2011 THIRD PLACE ESSAY

by Timothy Metcalf, Age 17
Submitting Teacher: Karen Metcalf


"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." Thus wrote Shakespeare in his comedy, "Twelfth Night." Over a hundred and seventy years later, the greatest example of this principle was born: the United States of America. In some ways, it was born great. In other ways, it eventually achieved greatness. Finally, some aspects of the greatness of the U.S were thrust upon it. The John Stossel special, "What's So Great about America?" discusses aspects of America's greatness that fall under all three of these categories.

Stossel's special says that America is great due to its economic freedom. In this aspect, America has been great since birth. The moment the Articles of Confederation were signed, the United States was great. Article IV gave the citizens of the United States the right to live their lives however they wanted. They could determine where they would live, what they would do, and were guaranteed that their property would never be taken by the government without just compensation. These all-important rights were carried over into the current Constitution. Over the centuries, America's commitment to the freedom of its citizens, at least economically, may have lessened to some degree. Still, though, Americans are amazingly free to start businesses, work for others, or invest in businesses. The result is American commercialism. Bright, gaudy, energy hogging advertisements, thousands of sounds blending into mere noise… As Stossel asks in his special, "What could be great about commercialism?" But Dinesh D'Souza, who plays a major role in Stossel's special, argues that commercialism is important. According to him, immigrants just coming to America see commercialism as a big benefit. The hundreds of advertisements accosting their senses daily symbolize a life "liberated from grinding necessity," a life where they can buy superfluous products. Dinesh should know, as he immigrated here himself. Of course, commercialism is still annoying, gross, even, to Americans who have lived in it their entire lives.

Though the seeds of American prosperity were planted at its very birth, there is another aspect of America's greatness that was achieved despite our nation's origins. That aspect involves racism. How on earth could racism be a good thing? Racial hatred is terrible, one of the most horrible things about America. Dinesh D'Souza disagrees. Racism is not one of the most horrible things about America, according to D'Souza, not because racism isn't terrible, but because racism no longer exists, at least not to any significant extent. Consider the racism of the past two centuries. First, blacks were enslaved. Then they were discriminated against and subjected to segregation. Only after years of racial struggles have blacks finally achieved the same legal standing as whites. America is great because of the amazing success and speed with which it has conquered the racism that had dominated most of its history. Today, intermarriage is common. There is no racism strong enough to prevent anyone from living the American dream. D'Souza himself is married outside of his race, as are countless other Americans. The United States has overcome its terrible racist roots and achieved greatness by mere virtue of not caring about skin color anymore.

"What's So Great about America?" presents America's military as another reason that America is great. Now it is certainly true that America's military is powerful; the devastation inflicted on Europe by the Nazis in World War II thrust this upon us. Only if the United States uses its great military power with great responsibility would the military actually make America great, and whether or not the U.S uses its power responsibly is arguable. Stossel's special discusses several reasons why the military is not being used responsibly: the military is too big and expensive. They are bullies and imperialists. The special refutes the second two of these, but not the first. According to the special, whenever America has invaded a country, it has been to make life better for the citizens of that country. We have invaded, accomplished our goals, then pulled out and rebuilt the country. Can the military really be called bullies? Can it really be called imperialist? No. After all, if the military is imperialistic, where's America's empire? We own a few nearby islands, that is all. Almost everywhere we invade, we also rebuild, and everywhere we depose a despotic government, we set up a democracy in its place. It is the idealism with which the U.S uses its army that makes it great.

There are many more things that are great about America. Stossel even discusses several more in his special. America was born great, with a Constitution that gives every citizen the right to chose how they'll live their life, which has allowed the people to achieve a never before seen level of prosperity. By conquering the racism that has dominated most of this nation's history, we have achieved greatness more impressive than any other. When the U.S was called on during World War II to rescue the Allies from the Nazi threat, a chance at greatness was thrust into our laps, and we took it. While the United States has its flaws, its benefits outweigh them. That is what is so great about America.