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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.  

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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.

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. He is a featured writer on Opednews and Nation of Change and his articles have appeared on many other websites (more...)

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