At the close of World War I, the United States was arguably the most powerful nation in the world. After all, it took only about a year and a half after its entrance in the war for the Allies to emerge victorious over Germany, primarily because of the weight of...
At the close of World War I, the United States was arguably the most powerful nation in the world. After all, it took only about a year and a half after its entrance in the war for the Allies to emerge victorious over Germany, primarily because of the weight of American troops in pivotal 1918 battles such as Belleau Wood, Chateau Thierry, and in the Argonne Forest. Understanding the importance of the U.S. in the postwar world, President Woodrow Wilson devised the League of Nations as an independent, non-partisan body which might oversee world problems. Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate, yearning to return to American isolation, refused to ratify participation in the League. It was a devastating blow to world diplomacy and peace.
In the wake of the calamity and death caused by the next world war, American statesmen vowed not to make the same mistake. Instead of reverting to its previous isolationist stance, the U.S. sought to engage the world in hopes of preventing a similar cataclysm. It was in a particularly advantageous position to do so, as the U.S. mainland had not suffered any of the destruction which had leveled the other major world powers, including Japan, Britain, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union.
Not long before the smoke of war had cleared, the United Nations was formed in October of 1945. A group of "united nations" had been mentioned as early as 1942 by President Franklin Roosevelt. It was seen as a hopeful arbiter for future disputes between nations. The U.S. emerged as not only the leader of the United Nations, but also the foremost "superpower" in the world. As such, the U.S. sought to bring democracy and capitalism to rest of the world. It soon faced a determined adversary in the Soviet Union which stood for many of the opposite tendencies of America. Luckily, the Soviets also saw the value of the United Nations and they were instrumental in its formation, although they would often rankle against it and even boycotted the institution in 1950 over its lack of acceptance of Communist China.
American statesman and politicians, as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, would make the point that being a superpower brings with it great responsibilities. While it hasn't always lived up to its "better angels," the U.S. has more times than not been a positive influence on the rest of the world.
Since World War II, it can be argued the U.S., in its superpower role, has been the economic, military and moral leader of the world. This means that, in most cases, it has looked to advance the flag of democracy, especially to countries living under dictatorial regimes. It can also be argued that it has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams with more of the world's population living under democratic rule than at any time in history.
Economically, the spread of capitalism, sometimes in the vogue of a more socialistic capitalism, has also marched forward. Even previously communist nations such as Russia and China have adopted elements of capitalism, to their benefit. In fact, some would argue that because of America's role as the preeminent superpower in the world, life has gotten better for a majority of the world's nations.
In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature—its title taken from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address—psychologist Steven Pinker asserts that this is the least violent, most prosperous moment in world history. According to Pinker, organized conflict in the mode of civil wars, terrorism and government repression, are on the decline worldwide since the end of the Cold War in 1989. Pinker further argues that violence against vulnerable populations such as women, racial minorities, children, and homosexuals is also at an all time low. In contrast, education and literacy are at their highest points in human history.
While it is evident the United States is not completely responsible for these achievements (Europeans reacting to the horrors of World War II should also be given their due), the spread of both democracy—allowing people to choose their own leaders—and capitalism—giving people economic independence—are strongly responsible for today's world. This optimistic view also realizes the U.S. has made many mistakes in its interactions with the world—Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq count as two—but, as Martin Luther King Jr. suggested, the arc of the moral universe tends toward justice. Barack Obama would reiterate this idea in recent years, positing that the United States needs to continue its championing of freedom, democracy, and economic advancement.