reader suggested I pack my bags and fly back to Japan to
live. Another simply asked why I didn't mention that
has big problems too. Its criminal conviction rate is off
the charts, its suicide rate is higher than in the United
States, and the Japanese constitution, although it is
patterned after America's, is really just a showpiece
honored in the breach.
underlying argument of my correspondents is that the
system, based on individual freedom and pluralist democracy,
is the best such system
ever devised and must be rigorously protected from
degrading influences, we have no disagreement. I agree, and
I presume we all agree with Walt Whitman, who said it
better than any
of us could: "The peerless power and the splendid eclat
of the democratic principle will fill the world with effulgence
and majesty far beyond those of past history's kings, or
The Global Rochester Test
reflexive resistance to outside ideas and influences that I
sensed in some reader mail, that I respectfully take issue
We get into
trouble when we define ourselves, as Americans, too much as
a unique nation, as the shining city upon a hill. As an
island nation basically, standing alone, heroically
suffering the lonely burdens of leadership.
In fact, no
man is an island, and no country is, either.
Rochester, for example. This morning I conducted the
Penney's "Global Rochester" Test. That is, I went
to the J.C. Penney store at Apache Mall and examined the
the first 25 pieces of clothing I saw.
The items bore
such brand names as Disney, Dockers, Oshkosh, Stafford, and
Van Heusen and they were made in China (5 items), Vietnam
(4), the Dominican Republic (3), India (2), Thailand (2),
Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua,
Indonesia, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Mexico, and Korea.
Only one in 25
of the items I randomly picked was made in America -- Gold
Toe brand socks.
Vikings t-shirts? Made in Korea.
The "I Visited
Rochester" coffee mugs? Made in China.
You could go
to the Mayo Clinic, to IBM, to any of our shopping malls,
our government center, or right down Broadway and find much
the same thing. In the Rochester public schools, more than a
quarter of the children in some K-12 classes speak English
as a second language. This includes a total in all Rochester
public schools of 416 speakers of Cambodian, 363 of Spanish,
158 of Serbo-Croation, and 95 Arabic speakers.
point is, it's not just the kids in our classrooms, the
stuff we buy, and the clothes on our backs that comes from
identity as Americans is a patchwork of international
practices and beliefs.
popular religion, Christianity, was born in the Middle East,
and its holy book, which is read as a guide to life by
millions of Americans, was written there. Our legal system
is based on Common Law from England.
notion of liberty that animates so many American patriots,
including me, was invented by European intellectuals such as
John Locke of England, Baron de Montesquieu of France, and
Hugo Grotius of Holland.
founding fathers believed they were planting the seed of
liberty, which began in Enlightenment Europe, in fertile
Will future dreams of human progress that are born abroad,
always continue to find fertile soil in America? That's the
you could turn back its collar, the American Dream would
have a tag
inside that says "Made in Europe."
It's just that
the dream came true, and could only come true, in America.
If we're too
quick to label ideas and practices from elsewhere as
hopeless, simply because they come from a country whose
political system is not as nobly grounded as ours, we'll
miss a lot.
I'll keep watching for ideas from here, there, and everywhere.
the label on the inside says "Made in Japan."
Copyright @ 2003 The