Americans and foreigners agree that the United States is a world leader and a special nation. Just one aspect is the American military supremacy. Another aspect is its image as a leader of ideals. And it is the latter, the position of moral leadership, that most deserves national pride.
The United States was born of the colonists’ thirst for liberty, at a time when power-hungry despotism was the norm. America has a compelling interest in protecting democracy and civil rights, which has continued to this day. Americans use these goals as a justification for our prominence on the global stage.
If the United States did not hold lofty ideals, then it would not be fair for it to consider itself special. The union is sacred only insofar as it preserves the sanctity of human freedom. If the United States were to become a nation that suppresses human rights, then Americans would still harbor national pride, but it would become an empty attachment. It would resemble the pride that a school has in its football team, a pride that is based on ego rather than on ethos. Patriotism that is healthy is neither offended by criticism nor blind to the faults of the nation. Citizens with an open-minded attitude are best positioned to help the country improve.
It is easy to forget that democracy is fragile. A powerful government tends to expand its power at the expense of individual rights. Many statesmen have warned, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” With a single generation of complacent citizens, the government could transform itself in ways that the forefathers would have considered monstrous. In name, the country would still be the United States, but in spirit it would not continue their legacy.
The continued survival of the American experiment depends on success on two different battlefronts. The first is the military conflicts with all other countries. This is the external and obvious battlefront. The second battle is internal. It is the struggle to preserve the integrity of the nation. If the United States were to conquer in every war it entered, but at the same time begin to resemble the governments of its enemies, then the military victories would be hollow. This means that if the only way to protect national security is to trample on human rights, then the price is too high. There are just and unjust ways to win wars. The upright way requires respect for the rights of both citizens and enemy combatants. This is especially true when the world is in peril. Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The power of the United States is a responsibility that ought to be earned, not treated as a divine right or a manifest destiny. Good citizens should be introspective and scrutinize the acts of their own government. Good patriots should honor the country for the good that it does in the world.