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How To Run An Empire
From John Bull to Uncle Sam:
August 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 5
And if you leave your military bases around the world, or reduce them to the extent that your power is no longer credible, do you believe any Western nation or concert of nations will take your place? Do you believe the Russians will disarm in harmony? Are you prepared to allow the Communist world to spread right up to the walls of Fortress America, confident that the American dream can remain inviolate inside? You know perfectly well that it is only American arms, money, and men, American purpose and command, that keeps the military alliances of the Western world alive. Your allies are in any case the most reluctant of military partners, continually basing their military plans on the protection of what they call the “American umbrella.” Without you they will dither and fall apart and spend their budgets on pills and permissiveness, exactly as the slack kingdoms of Europe would have remained supine under Napoleon had not England provided an injection of gold and steel.
Your influence on the Western and Christian world is, however, your most precious and most powerful weapon. But your golden calf has become suspect: you literally need a new image. Norman Rockwell’s well-fed families of the “White Christmas” era were too complacent, too narrow, much too pleased with themselves. Even moderate intellectuals were contemptuous of Babbitt’s passionate salesmanship. Overseas admirers of the American Presidency after four White House occupants of the Roosevelt, Truman, Elsenhower, Kennedy calibre were shaken out of their admiration by reports of the personal crudity and public credibility gap of Lyndon Johnson. Outside America, the Nixon era’s space flights appeal only to a narrow and rather sophisticated minority. Stupendous as your achievements have been, most humble people would prefer to see America making a greater concentration of effort on human problems. As for your youth, inevitable as is their reaction to the grey flannel suit, they are reacting in a way which is very alarming for anyone who believes in evolution. What is wrong with the old American puritanism tempered with the best of the new educated liberal beliefs? You will be opposing, as long as this century lasts or longer, the most formidably puritan dogma, the Marxist-Leninist creed. As the English found during the last war that they were obliged to become more organised, more methodical, more Germanic than the Germans in order to defeat their enemy, so you too must become more austere than 1970 finds you if you are to convince your own youth and their fellows in the Western world that you can offer an American society worth working for, sacrificing for, and if need be, dying for.
The most important attitude you must change is your attitude to time. You have an adolescent’s attitude to time. It is not hurrying to the extent you think it is. A European reads with amazement constant references to recent years as if they were part of a vanished age. “Way back in 1953 …” begins a typical American magazine article, usually trumpeting the tremendous strides made since that misty era. “Way back in 1453” is admissible, but sixteen years is a drop in the ocean of time. It all stems from the passionate desire of each American that the millennium should occur during his lifetime. He is creating a materialistic heaven-on-earth and must be alive to enjoy it. Anything that detracts from the creation of this heaven, or diverts the creator’s attention, is an extraneous nuisance, a “problem” to be “solved” as soon as possible so that he can return to the real business of life. So the Vietnam war, the crime wave, racial tension, youthful protest, must be solved, settled, and shelved before the next election, the next summit meeting, the beginning of the 1970’s, the renewal of an international loan. Such an attitude hands you tied and bound to anyone who can afford to wait. It is a crippling handicap in your negotiations with the Communists. Remember the old German proverb about Russia: “In that country a hundred miles is no distance, a hundred deaths no tragedy, a hundred years no time.” You are dealing, you Americans, with that kind of people, and at times they are playing with you. Life, as Harold Macmillan reminded Ed Murrow in their famous television interview, does not consist of problems that can be solved but of situations with which you must live. Don’t be so impatient. Time is only your enemy if you misconstrue its meaning. On many a reputation, shattered in Vietnam, could be written the ancient epitaph: “Here lies the man who tried to hurry the East.”