TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

While American exceptionalism is a lightning rod issue, we may be able to find some common ground asking simply, "what makes America great?"

The US Naval Academy class of 2002 was the first class to graduate from that institution following 9-11. They've recently published a book which Tom Brokaw has says is a "must read for all Americans"

The title of the book, "In the Shadow of Greatness", alludes to several ideas:

1. The Greatest Generation and American veterans who have gone before us have cast a great shadow. We continue to be inspired by them, honor them and remember them. We endeavor to live up to their example, to stand on their shoulders and do great things for our own generation and the next.

2. The events of 9-11 brought the cause of our generation into focus - a war on terror - but this proved to be a shadowy war, unlike the black and white distinctions of World War II. We've been struggling to act heroically in the face of uncertainty. The stories in "The Shadow of Greatness" capture this hope and will inspire others to do likewise.

3. When we headed off to college, we shrugged off the generalizations about Gen X and Millennials having ambivalent attitudes and short attention spans. We wanted to cast our own shadow. We have, and you have.

Now that the book is complete, the class would like to encourage a serious dialogue about the enduring qualities that make America great.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Sep 15 2012: I think it's unhealthy for any nation to believe it's exceptional, especially when they have no facts to back that assertion up. All it does is set people up for disappointment and blaming foreigners for everything.
    • Sep 15 2012: Perhaps you are right if we take the word "exceptional" to mean superior in all or most aspects - but that is not the crux of this conversation. The initial question was about particular great qualities in America and does not require those qualities to be exclusive. Let's assume for a minute that all countries in the world are great because they have achieved national sovereignty - a worthy achievement, and a great baseline for acknowledging the great qualities of any nation. Beyond sovereignty, what great contributions do various countries bring to the world as members of our global community? While America may be weak in many areas, the question at hand is about America's strengths. If you were to say simply that America is a "great" exporter of entertainment, that might be one example, but would obviously shine a light on the fact that our entertainment often casts us in the worst possible light. So then the question is partially, what are the highest and best functions of America in the global community? We give the most out of any other country to UN Peacekeeping - some would call this a great thing.
      • Sep 16 2012: "So then the question is partially, what are the highest and best functions of America in the global community?"

        The only thing I can think of is that American freedom of speech is one of the few versions that truly protects freedom of speech with no subjective exceptions. But that's about it, on all other fronts (even freedoms) there are always at least 10 countries doing better than America. That's not to be taken as anti-Americanism, America is just an average performer globally, not the worst but also far from the best and arguably one of the worst performers of the first world countries.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.