The end of 1966 finds the United States with more hard business before it than at any time since 1962. We are embattled in Viet Nam; we are in the middle of a true social revolution at home; and we have undiminished involvement with continents and countries that still refuse to match our simpler pictures of them. It is not surprising that one can almost hear the nation asking where it is trying to go. It is Viet Nam that gives the question a special edge, and probably it will be in Viet Nam that the most important early answers will be given. But Viet Nam is not the place to begin. It is better to begin with ourselves, and to ask ourselves again what we want—and should want—in the world.
With all his international preoccupations, the American remains a man of private purposes. His hopes and fears for these purposes still decide most elections. Foreign travel and investment multiply (to the despair of those who think the dollar an end, and not a means, and to the great advantage of a nation that must not live alone any more), but they multiply mainly for private reasons, Americans can be touched by hunger and sentiment, so that food goes to India and help of all sorts to Israel, but the American dream remains domestic. However great their nation's interests overseas, the boys always want to come home. Such inwardness of national feeling can be dangerous, but it has the enormously important consequence for others that the American democracy has no enduring taste for imperialism.
What the American people still want of the world, then, is that it should allow what George Washington called "the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness." The enormous difference between Washington's foreign affairs and our own—a difference nine-tenths of which has developed in the last twenty-five years—is in the number, variety and size of the American actions which are generated by
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