By Ethan Robinson
America, Greatest Country in the World?
The United States of America is, comparatively, a great country. There is a reason why refugees throughout the world see the US as salvation. There is a reason why numerous societies seeking freedom have looked to the US as an encouraging success story.
Whether relying on truth or falsehood, millions of immigrants have come to the US seeking a better life. Each case is different, being anything from opportunity in immigration, to sheer survival, as is the case for refugees. To them, the US is either a vastly superior nation, or a lesser evil compared to their own homes.
So please! Let us celebrate and revel in the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. As you eat your turkey and spend swell time with family this Thanksgiving, enjoy the fact that we are a diverse country.
But among the awkward conversations that come with all visits with family, there is one saying that I will not find agreement in.
“America is the greatest country in the world!”
Greatest country? In what world? There are 188 recognized and unique nations in the world, and we’re supposed to believe that the United States of America is simply the best out of every single one?
I understand that patriotism and pride is as American as apple pie. It forms the basis of our country and values. And sure, we are rich, and the average American lives a life to what we perceive as comfort and “freedom”.
But let me start by saying that there is nothing wrong with being proud of your country. Pride can lead to improvement, sustaining rights and recognizing new ones. Constant development and metamorphosis is what a democratic system is all about. But should American pride necessarily extend to calling ourselves the greatest compared to the rest of the world?
I do not think so. Germany has freedom, the UK has freedom, Japan has freedom, Zimbabwe has freedom, even “communist” China has what many perceive as freedom. Freedom is a very loose and malleable term, and it never has the same definition everywhere at once.
This aspect of freedom is why our founding fathers had such a strenuous time outlining freedom in our country’s formation and why we still have debates on it today. Thusly, I believe it to be arrogance that we can think of ourselves as the greatest without considering the other 188 nations in the world and their own ethos of governance.
Another thing I hear is this “special something” that America has which the rest of the world does not have, and that they are just vying to get that “special something” in all their jealousy. But what “special something” is this in terms with the modern world? Is it the fact that we make up 40% of the global military expenditure, China at 8% and Russia at 4%, and we still fear for our lives and American freedoms? Is it the fact that we are the highest in homicide rates compared to the richest countries? Is it the fact that we have the highest debt to gdp ratio out of the five richest countries, second out of the most populous behind Japan? In terms of academics in science, reading, and math, we lead globally in none of them, ranking averagely in reading and science, and low in math. What’s more, the US has the second-highest childhood poverty ranking in the richest countries, surpassed only by Mexico. So what is this “special something”? What I want is facts, because I cannot see them anywhere for this assertion that we are the best or have some sort of secret to success. Why should we call ourselves the greatest country in the world if these staggering problems still keep us negatively on the charts of statistical fact?
Furthermore, there is one other aspect that I cannot find logic in. There is a reason why nationalism is a synonym for patriotism in the English dictionary. Patriotism, if aggravated and led to an extreme view, is practically nationalism. And in my eyes, having vigorous support for your country leads to division in the world. Division leads to conflict, and conflict leads to suffering, along with inevitable innocent deaths. In other words, war.
This is why humanity has always had kingdoms and borders and countless clashes. Having a total belief in your own country means you are more willing to advocate its survival than others. If everyone believes they are superior and are out for their own skin, how can peace ever be possible for anyone?
The United States must place more stock in open-mindedness, and not keep its values confined in the American home. Because, when it comes down to it, humanity will not get anywhere close to the peace advocated through religion and for our families if we continue to draw lines between ourselves and grow to look down upon, or even hate, our neighbors.
Think about the greatest advances of the world, from landing on the Moon, American independence and other social movements, the printing press, the airplane, the internet, all discoveries in math and science, to great literary works with beneficial ideas. Many of those sparks may have been ignited by one sole individual mind, but it was because of human cooperation and open-mindedness that the innovations took flame and actually benefitted society. We as people actually make life better by working together, not by scorning each other. Extreme patriotism, or nationalism, decreases open-mindedness for others outside a certain demographic, and thus lessens the progression for future innovations and discovery.
I am a pacifist, and as a former resident of Japan and student at Hokkaido International School, I have been exposed to a varying and vivid number of worldly perspectives. And out of all the people I met from Europe, to the Middle-East, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific isles beyond, almost all had one thing in common, an open kindness. It was a curiosity, and respect for everyone and everything they came upon. They did not look upon differences with scorn, they accepted it with wonder and interest. They judged people not solely based on their country of birth but by their character. And that is what I believe in. Not extreme patriotism, division, conflict, or war. What I believe in is a patriotism dedicated to doing the right thing, that we can believe in humanity, in the world as a whole.
For the very reason why my teachers, peers, and acquaintances in Japan, and in HIS, chose to leave their own countries, was because of an urge to discover or learn more of others abroad. In a sense, they each brought their own homelands with them and used that background to influence foreign lives for the better, while they mutually benefitted from the international experience. If we are taught from as early as kindergarten to be individuals who can treat others with equal respect as people, then why can’t we do so as a country?
So, if we truly want to be patriotic, I believe we must try to spread our love for freedom and rights in the form of understanding, and always be aware of the rest of the world and be willing to learn from other countries and help them, using peace as our sole action. That is patriotism.
The United States is not the center of the Earth, the United States is not the greatest, the United States is not humanity. We are humanity, and we should always think of ourselves as so.