and his family had taken me in and loved me since the first time I had knocked on their door as a proselytizing missionary going door to door. To my knowledge, he never became a member of my religion, despite my efforts to convince him. Nevertheless, we became close friends owing much to his kindness toward me.
So, what wins out? The occasional slur or the kindness? Both. To be an American means something. I’ve concluded that the messages on the walls and the calling out means the same as the kindness. They cuss you because they want what you have.
They’re kind because they admire who you are.
However, for much of my life abroad I have gone about my business without incident. People through out the world are like people in our own cities. They’re busy with the day’s activities.
There’s no denying, America continues to be the strong nation among all nations. Since the end of WW2, America has been the architect of the international rules by which the world is governed. Whether we talk of world peace in the United Nations, or how loans are administered by the World Bank to nations in need, or how the world economy is administered by the World Trade Organization, America’s hand in their creation and development is a matter of record.
Presently, China and Russia have decided to challenge that. Both have tried once already and failed. From their communist roots, Russia first in 1917 with the the overthrowing of the Romanovs, and China in 1948 with the exit of Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan, communism eventually declared a Cold War on America. Both failed in their efforts. But in the first fifteen years of the new century, autocrats have succeeded in once again trying to challenge America’s global leadership.
China wants to control the South China Sea and Taiwan, and also be the primary resource for developing nations. So far not so good on the diplomacy part. Their “wolf diplomacy” has alienated rather than win good relations through out the Pacific theatre. Russia has faired even worse. Their invasion of Ukraine has set Vladimir Putin up as a war criminal with charges of crimes against humanity.
So here we are. China and Russia taking another run at America. Let’s put this in perspective. Over the past seventy years, America has been the big dog in global leadership. Is America the target today, because it has all of the sudden grown weak? China and Russia think so, but so far their provocations haven’t played out well.
What then is America’s quality of character that keeps it so effective in the world. Not easily comprehended. America on the one hand is somewhat of a paradox. Its pattern of behavior has been a bit contradictory at times. For example, Its aggressive action in overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq was supported, then harshly criticized for attacking Iraq based on politically motivated intelligence. Yet, the overthrow of Hussein created a path toward functional democracy. On the other hand, America’s military technology and training allowed it to eliminate the two architects of the 9/11 attacks on the two world trade center towers, as well as Iran’s top general who orchestrated terrorists attacks in the Middle East. This was carried out with unrivaled displays of precision and brilliant fact finding.
Just when you think you have outsmarted America, it comes up with incredible accuracy that throws an adversary’s leaders off balance. It can appear weak, until it becomes lethal.
In the end, however, I’ve concluded that Russia and China as well as America will opt for peace over war. Why? The instruments of war are too overwhelming, the means of modern mass communication too ubiquitous, and the processes of government too slow to make war worthwhile. So, competition yes, war no.