McLean column: Some history on what really made our country great
No country was ever more magnanimous in victory than the United States after World War II. Not only was the free world saved by the U.S. actions in the war, it was saved again by our actions after the war. The Marshall plan made Europe, including Germany, strong again. The enlightened leadership of Douglas MacArthur helped create the industrial juggernaut that Japan has become.
Today, liberals express doubt that the United States is exceptional or that it was ever great. The greatness of America is reflected in the way we treated our enemies after World War II. American leadership was instrumental in forming the United Nations, the U.S. funded World Bank, GATT and the WTO. Our reduction of tariff barriers opened our markets to the emerging industries of Europe and Japan.
Almost 50 years ago we sent Apollo and the first men to the moon. Polio was defeated in much of the world due to the vaccine developed by Dr. Sabin. Other advances in medicine, consumer products, and science were shared with the world. Our universities turned out the best and brightest scientists ever seen in the history of the world.
We peacefully dismantled the Soviet Empire and freed the peoples of Eastern Europe from the shackle of communist tyranny. We continue to lead the fight for human rights.
While these actions demonstrate the greatness of America, American exceptionalism is a function of the revolutionary doctrine voiced by our founders in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence and ratified by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The world was shocked by the concept that all men are created equal, worthy of liberty with the right to live freely in the pursuit of happiness.
It is ironic that Joseph Stalin, perhaps the single-most oppressive and brutal tyrant in the history of the world, coined the phrase American Exceptionalism in a communiqué to the American Communist Party in the 1920s. Stalin was not interested in providing freedom, equality or opportunity to his people.
The guarantee of freedom and equality creates opportunity. I have worked in over 50 countries in the world and have lived in two totalitarian dictatorships. In most of those countries, individual opportunity is stifled. If one is not born to either the ruling class or wealthy, there are few if any opportunities for advancement.
For many years I worked in Brazil. I have traveled throughout the country, speak Portuguese, and truly like the people and the culture. Brazil is a first-world, third-world, and seventh-world country all in one. For those fortunate enough to be born wealthy or at least upper middle class, it is a wonderful place to live with great opportunities for upward mobility.
For those who unfortunately live in the crushing poverty of the favelas, there is little hope. Upward mobility through education is nearly impossible. In order to get into the “public” universities, one must attend a private secondary school. Even if a poor student could get into the university there would be very limited means with which to pay expenses while attending.
Since all is relative, perhaps someone living in America with little knowledge of history or life outside of the U.S. could believe that we are not exceptionally privileged to have been born here. Perhaps they cannot understand the opportunities available here for those willing to work hard. Most poor Brazilians would give anything to come here.
It is difficult to understand why so many liberals are now condemning our country as less than great and even oppressive, when millions from the Third World will take incredible risks to come here. Those liberals advocate for socialism over our republic.
Some probably think of socialism as something like the government of Denmark. However, Denmark is a Parliamentary Democracy with an economy based on capitalism. They have generous welfare laws, provide free education, a national health service, and an excellent retirement plan.
However, unlike a socialist country like Cuba or Venezuela or the old Soviet Union, in Denmark the means of production are privately owned. Farms, houses and businesses are privately owned. There is no minimum wage.
A small country of approximately six million, high taxes pay for the social benefits. While the government seems efficient and well run, there are costs associated. In health, primary care physicians are the gatekeepers. Cancer survival rates are not as high as in the U.S.
Additionally, the great social services and benefits are only available to citizens of Denmark. Immigration is difficult. Once legal residence is established it is extremely difficult to become a citizen. Illegal immigrants are not permitted. Children born in Denmark are not automatically citizens.
While our system provides opportunity for those willing to work hard, socialism provides no incentive to achieve. Individual freedom is suppressed. There is no “democratic” socialism because in a truly socialist country there is no choice but the socialist party. No matter how socialism may begin, it has always resulted in a totalitarian government. The Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela, and Ethiopia are examples.
Roland McLean is a Carbondale-area resident, University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column normally appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.