Early in 1961, I was in Panama with a dozen other North American teenage students. At the time, the Panamanians were very busy protesting the manner in which the United States operated the canal. It was part of a series of demonstrations, some violent, some not, that went on for years.
Being sixteen or seventeen, we found it impossible to resist the call of a real spectacle so, after morning classes, four or five of us (including our token Canadian) headed off to join some local, teenage friends at the protest. About fifteen minutes after our arrival, our Panamanian friends announced that it was hot, that their throats were sore and that it was time to get a beer (they insisted on paying).
During this rest stop, our hosts insisted that their objective was better jobs for the Panamanians (especially management positions) and more rent for the canal. The very last thing they wanted was for the United States to go home. Indeed, they not only disliked the Russian mariners they’d met but feared them and their government. To paraphrase one of them, “Americans sometimes do very irritating things, but they also worry about what people think of them and, therefore, it’s possible to embarrass them. The Russians don’t care; they just do what they want and shoot you if you complain.”
For the next fifty plus years, as a United States naval officer and then as an active participant in American capitalism, the conviction that the most powerful nation on earth was so great that it could recognize something greater than itself and allow itself to be embarrassed into doing the right thing was a source of great pride to me.
Today, however, I wonder. Do “We the People” care in the slightest about “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” or are we determined to follow the path of the Russians, and the Romans?