Well, isn't that great

Great is a misunderstood and often misused word. It's bandied about far too casually, and people, places, and events are described as great when in actuality, they are really nothing more than ordinary. The Merriam—Webster dictionary has eleven entries for its meaning. Number nine is clearly the most relevant to this discussion: 'markedly superior in character or quality.'

What makes a society great? How is that measured?

Is sheer size or length of time a measure of greatness? The Roman Empire extended for thousands of miles, dominated dozens of diverse peoples, and lasted for hundreds of years. Does that qualify as greatness? Maybe, on some level.  Do cultural contributions denote greatness? Music, architecture, art, cuisine? Perhaps greatness is defined by technological innovations such as the invention of the internal combustion engine, electricity, the transistor or by medical breakthroughs like penicillin.

But what about that critical word in Webster's definition? Character.  How can the character of a society be measured in comparative terms, especially across the distance of different time periods?

One way to determine a society's character—its greatness—would be to evaluate its contributions towards the betterment of mankind, especially if such contributions were made without the specific goal of immediate geographical acquisition and material enrichment. By this yardstick, there can be little doubt that the United States, especially in its modern guise (post—1900), is the greatest society in recorded history.

The United States is the only country that has consistently and voluntarily sent its own citizens into harm's way for the purpose of delivering other nations from oppression and dictatorship. World War I, World War II, Korea—paid for with the loss of over 600,000 American lives—were all undertaken to help others. When those conflicts ended, the US did not covet additional land area, nor we did own additional natural resources. In fact, since the end of World War II, the US has provided the vast majority of military protection for our 'friends' around the world, at great cost to us, thus allowing those countries to devote a far greater proportion of their national resources to their domestic and social needs than would otherwise have been possible.

What is the motivation for a nation to take such actions? The cynical observer would say that the motivation is strictly one of economic self—interest. A capitalistic economy like ours depends on free trade and access to and from other markets around the world. We buy, sell and trade consumer goods, commodities, and financial concerns with every other country from whom we can benefit. Such activity is central to our way of life—it fuels our economy, our employment and our standard of living. We recognize that dictatorships, repressive theocracies, and anachronistic monarchies are inherently inefficient and unstable, and those governments do not have the politically—motivated economic incentive to change. Those countries are poor—to—fair economic partners at best, offering restricted market potential for our goods and services. Only open—market democracies have the economic horsepower to fully propel other democracies. They need each other in order to perpetuate themselves economically and politically. History bears this out: Major armed conflict is never between two market—based economic powers, since they have too much to lose from all—out war. Instead, such conflict is always between a democracy and a non—democracy, or two non—democracies.

Having cleared the economic benchmarks necessary for survival and stability, it could be posited that successful market—based democracies then have the 'luxury' of turning their attention to less fortunate countries and providing aid. But it doesn't work out that way in reality. France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Spain, Demark, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and Sweden all are relatively successful, essentially free societies. All have contributed much to the world in terms of art, culture, cuisine, architecture, music, and technology. However, can these societies be considered morally 'great' by the measure of their character, by their effort to better mankind?

In a word, no. In its fifteen hundred—year history, France has not exactly been at the head of their class when it comes to freeing other nations from the clutches of a murderous dictator.  (They did, however, ask us to do that for them.)Germany and Japan have never brought a prosperous democracy to a war—torn land. (We did, however, do that for them.) Belgium has never sent its national treasure to defend the freedom of another people, half a world away. China, Russia, and India, which combined have a larger share of the world's population, resources, and landmass than any other three nations, have made no significant positive impact whatsoever on the course of human history, especially outside their own countries. Yet in its brief, 228—year existence, the United States has freed more people from oppression, fostered the creation of more democracies, delivered more foreign aid and humanitarian relief, and improved the standard of living on a global scale to a greater degree than all the other countries in the world combined.

So why does the United States stand alone in its greatness at this point in history? Some may say that it's because of the unique confluence of circumstances that marked the country's creation, which in turn led to a national sense of responsibility and individual accountability. Others may point to the heterogeneous composition of its multi—national population that fostered a rise in the team—building spirit of the new country, free from the restrictive jingoistic hegemony that characterizes older homogeneous cultures.

In any event, the reasons will no doubt be argued over and analyzed by historians and sociologists for a considerable time to come—and in the end, the reasons are totally irrelevant. What matters is that at this unique juncture in time, the United States of the past 100 years stands alone in history as the only truly great society the world has yet seen. We are compelled by this greatness to take the actions that we take, and the world is immeasurably better off because of it—irrespective of whether or not those actions are recognized or appreciated by others.

