Monday, August 1, 2011

The Greatest Nation on Earth

At the height of the Vietnam War, my dad, who normally abhorred the thought of bumper stickers, proudly affixed one to his car that read "Peace is patriotic."  And that's how he and my mom raised us:  proud to be Americans.   And yet, it wasn't a jingoistic kind of a patriotism -- it was a spirit of pride mingled with the duty to work for peace and justice, a notion that we, as a nation, could always do better.  

I am still proud to be an American (despite the national circus that has played out on Capitol Hill recently) but I sure wish our leaders would stop referring to the U.S. as "the greatest nation on earth."  The phrase is all arrogance and no ambition.  The World Health Organization ranked our health system 37th in the world, behind all of Western Europe and places like Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica.  When it comes to education, the U.S. ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.  So go ahead, well up with tears when you say the pledge of allegiance or sing the national anthem, point to our can-do spirit and moments of courage and resolve, or advances in science, technology, and medicine.  But "greatest"?  That's one word best left out of our national rhetoric.


  1. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. Way to go, Anne.

  2. Gasp, splutter -- you're speaking heresy, Anne! It must be those 4 years in France that have corrupted your mind! How DARE you say that the USA is not the greatest nation on the face of this earth. How can you call yourself a patriotic American?

    Can you tell that I'm kind of tired of the rhetoric, have been for years, and the reaction you get from many Americans whenever you mention that things are actually a little bit better in X,Y, or Z country.

    And don't even get me started on education in the United States...

  3. Mary Kay: I felt this way long before I spent time abroad. And while it's possible to come out on top in a particular domain, it's absurd for any country to call itself the greatest overall.

  4. Here, here.

    I, too, am proud, but most often profoundly sad. Have you ever noticed that in day-to-day life, the people who are often the greatest are the most quiet about it, not needing to shore up their confidence by shouting about how great they are? If the US Rhetoric were a person, a neighbor or a co-worker for example, I don't think that would be a person I would want to hang around very often. I'd want to see less of the bragging and more quiet hard work to ensure results.

    I just keep thinking about how there is a saying about how pride goes before a fall. Seems like with individuals, life has a way of handing out very humbling lessons to mitigate the hubris. I think the same could be said for countries as well. Lets hope for better for the US, much like you describe your dad's attitude (which I love how you described, by the way!).

    Thanks for sticking 'round the bloghood in a different location, Anne! I so enjoy your perspective!

  5. "all arrogance and no ambition". A great turn of phrase, Anne.

    I recall many years ago reading an article by Richard Reeves when he was living in Paris. He wrote that his friends in the US simply could not believe that his French friends, given the opportunity, would not prefer to live in the US.

    This despite his patient explanation of why life in France was objectively better for its citizens than life in the US for Americans. I would be surprised if the numbers you quote aren't even worse today than they were then, but jingoism isn't interested in facts.