Stop! Don't unlock that cage
By Rosalea Barker
Next week, I will be the same age the United States presidency was when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and it got me to wondering why that office has become so powerful in world politics in so short a time - just 214 years. (Yes, I really am that old!)
One of the reasons is Napoleon Bonaparte. He doubled the size of the US in 1803 by selling Jefferson's government the land west of the Mississippi for a pittance. The Louisiana Purchase extended from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to British North America. If you're looking for a great holiday this year, you might consider visiting the bicentennial celebrations, details at www.louisianapurchase2003.com.
Then came annexation of Texas, and the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended it in 1848. The treaty confirmed US claims to Texas and set its boundary at the Rio Grande. Mexico also agreed to cede to the United States present-day California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Toss in the Gadsden Purchase and the later inclusion of the territories in the northwest, and you've pretty much got what's now known as the "lower 48" (states) in place by the 1870s.
That's only 130 years ago. So what's made this nation so powerful? Resources, for one thing. The United States is the world’s fourth largest country in area, and it's rich in raw materials. It's also the third largest country in population so it has the physical and intellectual capacity to put those natural resources to good (or bad) use. These things are obvious.
What's not so obvious is the extent to which non-US physical and intellectual capacity has played a role in making this country the military power that it is today. For example, it's so common to hear an Australian accent when some scientific expert is being interviewed on the radio here that you would think Australia was the 51st state. Nor is it unusual to hear Russians, people from Middle Eastern or Asian nations, or Europeans, Latin Americans, and Africans.
Science advances because of collaboration. US industry is built on the work of students and teachers who travel the world to work in different research institutions - sometimes foreigners in the US; sometimes US citizens in foreign countries - and most of them feel their first duty is to science. If they're working on projects that could be used to develop weapons, then they justify that as being for defence. Their research grants here in the US aren't coming from the Department of Offence, after all.
So, this nation is militarily powerful because it has participated in one of the great privileges of being a world citizen - the peaceful exchange of knowledge and ideas. Yet its agenda as a world citizen is being driven by a group of people with a narrow world view, as if the only people who live here are the descendants of the first settlers. Essential to preserving that narrow view, is the power of the presidency and the cabinet that he or she appoints.
So long as there is a threat of war and
terrorism there is little chance for a change to the
political system here in the US because people won't want to
risk it. Just right now it feels like we're watching the
high wire act in some three ring circus that's going to go
on and on forever. Our necks are getting tired and we're
getting bored. Let's hope the Bush administration doesn't
notice, or they'll feel obliged to let some lions and tigers