Pax Americana, American Peace, was a term coined in the mold of Pax Romana and was the idea of civilizational peace amongst the more powerful nations under mostly American rule in the Western Hemisphere . The current Pax Americana is generally considered to have begun post World War II, where America was the dominant power that would act something like the world police. By and large it has worked somewhat okay, with major world wars being averted (so far) and “smaller” wars have been confined to mostly proxy wars with smaller main combatants.
But I don’t want to talk about the merits or follies of Pax Americana on the world stage. Instead, we look inward and ask how has this American peace molded society in America. Has this period of 70+ years of relative peace at least in America propelled America to ever greater heights? On the contrary, I think most people would agree America is not on an overall upward trajectory since World War II. Yes, President Trump is trying to turn that around, but there are many great dangers that continue to lurk and could continue the undoing of this great American civilization.
There are many aspects to Pax Americana that can be discussed, but today we mainly focus on how it has hurt the American people, and more specifically the American spirit. Too much of a “good” thing often ends up yielding terrible consequences. Much like a forest fire can sometimes be beneficial to clean out and make room for new growth, sometimes war or nefarious acts that directly affect us can have positive benefits. NN Taleb hammers this point home in his book Antifragile, and we see it everywhere in the natural world, especially in medicine and with our body. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” as Nietzsche coined it. War, for all its downsides, does have many positive psychological effects as well. Usually it will unite a people. It puts into perspective what’s really important in life, and gives one more appreciation for what they have (or what they had before war) and for what’s worth preserving, fighting, and dying for. I propose that in our Pax Americana we’ve grown too soft, too comfortable, and taken our freedoms and liberties for granted for far too long. We’ve become complacent, presumptuous, forgetful, and misguided.
One of the main perils of a peace lasting too long is it’s easy to forget how and why we got there. The effect is even more pronounced when you have a failed educational system that often times barely addresses history, or changes it altogether. It is easy to take for granted one’s freedoms when it has been too long since they needed to be defended. One begins to think it is the natural order of things to be free, and consequently it becomes easy to take it for granted and assume it is easy to obtain. One could make an argument we’ve had plenty of wars since World War II that run counter to this. But the reality is all of these conflicts (save for 9/11) have been on foreign soil usually thousands of miles away. And in our modern economy we really do feel very little, if any, effect on our daily lives. If you didn’t take the time to watch the “news” you may have no idea at all that war is even going on. Contrast that to World Wars I and II, where citizens often had to ration food and fuel for the war effort. Factories were converted for military vehicles and weapons, new roles were created and women took over many duties usually saved for men. Curfews, bomb drills, and blackouts all serve as reminders on the home front that things are different, and it’s easier to appreciate what one had when it is in jeopardy. Tragedy and hardship unite people. Communities are strengthened when there is a need, and it fosters fellowship and camaraderie. These stresses to the system and daily life can have a very positive effect. Again, I do not wish for these things, but they do give us a greater appreciation for what we have. And unless we constantly educate and remind ourselves of what it “used to be like” during these difficult episodes, we’ll either forget them altogether or unfortunately only learn after another period of hardship.
Something else that comes out when there is lasting peace, at least in our civilization, is the focus turning to other social issues, often times with an over-emphasis. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” as the saying goes. So it is too in society. Could you imagine the current gender controversy going on during The Civil War or The Great War? You would be roundly (and rightly) completely ignored if you tried to spread the notion that there are 71 genders. The same goes with the transgender bathroom issue. Something tells me the 0.00001% of the population that is transgender wouldn’t have as much pull or have any sway towards changing legislation when hundreds of thousands or millions of people were dying yearly during a war. When there is peace, the minute comes to the forefront, and often times is overblown. And as the peace endures, it only gets worse. Again, we begin to forget why certain laws or practices were put into place in the first place, or the reasoning behind it. Today, we’ve gotten to a point where we can pervert the original intentions, as it was with fitness tests for women in the military, or the police force. Standards are changed, codes rewritten, to allow for greater openness and acceptance when the rules that were initially put in place had very rational reasons behind them.
