American Pride

Two events this past week have garnered my interest enough for me to attempt to figure out why they matter so much to me in the first place and whether they are connected in any way. The first was the Women’s World Cup match between the United States and Japan, in which the U.S. lost to Japan in penalty kicks. The second was the breaking news about the drought and famine crisis in the Horn of Africa. Besides both being national headlines, I dug deeper to find why I have been mesmerized by these two seemingly unrelated events.

For starters, everyone by now knows the names “Hope Solo”, “Abby Wambach”, and probably also “Alex Morgan”. Many are calling them household names because of their incredible performances on the United States Women’s National Soccer team. Americans have come to appreciate Abby’s headers and Hope’s unbelievable saves. Though it may still be surprising that Twitter broke its record for most tweets per second (beating both the royal wedding and the death of Osama Bin Laden!) during the World Cup Final, in which Japan beat out the U.S. in penalty kicks[1]. As the United States team watched on while the Japan team danced and cheered for their victory, Americans worldwide could agree on one thing: after so much devastation and loss after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, this Japanese women’s team deserved this glory.

A few days later, the United Nations declared a famine in the Horn of Africa, specifically Somalia. I picked up a few key facts about the crisis on CNN.com, which follow.  The cause of the famine is a severe drought in Somalia that is forcing Somalis to flee in search of food and water to reach refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia estimated that around $300 million was needed in the next two (yes, two!) months to alleviate the famine. 3.7 million people are now facing famine, with estimates reaching up to 10 million people who could be at risk. The U.S. has pledged $28 million in funding for the famine refugees. Yet, Oxfam has issued statements on the crisis pointing to the developed world’s failures, “ ‘The warning signs have been seen for months, and the world has been slow to act. Much greater long-term investment is needed in food production and basic development to help people cope with poor rains and ensure that this is the last famine in the region’”.[2]

Oxfam, a group of organizations working to find solutions to poverty and injustice worldwide, is pointing to the importance of sustainable practices and tools for farmers in developing countries. The unfortunate part is that the situation spiraled out of control and now what is needed in emergency relief. This type of relief is certainly more costly and ineffective for the entire world, and certainly the U.S.  As the U.S. government currently broods over what to do about the pending budget deadline on August 2nd, this type of crisis may not take first priority. This is why organizations, like ONE, are preparing to focus on the famine and how to keep it on the government’s radar.

Fortunately, I was able to sit down with a member of the policy team here at ONE a few weeks ago and get debriefed on global agricultural policy. Interestingly enough, one of the first points that was brought up was the shortcomings of current food aid. I gleaned some important shortcomings of the food aid system in place today. The process of delivering food aid is known as the “iron triangle” in agricultural circles. It involves the farmers who farm the product, then ships that transport the product, and the non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that deliver the product. The process can be inefficient and ineffective because it is generally more expensive to buy the food in the U.S. and then ship it rather than buying the food locally. The reason the U.S. does not favor buying locally is because this would undermine farmers here at home. Therein lies one of the greatest obstacles in food aid: the U.S. farmers’ interest plays heavily into what we do overseas. The challenge is in convincing Americans that it is important (and beneficial for the whole world) for developing countries to create and sustain their own food production.

This is where I begin to make a bit of a stretch in my thinking, but just stay with me. Something that I have become aware of at ONE is how much I have believed in the “exceptionalism” of America my whole life. I have been so proud to call myself an American, where going to school is a right, not a privilege, and where I can speak my mind without fear of punishment by my government. I realize that I need to change my thinking from America as an exceptional and superior nation to America as a nation that has the resources and capacity to help other nations. I have fallen into the trap of “idolizing” America. The U.S. women’s soccer team’s loss to Japan was upsetting as an American, but it was also humbling. Here was a team that had brought home its first women’s World Cup victory ever and it had done it the same year its country lost so many of its people to a natural disaster. I would be so bold to say that many Americans wereproud for Japan. I certainly was. Sometimes feeling this sort of pride for another nation can be the most rewarding kind. This pride for Japan is a sign of hope that the U.S. can overcome its exceptionalism, which in effect could be very helpful if applied to agricultural policy. The urgency of the situation in the Horn of Africa demands Americans to realize the value of pride in other nations. This sort of crisis not only needs immediate relief, but also long-term investment. I think it would be worthwhile to revisit global agricultural policies, specifically food aid and sustainable practices to figure out how to best help farmers in developing countries to lessen the blow of future climate challenges. If this can be done, then perhaps one day, Americans could be proud to see how far those nations have come.

To bring in a key theological point that I came across in Church, State, and Citizen: Christian Approaches to Political Engagement, a common trend lately is how “Americans tend to view history and the place of Christians in it through the glasses of the history of the United States- the lead nation of freedom, prosperity, and democracy- rather than through the glasses of the coming of God’s creation-wide kingdom in Jesus Christ” (Joireman, 66). As a Christian and an American, it can be easy to fall into thinking that God has a special place in his kingdom for Americans because of their achievements at home and abroad. It may sound obvious, but it is easy to forget that God’s kingdom does not favor Americans. I will always be proud of America and grateful for the life I am fortunate to have because of its liberties. But as a Christian, I will continue to challenge myself to believe in the possibilities and future of every nation.

My biggest hope right now is that Americans tap into their pride for other nations, either by raising awareness about this growing crisis in Somalia, or by getting involved with one of ONE’s partner organizations on the ground. For more information on the famine and how to help, go to: http://www.one.org/blog/2011/07/20/one-partners-respond-to-horn-of-africa-crisis/#more-34196.