Help Wanted: World Leader
Are you so old that you remember when Memorial Day was called Decoration Day? Are you so ancient that you remember when Memorial Day was sacrosanct – it fell, year in, year out, on May 30th? Are you so decrepit that you remember when Memorial Day was more than the beginning of summer – when its sole purpose was to honor the men and women who died defending our country?
If the answer is yes, you’ll know that Memorial Day was draped in the American flag. It was among the most deeply felt and quintessentially American of our national holidays, evoking strong feelings of patriotism and deep pride in the United States of America.
On this particular Memorial Day, though, we face a question that can no longer be ignored. Nor should it be, not even on a day dedicated to our fallen heroes. The question is this: What is the role of nationalism in an international world? Perhaps it’s a bit blasphemous to pose the question at just this moment, in connection with our commemorations. But it could be the exactly right time to ask out loud whether the 21st century will be kind to those who say, “My country, right or wrong.”
The fact of the matter is that as we gear up to select the next chief executive, the next commander-in-chief, the world in which the US is situated is changing dramatically. On one level we know this, of course. We know that Europe is now vigorous in its own right and entirely self contained; that countries such as China, India, and Brazil are becoming behemoths that need the US little or not at all; that Russia is becoming again what it was, distant and difficult; that the Middle East is the proverbial powder keg over which Americans have nearly no control; and that several countries in Africa remain in desperate need of outside intervention, if only to contain catastrophe.
Moreover we know full well, intellectually if not yet viscerally, that many of our most intractable problems are impossible to solve by the US acting alone. The war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism, the energy crisis and global warming – these are only some of the mountains that can be climbed only in tandem.
The issue is overarching. The issue is that we live in a world in which neither institutions nor individuals yet grasp how outmoded is our leadership, and how outmoded are the governance structures within which leaders necessarily operate. For all we think we know about globalization, about the shrinking planet, we know not a lot about how actually to accommodate it. To take just a single example, when disaster strikes, as it did recently in Mayanmar, national boundaries can preclude us from providing help. In fact, outsiders eager to parachute in with supplies in tow were reduced to being bystanders. Why? Because for weeks on end both national states and international organizations chose to abide by the old rules of nonintervention, even as they violated the much older rules of common decency.
Memorial Day is an occasion to pay homage to those who gave their lives for their country. But we are not precluded from concluding that the nationalism of times past must now be supplemented by – not supplanted by, supplemented by – an internationalism in keeping with the changing times. Nor are we precluded from finding and favoring leaders with vivid imaginations – so they can conjure how the world might work.
See the original post here, by Barbara Kellerman @ Harvard Business Publishing