Steve Feinstein is a corporate communications specialist in Massachusetts

Great is a misunderstood and often misused word. It's bandied about far too casually, and people, places, and events are described as great when in actuality, they are really nothing more than ordinary. The Merriam—Webster dictionary has eleven entries for its meaning. Number nine is clearly the most relevant to this discussion: 'markedly superior in character or quality.'

What makes a society great? How is that measured?

Is sheer size or length of time a measure of greatness? The Roman Empire extended for thousands of miles, dominated dozens of diverse peoples, and lasted for hundreds of years. Does that qualify as greatness? Maybe, on some level.  Do cultural contributions denote greatness? Music, architecture, art, cuisine? Perhaps greatness is defined by technological innovations such as the invention of the internal combustion engine, electricity, the transistor or by medical breakthroughs like penicillin.

But what about that critical word in Webster's definition? Character.  How can the character of a society be measured in comparative terms, especially across the distance of different time periods?

One way to determine a society's character—its greatness—would be to evaluate its contributions towards the betterment of mankind, especially if such contributions were made without the specific goal of immediate geographical acquisition and material enrichment. By this yardstick, there can be little doubt that the United States, especially in its modern guise (post—1900), is the greatest society in recorded history.

The United States is the only country that has consistently and voluntarily sent its own citizens into harm's way for the purpose of delivering other nations from oppression and dictatorship. World War I, World War II, Korea—paid for with the loss of over 600,000 American lives—were all undertaken to help others. When those conflicts ended, the US did not covet additional land area, nor we did own additional natural resources. In fact, since the end of World War II, the US has provided the vast majority of military protection for our 'friends' around the world, at great cost to us, thus allowing those countries to devote a far greater proportion of their national resources to their domestic and social needs than would otherwise have been possible.

What is the motivation for a nation to take such actions? The cynical observer would say that the motivation is strictly one of economic self—interest. A capitalistic economy like ours depends on free trade and access to and from other markets around the world. We buy, sell and trade consumer goods, commodities, and financial concerns with every other country from whom we can benefit. Such activity is central to our way of life—it fuels our economy, our employment and our standard of living. We recognize that dictatorships, repressive theocracies, and anachronistic monarchies are inherently inefficient and unstable, and those governments do not have the politically—motivated economic incentive to change. Those countries are poor—to—fair economic partners at best, offering restricted market potential for our goods and services. Only open—market democracies have the economic horsepower to fully propel other democracies. They need each other in order to perpetuate themselves economically and politically. History bears this out: Major armed conflict is never between two market—based economic powers, since they have too much to lose from all—out war. Instead, such conflict is always between a democracy and a non—democracy, or two non—democracies.

Having cleared the economic benchmarks necessary for survival and stability, it could be posited that successful market—based democracies then have the 'luxury' of turning their attention to less fortunate countries and providing aid. But it doesn't work out that way in reality. France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Spain, Demark, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and Sweden all are relatively successful, essentially free societies. All have contributed much to the world in terms of art, culture, cuisine, architecture, music, and technology. However, can these societies be considered morally 'great' by the measure of their character, by their effort to better mankind?

In a word, no. In its fifteen hundred—year history, France has not exactly been at the head of their class when it comes to freeing other nations from the clutches of a murderous dictator.  (They did, however, ask us to do that for them.)Germany and Japan have never brought a prosperous democracy to a war—torn land. (We did, however, do that for them.) Belgium has never sent its national treasure to defend the freedom of another people, half a world away. China, Russia, and India, which combined have a larger share of the world's population, resources, and landmass than any other three nations, have made no significant positive impact whatsoever on the course of human history, especially outside their own countries. Yet in its brief, 228—year existence, the United States has freed more people from oppression, fostered the creation of more democracies, delivered more foreign aid and humanitarian relief, and improved the standard of living on a global scale to a greater degree than all the other countries in the world combined.

So why does the United States stand alone in its greatness at this point in history? Some may say that it's because of the unique confluence of circumstances that marked the country's creation, which in turn led to a national sense of responsibility and individual accountability. Others may point to the heterogeneous composition of its multi—national population that fostered a rise in the team—building spirit of the new country, free from the restrictive jingoistic hegemony that characterizes older homogeneous cultures.

In any event, the reasons will no doubt be argued over and analyzed by historians and sociologists for a considerable time to come—and in the end, the reasons are totally irrelevant. What matters is that at this unique juncture in time, the United States of the past 100 years stands alone in history as the only truly great society the world has yet seen. We are compelled by this greatness to take the actions that we take, and the world is immeasurably better off because of it—irrespective of whether or not those actions are recognized or appreciated by others.

Steve Feinstein is a corporate communications specialist in Massachusetts