America is always at a crossroads. Historian Adam Goodheart, in a recent interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette, pointed out that at the onset of the Civil War 150 years ago, Southern political leaders rejected the compromise proposals and concessions offered by leading members of Congress.
“Just like today, the political leadership was more polarized and extreme than the general public,” he said.
Nowadays, too many political leaders who are preoccupied with settling scores and assigning blame for our country’s woes. But there are also voices that are urging us to adjust to changing times, look ahead and do what America has always done, pull together and charge ahead.
No doubt, the challenges facing us today are serious and different from those that America had faced in the past. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released a report citing guidelines of how to be ready to deal with the “unthinkable.” Namely, with the possibility that terrorist may strike, a large city with an atomic bomb.
Until the end of the Cold War, whenever there was a crisis anywhere in the world, it triggered an automatic confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Those confrontations always carried the specter of a nuclear holocaust. The Cuban missile crisis proved the danger was real.
Now we are facing a militant fanatical movement that, according to experts, has no scruples about detonating a nuclear device in a populated area.
According to the FEMA report, over the years the official policy was to prevent nuclear terrorism and limit its harm, mainly by governmental means. Recent scientific analyses, however, have shown that “a nuclear attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the lethal radiation that follows a blast.”
Craig Fugate, administrator of FEMA was quoted saying that “We have to get past the mental block that says it’s too terrible to think about it. We have to be ready to deal with it and help people to learn how to best protect themselves.”
During the next decade the increasing use and expansion of the Internet would facilitate a shift away from relaying on governmental directions. Using social networking, computer-based communication will bring people together to interact with each other and when necessary, mobilize to achieve desired results.
In the past, during the Cold War, the United States faced a superpower capable to threaten the very survival of our nation. This threat no longer exist.
We are now living in a different world. Joseph Nye, former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and one of America’s deep thinkers, talked about the sources of America’s power and prestige in the world.
“Everybody knows that America is the most powerful country in the world. But power isn’t just about weapon systems or Wall Street. It’s also about ideas, ideals and even entertainment. Our leaders must understand one of our greatest foreign policy resources is what I call ‘soft power.’”
By all indications, for the foreseeable future America would remain what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the world’s “indispensable nation.” But in Nye words, “Military and economic clout may make others do what we want. But soft power enables America to achieve its goals through attraction, not coercion.”
He pointed out that people around the world are attracted by the values we profess to live by, such as our commitment to democracy and human rights. A fact, that best could be communicated through public diplomacy.
Many experts believe that the free flow of information through the Internet would be the most significant element shaping our world in the coming decade.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.