America and ‘the price of greatness’

Updated
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden join members of the White House staff during a moment of silence...
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden join members of the White House staff during a moment of silence...
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

As we mark the 12th anniversary of 9/11, and less than 24 hours after the president addressed the nation on possible military action against Syria, we are reminded once again of the debt we owe to the men and women—black and white, Christians and atheists, young and old—who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the ongoing security of America and places far beyond.

And, as the president reminded us last night, this is not a recent development, but one that’s been ongoing for almost a century.

The weight of this burden has never been distributed fairly, and there’s a reason for that. Whatever the nation decides with regard to Syria, there is a perfectly understandable level of battle fatigue and war-weariness—especially after the lies, and the loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But before we’re all tempted to become entirely pessimistic and inward looking, it’s actually worth remembering why the world continues to look to the United States, even when her national interests are not directly threatened. Nobody said it better than Winston Churchill back in 1943 when Europe was in peril and the United States intervened in the Second World War:

“The price of greatness is responsibility. If the people of the United States had continued in a mediocre station, struggling with the wilderness, absorbed in their own affairs, and a factor of no consequence in the movement of the world, they might have remained forgotten and undisturbed beyond their protecting oceans: but one cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.”

This is a difficult moment for the United States, but it’s only difficult because America has carried the burden of leadership and has involved itself in the agonies of the wider world. And that’s something this nation can be proud of—especially on this sober anniversary.

This was adapted for the September 12th broadcast in our Clear the Air segment:

America and 'the price of greatness'

Updated