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America: Both Sides of a Coin
Home Reference & Education
By: Fred Eghobor Email Article
Word Count: 2219 Digg it | Del.icio.us it | Google it | StumbleUpon it

  

Copyright © 2017 Fred Eghobor

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Since its founding on July 4, 1776, America has lived up to its ideals as a nation and has been a true force for good in the world. The United States remains the world’s only superpower following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union.

America rules the world not because of its size, but because of its firm foundation, and the resilience, brilliance and imaginative husbandry of its resources – both human and material.

For over half a century now, the United States has maintained the best and strongest military known to man and has used its military edge to remain the dominant power, shaping a global environment that is conducive to its values and interests.

The U.S. and its allies, under the visionary leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, ended World War II, thwarting Hitler’s ambition to be the dominant global power.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the war, the U.S. did not merely leave the vanquished to lick their wounds. Instead, it cared. America took the initiative to rebuild Western Europe by providing economic support through the Marshall Plan, and in the process, gave its former adversaries the opportunity for a new beginning.

Apparently, to serve a noble cause, the American military has been involved in several other international conflicts. Between 1990 and 1991, America (with its allies) stopped Saddam Hussein’s brazen attempt to annex Kuwait. When the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, under the leadership of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, engaged in "ethnic cleansing" to rid Kosovo of ethnic Albanians, the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervened decisively to stop the carnage and halt the genocide. Milosevic was arraigned before the International Court of Justice in The Hague for atrocities against humanity.

Besides military successes, America has been on the leading edge of science and technology. The innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of its people is unsurpassed. Most human-made inventions bear an America’s signature. The Wright brothers invented the "big bird" (airplane); Henry Ford developed the automobile, and hardworking Americans built the first railway during the Industrial Revolution.

America leads in solar system exploration. Through sheer determination and doggedness, it ventured into uncharted territories and stunned the world by landing on the moon. In its decision to do so, President John F. Kennedy, in his address before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, said: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

This speech propelled NASA’s Apollo 11 program’s race to the moon. Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, an American, Neil Armstrong, became the first man to step on the moon. History was made.

Beyond space and moon explorations, NASA is currently developing the capability to send humans to Mars and asteroid. This is not going to be an easy task either. However, it certainly will be the hallmark of America’s resolve to explore the celestial bodies.
The U.S. military invented the internet during the cold war era and ultimately is credited with the development of the world-wide web, which has transformed the world into a global village.

America’s other inventions run like a telephone directory list: The light bulb, the microchip, the telephone, the radio, and transistor – all are products of America’s innovation. Google, Apple products and social networking services (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) are the results of American creativity.

In medicine, Americans are always making breakthroughs, discovering new ways to cure and manage diseases. Its hospitals rank among the best in the world. Advances in medicine in the last century have saved lives and contributed to improved health and increased longevity.

America should be proud of its tradition of generosity and support for good causes. In philanthropy, not too many countries can boast of such generous men and women, and foundations as the John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Bill and Melinda Gates, Andrew Carnegie, Clinton, and many others. All of them are helping to find solutions to global problems plaguing humanity. America also tops the list as the largest donor of foreign aid in the world.
After World War II, American opened its doors wide to Holocaust survivors, who had no homes to go back to, and provided hope and healing. Today, the United States welcomes immigrants from around the globe and is home to the largest immigrant population. Migrants of different races, different accents, and diverse backgrounds, derive their living – many earning more money than native-born whites – from its generosity.

America remains a resilient nation despite challenges to the Union. The country survived the Civil War of 1861-1865 to remain a unified nation. Also, in the nineteenth century, America joined other civilized nations of the world to abolish slavery, and usher in an era of freedom for the captives. Since the middle of the twentieth century, the country has also made steady progress in the area of civil rights. After years of protracted struggle against inequality and segregation in the American public school system, on May 1954, in the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

The struggle for civil rights in other spheres of American life continued. In the mid-1950s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the movement for the advancement of civil rights in America, prompting President Kennedy to call for civil rights legislation in mid-1963. Following his assassination, this bill was signed into law on July 2, 1964, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Subsequently, in 1965, the historic Voting Rights Act was enacted, prohibiting once and for all the prevention of African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution.

However, beneath these remarkable success stories lies a façade of unenviable contradictions. While the country rises to greatness, concurrently there was an era of the corrupt Jim Crow system of segregation, the prohibition of the display of the Ten Commandments on public school walls and in government buildings, state-sanctioned transgender lives, and everything in between. Overall, the U.S. is an outlier for good and for bad.

