Navigating the Perils of “America First” with Insights from Ben Franklin

 

Opinions fascinate me because they often cast a shadow over hard facts, leading to widespread misconceptions. With the Super Bowl coming soon, consider this example of sports fandom. Imagine, for instance, a scenario where an enthusiastic NFL fan proclaims that the Carolina Panthers are the best team in the league.

 

This fan clings to their belief despite the team’s horrible performance this season. The Panthers are GREAT, and the Chiefs SUCK (or insert 49ers). This situation illustrates how personal convictions are fervently defended, even when contradicted by facts.

 

This tendency to prioritize opinion over fact permeates all aspects of society, including critical areas like public health and environmental policy.

 

In these domains, the consequences of unfounded beliefs can be far-reaching. Politicians, using the power of social media and their public platforms, often promote the message “America First.” While appealing in its simplicity, this slogan should not mask the complexities of global interdependence. Not all (of course), but in reading social posts, too many people believe America First is and should be America Only.

 

The relevance of this issue was made top-of-mind for me while watching Ken Burns’ four-hour documentary on Ben Franklin. It is back on PBS, and I cannot recommend this show more; it is fantastic. The documentary paints a vivid picture of Franklin’s instrumental role in the founding of the United States. We must remember that had Franklin not been born, the United States might still be a British colony. The documentary underscored the critical importance of Franklin’s diplomatic mission to France in October 1776, where he sailed aboard a ship named Reprisal for over one month. He arrived sick and worn but carried on like a country’s future depended on this trip. He was correct. Where would we be today if the Reprisal sunk?

 

Without the support of France, Spain, and the Netherlands, the American quest for independence during the Revolutionary War might have faltered. I say I “might have” because if I used the words “would have,” I would be sharing an opinion that cannot be proven. At the risk of guessing,

 

I firmly believe without the support of foreign countries (France, Spain, and the Netherlands), we would be drinking more tea and bowing to the King today.

 

America First? Franklin’s diplomatic prowess and strategic conversations with foreign allies highlight the pitfalls of uninformed opinions. For instance, while some individuals might innocently assert the superiority of the Carolina Panthers, a more alarming number of people, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, cling to the belief that the Earth is flat. This stark contrast between belief and fact underscores the importance of fostering a culture of curiosity, critical thinking, and informed decision-making.

 

Like Franklin, we should strive to base our opinions and actions on scientific evidence, logical reasoning, and practical and informed diplomacy rather than succumbing to superficial narratives prevalent on social media platforms.

 

The documentary, a testament to the educational value of PBS, sheds light on the critical role played by foreign allies in America’s struggle for independence. If you watch, you will be introduced to several foreign-born figures whose contributions were pivotal to securing the freedoms we Americans enjoy today:

 

Baron von Steuben: A former Prussian officer, von Steuben was instrumental in transforming the disorganized Continental Army into a disciplined and effective fighting force at Valley Forge. His training methods and the “Blue Book” military manual he authored laid the foundation for the army’s success until the War of 1812. Not only did he help win our freedom, but his approach to combat affected military outcomes far into the future.

 

Casimir Pulaski: Recruited by Franklin, this Polish nobleman demonstrated his military prowess in the American Revolution, particularly at the Battle of Brandywine. Despite facing language barriers, he led the “Pulaski Legion” and became a celebrated foreign volunteer, ultimately giving his life for the American cause at the Siege of Savannah.

 

The Marquis de Lafayette: At 19, this French aristocrat joined the Continental Army in search of glory. His close relationship with George Washington and his significant contributions in several battles, including the pivotal siege at Yorktown, earned him fame and respect on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

Tadeusz Kościuszko: After escaping political turmoil in Poland, Kościuszko’s engineering expertise proved invaluable in crucial battles like Saratoga and fortifying strategic locations like West Point. His contributions extended beyond the battlefield, significantly shaping the Southern theater’s defenses.

 

Bernardo de Gálvez: As the governor of Spanish Louisiana, de Gálvez played a crucial role in the American Revolution by providing supplies and launching a strategic offensive against British West Florida. His military achievements, particularly the capture of Pensacola, significantly disrupted British operations and contributed to the American victory.

 

These individuals, each in their unique way, were inspired, recruited, and guided by Franklin’s diplomatic acumen. His vision and understanding of global dynamics are lessons that resonate today, reminding us that a narrow interpretation of “America First” can be counterproductive. In our current global landscape, marked by rising nationalism, autocratic powers, and complex challenges like cybercrime and climate change, an isolationist stance can amplify threats rather than mitigate them.

 

Envision a dialogue on diplomacy and foreign relations between Ben Franklin, magically transported from 1776 to our present day, and a contemporary NFL fan like our Panthers enthusiast. After an initial period of marveling at modern advancements, Franklin would undoubtedly offer time-tested insights into the humanistic aspects of diplomacy. His understanding of global trade and technology engagement may shock many here in 2024. How could a man who died over 230 years ago be influential today? I believe his understanding of human behavior is timeless. I also believe he would read and align with proven science and the sports pages. I find it amazing how people modify their opinions of facts based on how an issue is presented and by who does the presentation. People pick and choose what science they believe with no understanding of the science.

 

Speaking of a scientist, Franklin’s legacy of courting foreign powers for America’s freedom underscores the need for a global perspective in addressing contemporary challenges, including cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The notion of retreating into an “America First” stance is as naive as unquestioningly supporting a failing football team. Wait, I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan, so what was I doing for the last two months of the season? OUCH.

 

We must value education, informed study, and a deep understanding of global dynamics.

 

America’s interests are best served by promoting a stable and prosperous world. Abdicating the leading role of the United States in shaping international policy and affairs could lead to domestic and international chaos. You can lead by turning your back. Those leaders tend to get shot.

 

 

In conclusion, Franklin’s legacy teaches us that diplomacy, informed opinions, and global cooperation are more crucial than ever. Likewise, statesmen, we must look beyond our borders, engage with the world, and base our actions on knowledge and understanding, not on unfounded beliefs or fleeting social media trends.

 

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