Martin C. Petersen
Rho (Arizona State University) ‘66
Retired Deputy Executive Director of CIA
America: A New Beginning
Some Cognoscenti believe there is nothing special about the United States; there is no “American exceptionalism.” Perhaps, but my grandfather did not think that when he came here at age 18 in 1906 from Denmark with $5.00 to his name. He came because he believed there were opportunities here, opportunities he would not have in Denmark. He came because he believed his children—and the grandchildren he did not live to see—would have better lives, although, Heaven knows, they struggled.
And, still today they come.
They come from every corner of the globe. They come often at the risk of their lives to get here. They come because, like my grandfather, they believe there is something special here that the Cognoscenti cannot see.
A Force For Good
Some Cognoscenti argue that the United States is a disruptive, if not destructive, force in the world. Heaven knows we can blunder about, but I believe the United States is a force for good in the world. A powerful force, one that guaranteed the prosperity and security of Western Europe, brought freedom to Eastern Europe, and provided the stability in Asia that allowed that region to bloom.
There are certainly limits to what we can do, and what we try to do, we do not always do well or effectively. But, just as I believe the United States is a force for good in the world, I believe there is evil in the world. My father saw it in Hitler and Stalin, and I saw it in Mao, Pol Pot, the Kim Regime in North Korea, the horror that is ISIS, etc. More often than not, when things are darkest, the democracies of the world turn their eyes to us. Some assist; some hold our coat; most complain about how we do it. But like it or not, we are often the “indispensable nation” without whom the threat cannot be met.
Living Up To America’s Name
Some Cognoscenti say that the United States does not live up to the values it professes. True, we do not always live up to our values, and there are many, many issues that we need to address as a people and much that needs to be done to spread the opportunities of the United States across our society.
There are at least two ways to measure: how far short we fall from our ideals; and how far we have come in an unending journey toward achieving them. It is the difference between demanding perfection, and demanding that there be no end in attempting to reach perfection. Every July 4th, I like to return to the beginning and recall the words that underpin America’s unending struggle to realize our values:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”