America Now: A Failure of Nerve?
IN recent months, a number of developments have occurred which seem enormously significant in their implications for the future of the United States in particular and of Western civilization in general.
Fifteen years ago, John F. Kennedy announced to the world that the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship … to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” At least partly in fulfillment of this promise, the United States among other things sent 500,000 men to Indochina with the stated objective of preventing a Communist takeover in the countries of the region. This year, in the wake of its traumatic experience of that war, the United States was reluctant even to send economic aid to forestall the coming to power of Communist regimes in Cambodia and Vietnam. And even where Europe is concerned, the United States-as the case of Portugal seems to suggest-has responded with comparative passivity.
Fifteen years ago, the United States would almost certainly have reacted with either the threat or the use of force to any action such as the OPEC cartel has taken in raising the price of oil. Today, the American reaction to what might legitimately be seen as a fundamental challenge to the security and economic well-being of the country has been relatively mild.
Fifteen years ago, the ruling elements of American society were convinced that the United States was on the whole a good society and a desirable model for others to follow.
Today, we find evidence of an increasing disposition among the elites-political, cultural, and even commercial-to question the legitimacy of American civilization. Instead of stressing the virtues of an industrialized liberal democracy, as they were once so readily prepared to do, they now tend to dwell upon its failings and sometimes even to acquiesce in the most hostile descriptions of the country’s character, its past record, and its future prospects.
What does all this mean? Is it an expression, as some think, of an adjustment to hopeful new international realities like detente and interdependence; or are we, as Solzhenitsyn and others believe, witnessing a resurgence of “the spirit of Munich”? Is the United States exhibiting a new maturity in its international behavior; or is the country suffering from a failure of nerve and a loss of political will? COMMENTARY addressed these questions to a group of American intellectuals who hold varying political views, but who share a special interest in international affairs and the nature of the American role in the world at large. Their responses-thirty-five in all-appear below in alphabetical order.
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