As even its advocates now admit that the American Century is over, it’s worth looking back and seeing exactly what it was for which Americans abandoned the country founded by their forefathers:
What specific steps can the United States take, however, to reach Luce’s goal? We have already mentioned one of the steps – it must embrace internationalism over isolationism. But Luce provides us with other steps to follow. First of all, the United States must share its Bill of Rights, its Declaration of Independence, and its Constitution with the world—America’s principles of freedom largely rest on reverence to these documents, and although they may not be applicable to all peoples, other nations could learn quite a bit from them. Sharing them, however, is not enough; Americans must have a passionate devotion to the great American ideals embodied in those works for them to be effective – they must be devoted to freedom, the equality of opportunity, and a tradition of self-reliance, independence, and cooperation. By showing the citizens of the world that they are dedicated to the same ideals expressed in their documents, Americans will set an example that other peoples can follow.
Second, the United States must be willing to provide its industrial products and technical know-how to the world. In many ways, Luce writes, the United States is already doing this. After all, it sells its industrial products abroad and other peoples are consumers of the products of American scientific, artistic, and intellectual life. But the United States must be willing to do more than just export the products it creates. It also must be willing to provide the skills and training for others to create successful artistic, intellectual, and scientific products of their own. Luce guarantees his readers that such training will be needed and welcomed around the world, but only if Americans have the imagination to see it and “the sincerity and good will to create the world of the 20th century.”
Third, and related to the last, the United States must ensure that its vision of the international economic order is the dominant one—without that economic order, American prosperity could stagnate, and the idea of the “American Century” would fall flat. Pursuant to ensuring that its ideas of economy become (and remain!) dominant, the United States must be willing to defend a principle that Americans have long held dear: the freedom of the seas. Only by guaranteeing free trade among the nations of the world can this vision be fulfilled.
Fourth, and finally, Americans must become the good Samaritans of the world, sending out an “army of humanitarians” to feed the world wherever it is needed. And why not? This kind of action would, Luce seems to argue, foster good will among the nations of the world that need it most, and it is certainly possible in light of the United States’ overwhelming prosperity. Feeding the world is not simply something the United States should think about doing, either. Rather, it is the “manifest duty” of America “to undertake to feed all the people of the world who as a result of this worldwide collapse of civilization are hungry and destitute.” If the United States can spend millions of dollars on weapons of war, it can surely spend some money on food for the people displaced by weapons: for “every dollar we spend on armaments we should spend at least a dime in a gigantic effort to feed the world.”
It probably sounded very high-minded and inspirational at the time. Now, it sounds like a horrifically bad, obviously stupid recipe for disaster. Feeding the world and free trade… did Henry Luce never read the historical aphorism that once you pay the Danegeld, you will never be rid of the Dane?