October 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 6
It is a well-recognized fact that a longdistance view is often better than one from up close. America today seethes with controversy over the war in Vietnam, and over her role as a world power. She has, in a sense, taken over from Great Britain many of the problems and responsibilities of the world. For that reason we think our readers may be interested in this excerpt from a friendly and resolute speech recently delivered by the Honorable Sir Howard Beale, K.B.E., Q.C., the former Ambassador of the Australian Commonwealth to the United States, before the Bar Association of the State of New York.
Change is rushing at us and past us with dramatic and dangerous rapidity, affecting us all no matter where we live. … There seem to be wars going on everywhere: in Vietnam, Pakistan and India, China, Latin America, the Middle East, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Africa. Someone pointed out the other day that since World War II about twenty years ago, no less than forty wars have taken place, many of them potentially disastrous to mankind because, through folly or miscalculation, they could escalate and plunge us into the immeasurable catastrophe of World War III.
In the midst of this tumultuous scene stands the United States of America. Without seeking it, she has, since World War II, become the greatest power in the world, and the leader of the free world, committed to spending her treasure and her blood in trying to prevent, to pacify, to mitigate, and to contain these conflicts. It is little wonder that some .of her people are puzzled and feel frustrated, asking why she should have to bear these great burdens, and wondering where it is going to end.
But it is the “Price of Admiralty,” as the old phrase has it—the price which has to be paid for responsibility and leadership—and for greatness, too; for no matter how rich and powerful a country may be, it cannot claim to be truly great unless it willingly assumes die burdens and responsibilities which power brings with it.
Nor is there anything new about this. In the forty years from the beginning of this century until World War II there were more than fifty wars going on at one time or another—in the Balkans, Poland, the Middle East, Morocco, Africa, Spain, Abyssinia, Manchuria, India, China, and on many frontiers around the world. During most of this period and in the nineteenth century it fell to Great Britain, then the leading power in the world, to do what the United States is now trying to do—to prevent, to mitigate, to pacify, to contain. It was in those days that Matthew Arnold described England as “the weary Titan” bearing upon her shoulders “the too vast orb ot her Fate”—a description applicable to the U.S. today.
Earlier still it was England who frustrated the expansionist ambitions of Philip of Spain in the sixteenth century, of Louis XIV in the seventeenth and eighteenth, of Napoleon in the nineteenth, and—with France and the United Stales—of Kaiser William in the twentieth. It was Britain, too, who in 1940 stood alone against Hitler until the strength of the United States came from the New World “to redress the balance of the Old,” as Churchill put it, thus making victory certain and freedom safe.
So it has happened before. But, of course, the burdens and responsibilities of free-world leadership are very much heavier today than ever they were in the past; for there are new factors now, such as the rise of international revolutionary communism, and the population explosion among the underdeveloped nations, threatening millions with starvation and still lower living standards. And to these must be added yet another factor—the Bomb. As President Kennedy said in those moving words in his inaugural speech on January 20, 1961, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”
Critics of United States policies would do well to keep in mind the enormous complexities which a great country faces in trying to secure her own vital interests—which is the first duty of her statesmen—and keep the peace, help her friends, and protect freedom. I think Americans have cause for pride here. United States policies have not always been right—how could they be, with so many interests to reconcile, so much conflicting information, and so many unknowns? But, having watched the international scene through many years of public life, I say that America has discharged her great responsibilities of free world leadership mostly with wisdom, and always with honor.
So forget about being liked as a nation, and having a good “image” as they say; a powerful nation is never liked by the rest of the world—remember what you yourselves used to say about the British in their day. In this matter you can only do your duty as you see it. If you do, your image will look after itself, and you will be respected—which ought to be good enough for anyone.