America, the World’s Insurance Policy: Time to Let the Boulder Roll
I don’t go around seeking hidden meaning in cartoons, but sometimes inspiration strikes.
It will probably take about as much time for you to read this description of the video I’m talking about as it does for you to watch it yourself, but here goes. In a brilliantly animated short film titled “A Tale of Momentum and Inertia” featured in The Atlantic , a stone giant is minding his own business and going about his day before suddenly realizing that an enormous boulder he has just moved is now hurtling toward a quiet seaside medieval village. Whether the boulder started down the hill due to the giant’s own actions, an act of God, or the machinations of some unseen force is unclear. Nonetheless, the giant decides to act.
Through a series of exertions, the giant ultimately stops the boulder from destroying the walled village, but one structure, a place of worship, is accidentally toppled when it is stuck by the giant’s foot. This prompts the people of the town just saved to launch all manner of weapons at the giant, who is still in the process of holding the boulder back. The weapons (including stones from a trebuchet, ballista bolts, and even the odd cannonball or two) do not appear to be causing the giant a great deal of harm, but the intent behind them is clear: the people of the village want the giant dead.
Ultimately the giant, clearly annoyed about being attacked while he prevents the utter destruction of the tiny town, simply stands aside and allows the boulder to flatten the entire place. The video ends with the giant walking away, looking back with disgust at the pile of rubble.
Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder, and reasonable people will disagree over their interpretations of this video. Some might see the whole situation as the fault of the giant; if hadn’t been moving boulders for his own purposes in the first place, none of this would have happened. Some might see the giant as a murderer; he could take the stones and arrows that were being flung at him from the ingrates in the village, and by choosing to let the boulder go, he is guilty of killing all of them for choosing not to act when he could have saved them all.
…and then there are the people like me. In my interpretation of the video, the United States of America is the stone giant. In going about our daily lives as a nation, we somehow feel responsible for everyone and everything and will go to extraordinary lengths, including directly imposing ourselves between disaster and the helpless, to save others. Yet, like the giant, we are consistently attacked as a result of our good intentions.
We have not only somehow become the world’s conscience and policeman, we are the world’s insurance policy. This is a policy that no one feels obligated to pay into, but everyone wants to draw upon in times of crisis. We have let ourselves become the Nationwide of the entire world. “Natural disaster? Disease outbreak? Aggressive neighbors? Failed to ensure the long-term viability of your economic plan or to oust an evil dictator on your own? Call 1-800-A-M-E-R-I-C-A and our crack team will be on hand with soldiers, aid workers, advisors, and an endless stream of US taxpayer money! Supplies are unlimited, so call whenever you feel like it!”
Our allies in Europe free-ride on the security we provide and decline to support us in our own time of need. We try at every turn to help the people of the Middle East, and they actively work for our destruction. Iraq invited us to leave in 2011, and now we’re going back in because they couldn’t control their own country. We are the only thing standing between the people of Afghanistan the return to power of the backwards and brutal Taliban, but the leaders of both Afghanistan and Pakistan actively work to undermine our efforts. We sent thousands of combat troops to Africa to risk their lives and health combating Ebola, a disease that has killed precisely… zero Americans, and we are chastised for not doing more. Indeed, the US is like that cartoon giant, holding back destruction and being attacked as a result.
As a nation we often find ourselves the only thing standing between a group of people and their utter oblivion, yet we are still seen as the bad guy. It’s reminiscent of the situation laid out in a famous diatribe made by Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “A Few Good Men:” no one wants America around, until the situation is desperate. And then all they want to do is complain about the unintended collateral damage or how much, how little, or what kind of assistance we gave them.
What if America became like that stone giant, tired of being attacked when we’re just trying to help? What if we get tired of saving the world from itself, and constantly being attacked physically, verbally, politically, and economically as a result? What if we just… moved out of the way?
As a small part of what made up the giant that helped hold back the juggernaut of Islamic extremism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, and who like the giant was relentlessly attacked for it, I too am tired.
I’m tired of being called upon to be the “someone” called upon when the world says “someone ought to do something!” I’m tired of that “something” that the world wants done evolving into half-measures that bankrupt my country and put the lives, health, and sanity of my comrades in arms at risk. And most of all I’m tired of a world that cries out for my help, and then complains about the manner in which it was provided.
The perpetually-failing state of Haiti is a good example. Haiti is trying to sue the United Nations over a cholera outbreak that occurred while the UN was on the ground after the big earthquake there in 2010. Let’s be realistic here, Haiti. If you’re suing the UN, you’re really suing the US, given that the US had the lead for the UN effort in Haiti since the beginning, and provides the bulk of the UN’s funding and the majority of political will to make things happen. So, tell you what, just to make sure there aren’t any future outbreaks of cholera, the UN (sorry, I mean the US) won’t be sending anyone at all. Good luck with that. You can still have our old t-shirts, though.
Iraq is another great example. When we pushed Saddam Hussein out of Iraq, the world wondered why we didn’t do more. After we set up and maintained a no-fly zone, the world attacked us for not helping the Shias and the Kurds. When we finally did go in heavy in 2003, the world soon turned against us and pressured us to leave. When we left, we were blamed for the chaos that followed. After getting unceremoniously booted out of Iraq by a government that we inexplicably decided was both sovereign and viable, we now find ourselves sending thousands more troops back in to help settle the borders of not only Iraq but also Syria.
There are many good reasons why America should not engage in a policy of isolationism, but a little retrenchment might be in order. As a nation, we need to do a better job of decided when to intervene, what form that intervention will take, how much it will cost, how long it will last, and how often we’ll do it for specific countries. It’s not America’s job to be the world’s conscience, its police force, its fire brigade, or its insurance company. We need to identify, articulate, and defend our national interests, and only provide assistance and relief when it supports those interests. In all other cases, we should just let that boulder roll.