The Moral Nation: Humanitarianism and U.S. Foreign Policy Today

The Moral Nation: Humanitarianism and U.S. Foreign Policy Today

The Moral Nation: Humanitarianism and U.S. Foreign Policy Today

The Moral Nation: Humanitarianism and U.S. Foreign Policy Today

Excerpt

In the editorial pages of the New York Times in 1985 Sydney Schanberg wrote that the United States was "a moral nation." He claimed that U.S. leaders often appeared lost in "geopolitical balancing acts" and seemed to lose "the memory of the great strength that is derived from being a 'moral nation.'" A striking example of this national conscience is the sense of guilt many Americans felt when boatloads of Jewish refugees were refused in the 1930s, or Haitians were turned back in the 1980s. Schanberg insisted that "the humanitarian tradition in the United States was not a myth," and that many Americans wanted its ideals reflected in government policy.

Humanitarian activities and tenets form an integral part of America's dominant ideologies and moral traditions. While these values compete with self-interest and realpolitik, their importance to many citizens' sense of legitimacy and purpose in foreign policy is such that no definition of the nation's long-term interests which wholly excludes these values is likely to be adequate. Thus, Americans frequently call upon their political leaders to demonstrate solicitude for the misfortune of outsiders and to contribute materially to the amelioration of natural and other disasters which occur in distant nations. Annually tens of thousands of Americans may be found outside the country's borders working for nongovernmental bodies and performing various acts of mercy traditionally described as humanitarian. In many cases these private bodies work unquestioningly alongside U.S. government agencies. Yet in Central America, the Horn of Africa, and in many other places, private agencies and their employees are increasingly forced to take sides, choosing whether to target their humanitarian efforts with or against governmentally sponsored goals.

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