The Immigration Act of 1965 is another example of irrational change because we forgot why it was there or undervalued its purpose. Pre-1965, America was a mostly homogeneous population, or largely consistent in its makeup since the country’s founding. It was never in doubt, never questioned. The benefits of a society of this sort were never fully appreciated or understood once the threat of war was lost. We assumed anyone could be an American, and that it wouldn’t have far reaching effects on our neighborhoods, educational system, or everyday lives. Like it or not, the majority, if not all wars, have started because of tribal differences. Whether they are racial, religious, or ideological, tribalism was at its root. Yet our hubris got the best of us and we somehow forgot this key fact. And once we opened the doors to anyone and everyone, we lost some of that unity and no longer is there a dominant population or religion to unite the people. One can harp on and on about how diversity is a strength, but the fact remains the less people have in common with each other the less likely they are to congregate or get along. Do you really think you have a better chance becoming friends with your neighbor if you speak English and they only speak Spanish or Arabic?
Which raises another point in that we’ve completely lost our sense of self. We no longer have the pride in being American that we once had, and in fact are often times made to feel guilty to have any pride in the first place. Further, we’ve lost our sense of unity. With the blatant disregard for our immigration laws, and the agenda of pushing multiculturalism, there is no longer a push towards integration when one becomes an American. Assimilation seems to be a thing of the past. And because of this, we are losing any sense of unity as an American people. Observe a crowd watching the World Cup, or how people identify when asked where they are from or what is their background. “I’m American” is hardly ever the first answer. “I’m Mexican” or insert-race-here-with-a-dash-and-American, Mexican-American, Italian-American, etc etc. Multiculturalism in general has destroyed communities and led to civil unrest. Because we no longer try to assimilate newcomers, we’ve become more tribal than ever. Identity politics became the de facto position since Obama came into office, dividing the country on racial and religious lines. The notion of bringing in unchecked numbers of outsiders from all over the world or not seriously policing our borders during a time of war would be ludicrous and absurd. In peacetime, it’s somehow thought to be okay, as if there would be no ripple effects or changes in the fabric of society as we know it.
It’s interesting to observe that this effect isn’t uniquely American, but seems to only affect countries living under this Pax Americana. We see a crisis of identity and deterioration of society and its values in the UK, Germany, France, and most of the Western world. Contrast this to Russia or Japan. They are still proud of their country and their people. They’ve by and large preserved their sense of self. Like us, they have black marks on their history as well, but they don’t let themselves drown in guilt and self-flagellation and are still proud of who they are. Perhaps the fact that World War II was fought with a very heavy cost on their own soil has served as a longer lasting reminder to their people.
So the question remains, are we better off for Pax Americana? In 2018 we are as divided as we have ever been perhaps since 1968 or the Civil War. I am in no way advocating for some kind of war just to refresh our society. Far from it. But if we are to sustain peace and survive as a country we cannot forget our past, the values we fight for, or how and why we arrived at where we are. I’m sure many of these social fights and stands people have made in this peacetime have been with the best of intentions. But there is definitely some iatrogenic effect at work here; we most certainly seem to be doing more harm than good by intervening at all in many of these arenas. The shock and outrage of a baker not wanting to bake a cake for a gay wedding would seem a bit more petty and inconsequential if we were fighting for our way of life though, wouldn’t it?
No, I do not think we are better off. It has torn up our society, completely changed the demographic landscape, and led to a loss of American pride, which cannot be understated. Looking outwards for a moment, America as World Police has hurt our standing both in our own eyes as well as that of the world. Inserting ourselves into unjust or unnecessary wars, or wars that just plain have nothing to do with us, have left many Americans jaded, feeling guilty, and ashamed of what their country is doing. I have no doubt this is another contributing factor into why we’ve opened our doors to everyone (aside from the nefarious objectives of others in power too). Guilt, or perceived guilt, is a powerful motivator. A Vietnam or Iraq War can completely change how a country’s people view themselves.
Pax Americana has hurt our standing on the world stage and had deleterious effects on society on the home front. Most Americans, neo-liberals and neo-conservatives aside, would be happy if the United States re-adopted our pre-World War I foreign policy of staying out of other people’s business. It may not completely solve the problem, but it would be a start. A smaller military and global presence would have obvious benefits to our budget, and put the onus on other nations depending on us (without paying their fair share) to take care of themselves. Having skin in the game is beneficial to everyone.