U.S. has aided more than wronged

Wilson Shirley
Wilson Shirley

​I was shocked, shocked I tell you, by University of Kentucky doctoral student Cody Foster’s case for an expansive set of reparations for American wrongdoing throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries.

What makes Foster think that he can promote American-produced horrors as exceptional is beyond me, as his arguments privilege our own wrongdoings over those committed by more marginalized groups throughout the rest of the world.

I can only conclude that he has been so perversely indoctrinated by Western-centric ideology that even his post-colonial critiques of American foreign and domestic policy reek of neocolonialism.

After all, Foster’s analysis seems to suggest that there is no nation in history as culpable as America, that America’s wrongs are so uniquely horrible that America, alone, owes global reparatory justice.

Pol Pot, I’m sure, would be dismayed to find he was such an unimpressive mass murderer that Cambodians are owed nothing for the destruction which he wrought. Stalin’s moustache would bristle at the idea that the descendants of those he sent to the gulags and of the victims of his state-induced mass famines are so well off that they can consider their accounts settled.

What Foster is saying is that in the history of the world, wrongs do not demand reparation because they are wrong, but only if and because they are American wrongs. This shows a deeply flawed understanding of morality and history.

America is a deeply flawed country not because it is unique, but because it has been governed by people. And people are, by nature, flawed. They commit atrocities regardless of where they are from.

However, America has, especially in the 20th century, been unique in one important way: It alone has stood for the principles and practices that have led to greater freedom and prosperity for more people around the world than at any time in history.

Europe avoided being entirely consumed by fascism because Americans were willing to storm the beaches of Normandy and to fight and die for the freedom of Frenchmen, Belgians, Germans and countless others whom they would never meet.

South Koreans are not starving in concentration camps like their cousins in the north because those same Americans fought for people with whom they didn’t even share a language.

Eastern Europe is largely free because America rallied and resourced the western world to stand for almost 50 years against a Soviet regime so bereft of truth that it wouldn’t let its own citizens escape.

Women in Afghanistan can receive an education and live their lives as more than the objects of their husbands’ pleasure because American soldiers removed the Taliban after 9/11. The Global Commons are secure and peoples around the world share ideas and trade goods at an unprecedented rate because, after World War II, America made that possible.

If Foster is willing to look at American servicemen and women and all of these people around the world whom they have affected, and say to them that America is a uniquely horrible country, that its soldiers are the perpetrators of war crimes requiring reparations, and that America must stop asserting itself on the global stage, it is his right in this free country to do so.

I would urge his readers not to make the same mistake. ​

Wilson Shirley, a Lexington native, lives in Washington, D.C.

At issue: March 4 commentary by Cody J. Foster, “Reparations for those upon whom U.S. has trod“

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader