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America: Once the Most Respected Nation in the World; What Happened?

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What happened? Well, that's really not difficult to explain. America once was the most respected, and admired, nation in the world. But then, suddenly, things began to change quite radically and, over a period of several decades, America went from being the most respected nation in the world to the most feared. Going from the most respected to the most feared is quite a feat, so how did such a transformation evolve?


We might call what happened to America "the good cop, bad cop" syndrome. After World War II, the U.S. was highly respected and thought of as that good cop that had led the efforts to defeat the primary Axis powers of Germany and Japan. After that war, it had, more or less, assumed the role of protector of the world.

America is no longer viewed as a protector of the world but, rather, a mighty military force that is protecting its own national interests. Quite a reversal of roles, is it not? The skies are full of our air power; the seas teeming with our fleets; and a large part of the world is garrisoned with our military installations and troops. The America of today is largely being viewed as the bad cop after its invasions and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the past decade.  

If I had to come up with one word to describe the dramatic change that has come over America during the last half of the 20th century and thus far in the 21st, it would be - rampant Militarism. It's as if an obsessive-compulsive behavioral disorder had entered the body of America, one that is totally resistant to any known treatment. It's a condition that is not improving over time but is continuing to grow with ever more intensity.

But let's get back to determining why America has largely lost the respect of the world. When did all this unrestrained militarism really take shape? We could say it began when, in 1950, U.S. forces were deployed in South Korea to help that nation fend off the threats of invasion by North Korea's armies. The stated reason for our involvement in that war that ended in 1953 was, supposedly, to stop the spread of communism. So let's call that the beginning.

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However, I believe that the large growth of U.S. militarism began after several hundred thousand of our troops were deployed in Vietnam, beginning in 1965 during the era of the Cold War. That horrific military conflict lasted until the U.S. was forced to exit that country in 1975, but not before we had lost the astounding number of 58,000 troops and more than 2 million Vietnamese had been killed. During that war the U.S. used napalm, white phosphorus, and Agent Orange toxic chemicals to subdue the enemy and that country; it didn't work.

That was the point, in my estimation, at which the respect for America among the nations of the world began to erode. Sure there was a communist threat during that era, and it certainly had to be addressed, but the question was -- did it necessitate such a massive, long war to deal with the threat, or was it one of the greatest military blunders in history? We will let historians make that judgment, but this we know: from that time on the U.S. went on to involve itself in a succession of military conflicts against supposed enemies, mostly in very small nations, all over the world. And, unfortunately, the trend continues to this day.

If Korea was the beginning of our militaristic machine, and Vietnam greatly escalated its scope, then the terrorist attack on 9/11 can be considered as the event that capped the entire process and locked America into its current agenda of perpetual war.

Our government always needs some kind of bogeymen in order to justify its wars; during World War II the bogeymen were Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo -- and, yes, they were that and a whole lot more. More recently it was Saddam Hussein, then Osama Bin Laden, and now it's Libya's Gadhafi. Which country and which designated bogeyman within it will be the next target? Stay tuned because it could be Yemen, Syria, Iran or any nation in the Middle East, Central Asia or who knows where.

Currently the U.S. and NATO have about 150,000 troops caught up in a large quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan while, at the same time, the U.S. is trying to make deals with the governments of both Afghanistan and Iraq to maintain a military presence in those nations for many decades to come. We continue to spend massive amounts of taxpayer money on our military empire while these same taxpayers would like that money spent on domestic needs, including the repair of our rapidly deteriorating national infrastructure.

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I think the nations of the world are looking at America and what it is doing and just shaking their heads in utter disbelief -- and in fear. Is this the very same country for which they formerly had such great respect and admiration? They wonder how much longer all this aggressive U.S. military action will continue around the world, and if they could be next target on the list.

Remember when the "Acting" President Ronald Reagan said, " America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere." Does anyone still think that this is the way that the world views America today?

A further question might be to ask: does America even care whether it is respected by the other nations of the world? Do we really care what they may think about us? Well, I'd answer that in two ways: I'd say that the majority of Americans would like to regain the respect of the world that this nation once had and that they don't particularly like being viewed as hostile and belligerent.

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Michael Payne is an independent progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues; and especially with the great dangers involved with the proliferation of perpetual war, the associated defense (more...)

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The respect of the world doesn't seem to be an imp... by michael payne on Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 at 8:50:57 PM
That Vietnam "didn't work" is your first mistake. ... by richard hughes on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 3:45:24 AM
Sounds like you are advocating that the US be rule... by bern on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 11:35:35 AM
This is what is called a good question, which mean... by David Chester on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 4:29:06 AM
ALEC - the American Legislative Exchange Council -... by Dennis Kaiser on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 10:19:29 AM
This is what happens when the Neighborhood Bully t... by syed mahdi on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 10:32:54 AM
Fortunately, The American people still retain some... by myklsamu on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 11:22:24 AM
War seems always at some level about resources-&nb... by dick overfield on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 12:55:11 PM
YOU ARE WRONG, The US is the most respected nation... by bern on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 1:54:32 PM
AND, BY THE WAY, THE PROBLEM WITH THE EDUCATION SY... by bern on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 2:03:43 PM
we are the most respected country in the world ful... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 2:20:21 PM
You said it right; I don't hate this country but f... by michael payne on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 4:00:33 PM
Laziness:  indolence: inactivity resulting fr... by bern on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 12:13:37 PM
I am in frequent contact with people from many cou... by bern on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 11:16:41 AM
Bern: you said, "The author has a lot to learn and... by michael payne on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 5:51:57 PM
Born blind and still blind Bern. "My country right... by Kevin Kakareka on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 11:56:10 PM
has no fans and only one thumbs up to his comment,... by nativenezperce on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 12:09:04 AM
which is very USAn, because it is narcissism and U... by bogi666 on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 5:22:44 AM
This site needs a reality check.. Think of me as y... by bern on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 12:16:03 PM
America - with the highest standard of living in t... by Doc McCoy on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 10:19:15 PM
Carlin. What this does is to create narcissism sta... by bogi666 on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 5:35:14 AM
As an immigrant and as the one who knows immigrant... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 8:29:40 AM
Schools are not the blame.  You can get a edu... by bern on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 12:35:54 PM
This editorial is brilliantly written, a concise a... by John Rachel on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 6:25:40 PM
It must be dark in there where your head is stuck?... by mrk * on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 6:39:15 PM
You can be all that you want to be on the internet... by bogi666 on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 5:39:23 AM
My eyes ar eon Ethiopia, for if it erupts as Libya... by Michael Dewey on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 8:45:43 PM
Fascism happened............ by 911TRUTH on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 9:25:21 PM
"America has been put in grave jeopardy during the... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 9:28:03 PM
Unless we get a General Stike which shuts down thi... by Michael Dewey on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 9:59:07 PM
As Hillel the Elder said: "If not now, when?"Now a... by E. J. N. on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 1:17:53 PM
In the case of our government that's an entirely ... by Michael Dewey on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 10:00:08 PM
assimilated". The source of the mantra used by the... by bogi666 on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 5:44:50 AM
Too manyAmericans are too busy with their lives to... by Kevin Kakareka on Thursday, Jun 16, 2011 at 11:43:45 PM
Click hereclick here... by Kevin Anthony Stoda on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 2:15:40 AM
"The King is naked!" shouted the boy. An ... by John Smith on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 8:10:27 AM
Before WWII immigrants wishing US citizenship were... by Margaret Bassett on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 8:56:40 AM
A native -born Bush did not give a damn about US C... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 9:39:07 AM
The egocentric falling from the tower of egotism i... by E. J. N. on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 2:25:12 PM
Listen to the Poet   As Obama promises... by Phil Linehan on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 3:08:18 PM
What happened? Well, that's really not difficult ... by Michael Dewey on Friday, Jun 17, 2011 at 6:01:09 PM
And I hope they continue to do so.  When they... by bern on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 11:30:06 AM
They are spinning in their graves at what the U.S.... by Joni Greever on Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 11:17:53 AM