America has faced a multitude of challenges throughout its existence as a nation-state. Coronavirus is merely the latest.
We bled in foreign fields to crush the evils of fascism, dictatorship and imperial ambition. Following WWII, we met a different kind of challenge providing the necessary economic assistance to a shattered Europe in the form of the Marshall Plan. We later assured Europe’s peace and security against the threat of communism by stationing thousands of U.S. service members along the borders of a then divided Germany. Our “containment policy” led eventually to the collapse of the Soviet Union due to the crushing weight of its own internal contradictions.
Meeting and overcoming these challenges cost us in both lives and treasure. Still, we never flinched. We have also always come together as a people to face-down the domestic natural challenges of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and much more.
Now it is a pandemic. Tragically, we are politically polarized as seldom before. Therefore, I am concerned as seldom before.
In my estimation, America is a remarkable country because of what we have always aspired to become as a nation. Those aspirations are well known to us and found in our country’s founding instruments: The U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. In all my travels (to date 69 countries), I have never met anyone that fundamentally disagreed with the principles found therein. These two keystone national documents tend to define us: not based on any one ethnicity, creed or political party, but by what we hope to become as a nation of free people. Our ideals are in many cases wholly humanistic and therefore universal.
Essentially, we endeavor as individuals and a nation: attempting to be better than we are. However, perfection is known to none. We are frail. We are subject to fits of prejudice. We are often a disappointment to ourselves and others. However, there is nobility in the attempt. America may be unique for this reason: the continuing and seemingly never-ending historical struggle to live up to those aspirations — no matter how many times we fail. Tragically, our failures have been substantial: the original sin of slavery; the near genocide of the native population; too many wars fought for the wrong reasons, et al. I fear that if we cease the exertions of striving to become better than the sum of our parts, we may lose our central purpose and perish.
The Constitution begins with these three words: “We the people.” Those words tend to define us. We have common goals as a people. We share a common future. We will either rise or fall together. COVID-19 is the latest challenge to face us. The more we work in concert toward the common goal of defeating this menace, the more lives we will save.
COVID-19 doesn’t care if you vote toward the political left, right or center: everyone would do well to remember. Our current state of political polarization is destructive of the kind of harmony and unity of purpose required to attain successful outcomes in this conflict. The armed forces of our nation can serve as an example to be emulated. Our military is composed of citizens representing all political beliefs: working together as one to defeat the military threats to the country. We must guard against becoming a people who are small-minded and mean-spirited. Our Constitution demands better from us.
Charles Dickens begins his classic “A Tale of Two Cities” with the enigmatic phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” Hard times often require a determined focus on that which is best within us. Some may consider this pandemic the worst of times. Regrettably, it could be for many tens of thousands. In my view, though, it is also an opportunity to come together as a unified people. Pogo famously suggests a cautionary tale when the cartoon character observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Please, let it not be us.
Robert Bruce Adolph is a former United Nations Chief Security Adviser and U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel. He recently published a startling book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge,” that is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.
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