The downgrading of the United States by Standard & Poor's has sent tremors throughout the financial markets. The United States economy, according to the rating agency, is not as safe as it used to be. For the first time, in history, in spite of the fact that it has the world's base currency, Uncle Sam is being seriously called into question as a sound financial risk. Although not yet as high a risk as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland or Italy, the foundations of the US economy are deemed less than guaranteed. While one could certainly question the validity of the rating agency with its very poor performance in the sub-prime debacle, the lower rating of the US raises numerous questions.
From the beaches of Normandy, where one is constantly reminded of the heroic acts of the Allied invasion of June 6, 1944, I wonder if we are seeing the end of the American Empire. Following Henry Luce's announcement of the beginning of the American Century following the end of WWII, a little more than 50 years later the downgrading seems to confirm that the American Half Century of domination is approaching its end. The listless performance of President Obama during the debt ceiling confrontation only reconfirms that the Ship of State is rudderless. And in a world that cries out for leadership from Uncle Sam in both the public and private sectors, it is frightening to watch the Ship float aimlessly on the turbulent high seas with the only major activity on board internal bickering among the crew.
The beaches of Normandy are filled with monuments to heroism. In contrast to the wasted lives fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq for causes difficult to understand, those who landed on Juno, Utah and Omaha beaches had purpose, and were appreciated. The French residing here, certainly of a given generation, do not forget what it meant to live under an occupation and what it meant to be liberated. Those who lost their lives here died for a universally accepted just cause. Is it too nostalgic to remember that period? Having relatives who landed here, it is sad to think how quickly those concepts of heroism have gone, and how quickly the image of the United States as leader and savior has disappeared. American soldiers today are often shot at and vilified in Afghanistan and Iraq, seen as invaders and occupiers rather than liberators.
No matter how the debt problem and market volatility plays out, it is difficult to image any form of reconstruction of that 1944 moment.
August 9, 2011