- Historic Sites
Is America Falling Behind?
It’s never a bad thing question how well you’re doing; the problem is to find a judicious observer who is determined neither to flatter nor to condemn
September/October 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 6
The danger, you see, is that of sliding gradually downhill, simply because no single dramatic event will come along to awaken Americans to the need for change and keep them awake for a decade. I am very far from composing a dirge for the United States. But it strikes me as the height of foolishness not to recognize its vulnerability—I do not mean to military attack but to a further worsening of its relative economic position in the world. That is not in itself a bad thing. It is good for Europe and the Pacific to catch up. The hope, as I see it, is for the United States to take its place among the concert of nations fortified with the knowledge that it is, and with intelligence can remain, a great power, yet no longer perceiving itself as, or even desirous of being, the great power.
Can the United States manage such a remarkable transition? Can it undertake the difficult process of pulling back its military commitments and of undertaking those changes needed to help us find a productive and contributive place in the world economy? History doesn’t give us answers to questions like that. I see my task as pointing to the lessons of the past, so that this nation—I should say all nations, not just this one—will not have to learn those lessons over again.