Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Forum Report: America's Role in the World

What Does National Security Mean in the 21st Century? A Deliberative Discussion of America’s Role in the World

What does “national security” mean in the 21st century? And how do we, citizens of the United States, think our elected leaders should go about securing our nation? Does the answer lie in strengthening the military or balancing the budget? Or perhaps it’s a question of our active participation in a global society – working with other countries to find collaborative solutions to issues like overpopulation, nuclear proliferation, global warming, pandemics, and food shortages. On Sunday, March 29th moderators Jill Severn and Jan Levinson, leaders of the Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia, led a community forum on the issue of "America's Role in the World: What Does National Security Mean in the 21st Century" - part of the Life and Legacy of Jeannette Rankin Program Series. Each program in this event series explores the ideas and issues that Ms. Rankin devoted energy to during her lifetime; certainly, the role of America in a global society was a question she considered during her years as a member of the U.S. Congress, as well as in her life as an active citizen who traveled widely.

Severn began the discussion by asking the audience to fill in a blank: the best path to national security is____? The attendees slowly began talking about what America is and is not, and perceptions of the United States held by those living outside its borders. One participant admitted, quite plainly, that in his opinion the United States is a bully and that is a perception held by many countries around the world. Others offered that the United States should be a place that supports diplomacy and democratic ideals, and that as a nuclear power it is seen as a protector for other nations. Some agreed that America’s reputation has changed in the world community drastically in recent decades and that it is often thought of as a country that perceives itself to be superior to other countries and is resistant to listening and learning from other cultures. When prompted to return to the question of the essential components for ensuring national security, the crowd brought a variety of issues to the table, but they all seemed to feel that the essential question went beyond a discussion of national defense or international trade policies and into the deep bipartisan rift that now divides Americans and American politicians. They agreed that the media plays a role in cultivating this rift, as well as creating a heightened sense of insecurity.

The three approaches outlined by the issue guide were as follows:

Approach 1: National Security Means Safeguarding the United States
This approach suggests that our global objective must always be to maintain the safety of the United States and its citizens. We must give national security the highest priority and recognize that terrorism and unstable nations are our greatest threats, while not ignoring conventional threats either.

Approach 2: National Security Depends on Putting Our Economic House in Order
With such significant economic issues facing us, we need to focus on eliminating our staggering public indebtedness and improving the balance of trade. This means spending less on the military and reducing the amount of money that flows overseas.

Approach 3: National Security Means Recognizing that Global Threat
Today’s challenges face everyone on the planet, not just one nation. We must take a leadership role in working with other nations to address long-term threats to humanity: nuclear proliferation, environmental devastation and climate change, pandemics, overpopulation and food shortages, and the depletion of natural resources.

To read more about the discussion participants held on this topic, CLICK HERE for a full report.

In keeping with the theme of the Life and Legacy of Jeannette Rankin series -- the forum closed with some words from Jeannette herself. Margaret Holt, one of the founding mothers of the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, offered a few words about Ms. Rankin’s stance against isolationism in the wake of World War I. She read a speech that Rankin delivered in 1929, which asserted that the United States did not exist in a vacuum and that in the current time period issue was a global issue. The speech roused clapping from attendees, who seemed amazed at the relevance of commentary written more than eighty years ago.

The final event in the Life and Legacy series will take place this coming Wednesday, March 31st from 5:00-6:30 PM at the Zell B. Miller Learning Center on the UGA campus. The event, titled "Workplace Justice Then and Now" will be a panel discussion led by Dr. Bethany Moreton (UGA Dept. of History, Institute for Women's Studies) and Dr. Pamela Voekel (UGA Dept. of History). The panel will discuss ongoing efforts for just wages, benefits and working conditions in the United States. To learn more about this program visit the Russell Library website, or call (706) 542-5788.

Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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