America Isn’t Invincible From World History

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – The events of a Sunday morning in December 1941 are a moving reminder that America must defend her vital national interests.

And no one should doubt the immense gratitude toward those who nobly give their all, and even their lives, for their country.

In Pearl Harbor, the U.S.S. Arizona memorial stands above the final resting place of many, with fuel from the sunken battleship rising to the surface, drop by occasional drop.

However, not every conceivable exercise of American military power is unquestionably wise or serves America’s vital national interests. Nor is the American form of government the sole role model for all the world, notwithstanding American exceptionalism.

Nevertheless, since the victory in the war that for this country began in Pearl Harbor, some Americans from both major political parties have believed America can successfully transplant substantial aspects of American-like government into countries lacking the traditions that informed the American founding.

But with a little humility, it’s easy to understand that such transplants are difficult at best, just as it’s difficult for one country to be the world’s police department.

The American Constitution is a prescription the founders wrote particularly for America. It was grounded in centuries upon centuries of Western experience, sometimes painful experience, in government and has roots in Western cultural institutions. The founders’ work, ingenious though it was, had some serious flaws – primarily slavery, the consequences of which we continue to address.

Does that mean America and her allies can’t help other countries? No.

Does that mean countries lacking Western heritage can’t have representative government? No.

It has worked in parts of eastern Asia. Yet there one finds some of the most self-disciplined, self-effacing people in the world.

It’s working in South Africa. Yet there it follows what in effect was centuries of Dutch and British colonial rule, which despite all its horrible injustices, left in place Western-style government institutions that post-apartheid South Africans inherited, while showing enormous restraint instead of undertaking a revolution.

Representative government can work in other countries. Yet they have to make it work.

Besides, does America really aspire in effect to be a colonial power, with all of its costs in treasure and blood?

Or does America instead aspire to defend her vital national interests, and assert power when necessary to defend those vital national interests?

World history is replete with great powers’ having rendered themselves at best second-rate powers by habitually making the wrong choice.

America isn’t exempt from the lessons of history.

West Ellicott lawyer Randy Elf is in Honolulu to defend, in the United States Court of Appeals, First Amendment rights to political speech.