Many witnessed the age of Jim Crow laws that legitimized and enforced racial segregation, mandating discrimination in public places, education, restrooms, restaurants, transportation and many other areas. The system also created impediments to the ability of blacks to vote. Even though the 15th Amendment, passed on March 30, 1870, had granted African-Americans the right to vote, many strictures were devised to prevent blacks from exercising their rights until the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Notwithstanding, racial tension still exists between white and blacks today. The killing of unarmed black men, including Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, David Felix, Freddie Gray, Darrell Gatewood, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others – are poignant reminders that race issues in America are far from over, especially against the backdrop that many who perpetrated these killings were never prosecuted. George Zimmerman, who fatally shot an unarmed teenager, Martin, was acquitted of second-degree murder by a Florida jury. He has since become both a rallying point for opponents of gun control and a hero to a movement whose supporters believe they are fighting for the life and soul of their Second Amendment rights to bear arms.

In foreign policy, America’s international relations over the years have been marred by inconsistency, hypocrisy, and insincerity. Though officially opposed to Apartheid, for a long time, America implemented policies that fueled South Africa’s economy with massive investments. America justified its action under the guise that loans and investments would improve social and economic conditions for South Africans.

At the United Nations Security Council, America either abstained or blocked sanctions against South Africa. Furthermore, the United States hindered attempts to expel South Africa from the United Nations, prompting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to say: "… the shame of our nation is that it is objectively an ally of this monstrous government in its grim war with its own black people."

President Ronald Reagan notably maintained a cozy relationship with the white minority rule and faithfully supported Pretoria politically, economically, and militarily, thereby helping to prop up Apartheid. Under Reagan’s "constructive engagement" policy, Apartheid evil policies festered.

However, despite Reagan’s government pro-apartheid stance, shocking news media images of the violent struggles against apartheid in South Africa galvanized public support for the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. In 1985, New Jersey Governor, Thomas Keane, signed legislation to withdraw $2 billion in state investments from companies doing business in South Africa to protest black subjugation in that country. In his decision, he said: "… there are instances in human history when the gravity of an evil is so clear, and the cost of its continuance so great, that governments – at every level – must use every tool at their disposal to combat it. Apartheid is such an evil."1

In other parts of Southern Africa, America gave military assistance to the Portuguese military operations, particularly in Angola, while also supporting Dr. Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government, to suppress nationalist movements for independence. In Central America, the U.S. gave financial and military support to the Nicaraguan Contras rebel army against the Sandinista Liberation Movement of National Reconstruction.

Whereas some of America’s military interventions have been praised as noble endeavors, there has been widespread criticisms of its inaction in conflicts elsewhere, conflicts that justifiably call for America’s response. Some believe that the U.S. does not undertake any venture where it does not anticipate direct or secondary benefits for itself. For instance, in 1994, America turned a blind eye to the genocide that was unfolding in Rwanda, which resulted in the massacre of an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The reason for not intervening, U.S. authorities claimed, was that the painful lessons learned from disastrous peacekeeping efforts in Somalia were still fresh in its memory. Consequently, America decided never again to get involved in tribal conflicts it did not understand, and where the U.S. had no national interests. Rwanda offered no economic or strategic interest to America and, therefore, no incentive for military intervention. However, on his visit to the Rwandan capital of Kigali in 1998, President Bill Clinton officially apologized for America’s inaction.

America has suffered credibility and public relations problems from within and without. One dark moment in U.S. military invasions was justification for the 2003 Iraq war. President George W. Bush, in his January 2003 State of the Union address alleged that: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Subsequently, then Secretary of State, General Colin Powell made compelling arguments at the United Nations to justify American invasion based on the firm belief that Iraq possessed "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs). A combination of faulty intelligence and deliberate falsehoods ultimately led to the invasion of Iraq and removal of President Hussein. WMDs were never found. Iraq has remained in turmoil ever since, while America gradually retreats from a nation in ruins.

More than anything else, the U.S. legal system makes America a land of contrasts. Suffice it to say that the ills of the criminal justice system parallel what is happening in many aspects of the larger society. But by far, the penal system is arguably one of the worst institutions in America.

Being the world’s greatest democracy is supposed to make America a faithful steward of the fairest and finest legal system the world has ever known. Paradoxically, the U.S. criminal justice system is undoubtedly one of the vilest; it is a world hidden from the world, an evil behind a veil. Mass incarceration, rogue prosecutions, overcrowding and deplorable conditions in jails and prisons, all cast a dark spell on America’s claim to justice, equity and fair play.

ENDNOTES

1.Governor Thomas Kean, New Jersey. Kean backs halt in investing tied to South Africa, New York Times, August 21, 1985, available at http://www.nytimes.com/1985/08/21/nyregion/kean-backs-halt-in-investing-tied-to-south-africa.html.

This article is an excerpt from Chapter three of my memoir: American Criminal Justice System Inc: Rogue Prosecutions in an Era of Mass Incarceration.

Fred Eghobor is a former university assistant lecturer and adjunct professor at a community college. He also had a stint as an information technology consultant in the United States. Fred resides in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and three children. He is the author of a newly published memoir, American Criminal Justice System Inc: Rogue Prosecutions in an Era of Mass Incarceration. Fred is also currently the editor of the sensiblereform.com blog.

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