King of the free world, in all ways

Posted: Friday, February 05, 2010

It's been three weeks since a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti. So far, Americans have donated more than $644 million for relief efforts, according to The Associated Press. The U.S. government has sent more than $130 million in aid, including about 12,000 military personnel, 265 government medical people, military ships, helicopters and cargo planes, and is managing operations.

The U.S. has assumed the leadership role in bringing Haiti out of the abyss.

That's as it should be.

For nearly a century the U.S. has taken a lead role in responding whenever disaster and human suffering has struck anywhere in the world.

We assumed that role after World War I positioned the United States of America as the world's most powerful democracy.

Of course, there was never any conscious public consensus, never any vote on the matter. And our leadership mantle was certainly not the unanimous will of the American public. Isolationist attitudes were strong throughout the first half of the 20th century, until World War II attitudes quieted the dissenters.

But isolationist sentiment never went away. Even now, as we continue to frontload the aid pipeline to the Caribbean country, some citizens raise reasonable doubts about how big and bold U.S. efforts should be. What about our problems at home?

We bring you, our readers, stories every day about families struggling beneath the poverty level, about folks who can't find a job and about kids who would go hungry without subsidized school lunches. We already have told you about how your own neighbors on the peninsula are hurting economically.

We also bring you stories about our military forces fighting overseas with a mission of bringing peace and stability to countries less well off than our own. We bring you stories of U.S. efforts to deliberate with nations on worldwide concerns -- like climate change and international trade issues.

We bring you these stories because we believe that the United States remains the most influential nation on the planet. If you believe in the uniqueness of American ingenuity and sense of independence, being Number 1 was pretty much inevitable for us.

It's good to be king. But a nation that hopes to wear that crown and lead the world must exercise its leadership in more ways than just military might.

Sometimes, we must be the first to hold out our hand, too.

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