Buy a f**king globe, America

If you asked an American what their favorite holiday is, you would get a variety of answers. Some would go immediately to Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Some of our Jewish friends might even say Purim (if you don’t know what Purim is, let me quickly paraphrase the Megillah, which says a person is obligated to drink on Purim until they do not know good from evil). Awesome holidays? Definitely. However, as an American, I would be remiss if I didn’t say the 4th of July.

Independence Day combines some of the best features of those other holidays—fireworks and copious drinking—with parades, barbecues, and a healthy dose of nationalism. Plus it’s in the summer! Suck on that candy cane, Christmas.

But the 4th of July is much more significant than its superficial celebratory aspects. It is a day where we remember the courage of the Founding Fathers who, despite knowing they could be executed for doing so, signed the Declaration of Independence and began the history of a nation that would rise to become the world’s dominant superpower. Likewise, as the world’s oldest modern democracy, the United States has served as a role model as well as actively helping fledgling democracies find their footing. The ideas expressed within the US Constitution have been showcased in the constitutions of Spain, France, Poland, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, and Liberia. After WWII, the US Constitution was used heavily in the constitutions of India and West Germany. In fact, the current Japanese Constitution was written by a group of Americans, making it very possibly the only democracy to be chartered by a foreign power. It is undeniable that the US has played a key role in the proliferation of democratic ideals.

While I am very proud that the US has helped provide opportunities to other nations through some of these democratizations, I am also aware that sometimes the US conflates its self-imposed role as the “world’s police force” and its view that it is the torchbearer of democracy. This has led at times to ill-planned and even illegal interventions, most recently seen in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While the US has not always been moral in its international actions, the fact remains that the US is the global superpower. To the ire of American isolationists—Rand Paul being one of the most vocal—we have an obligation to intervene in numerous conflicts around the world.

With that lengthy introduction, I’d like to get to my main point: currently, the United States is wholly lacking in its capacity as the world leader. I’m not saying that we don’t have the economic prowess or military capabilities. Nor am I saying that we suffer from vague foreign policy leadership. What I am saying is that American citizens, as a whole, are internationally illiterate compared to other leading powers.

I remember when I was in middle school and watched a Youtube video by an Australian comedy group, the Chasers, where Americans were asked a variety of basic questions on the world. In the video, average Americans are asked “name one country that begins with the letter ‘U.’” One responds, “Yugoslavia.” Another says “Utah.” Fidel Castro is identified as a singer, America is named as the winner of the Vietnam War, and the state religion of Israel is said to be “Israeli.” But hey, that video is from 2006. Surely, in nine years we’ve improved. But according to a 2010 study from the National Center for Education Statistics, no we have not. Of the 10,000 12th grade students who took a geography exam, only 10% had an advanced level of geographic understanding. As citizens of the country that determines, in some part, the rest of the world’s foreign policy, that is disgusting. How can we lead foreign policy when only 36 percent of Americans possess passports? How can we have opinions on what we should do in Syria when we don’t know where it is?

Some of you may disagree with this sentiment. After all, it’s not our job as citizens to lead foreign policy—leave that to Washington. The problem with this idea is that we live in a democracy. Citizens who help to decide who our commander-in-chief is despite having little grasp of the real world consequences of that candidate’s foreign policy are helping this nation fall into decline. Sure, you can rally all you want about wanting to bring the troops home, but do you have any idea what chaos we would create by pulling US troops out of Iraq immediately? Many Americans only understand foreign policy in terms of dogma and sound bites. This is not an effective way to elect our representatives.

I believe part of the problem is that many Americans see themselves as exceptional. Why, when we are the most powerful nation that has ever existed, would we learn anything from those other inferior countries? I would say we should because other nations are doing better that us. According to the CIA World Factbook, we lag behind other developed nations in income equality, the Global Wellbeing Index, and student performance. As a fun fact, we’re basically tied with the United Kingdom in our level of democracy, meaning we just barely beat out a country that has a f**king monarchy!

But I digress. At Colby, students are worldlier than most. During our time on the Hill, we work constantly with international students from around the world. We have the opportunity to hear lectures from policy leaders and to converse with the Oak Human Rights Fellow. We have access to all sorts of resources to expand our world view, but how many of you can honestly tell me why the Yasukuni Shrine is a constant source of tension between Japan and China? Who can tell me why Saudi Arabia is so opposed to a deal between the United States and Iran?

So Colby, I challenge you to learn more. Try to figure out what countries those flags represent when you dine in Foss. Read the free copies of Foreign Policy we have in Miller. In the run up to the election next year, study the candidates’ foreign policy plans. I beg of you, because if you don’t you may end up in a Youtube video saying Djibouti is a rapper.

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