The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published April 13, 2002.)

There are a hundred places in the world that need the help U.S. power and money can provide. But we have to ask, how much can we do and how much do we have the will to do? How effective would diplomacy be?

The dictionary says of "diplomat": "one skilled in diplomacy." Under "diplomacy," it reads: "tact in dealing with people."

The dictionary doesn't say so, but being diplomatic also means not always saying what you think. "Tact" can mean saying something that's less than the whole truth in order to influence or avoid offending someone.

The diplomats don't dare tell us the whole truth because half the time we wouldn't let them do what they think our country should do. They may know best but we don't want to hear it.

We've had a lot of good secretaries of state over the years. Thomas Jefferson was George Washington's secretary of state. John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren were both secretaries of state before becoming president. Daniel Webster was a great one. Henry Stimson, Dean Rusk, Cyrus Vance were all better than good. Most people thought Madeleine Albright was good at the job. Not everyone thought the same of Henry Kissinger.

President Woodrow Wilson made a speech to Congress right after World War I that became famous because it contained his "Fourteen Points of Diplomacy." One of them insisted on "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in public view."

Other points included "Absolute freedom of navigation on the sea," "Removal of all trade barriers" and "General disarmament."

Americans aren't much interested in diplomacy because it usually means dealing with foreign countries. If a vote were taken and the choice for Americans was between never having any relationships with any foreign country again, or doing everything within our power and wealth for the poor people of the world, we'd vote to curl up and forget everyone else. A great many Americans don't think we should concern ourselves with the rest of the world's problems.

There have always been a lot of Americans who are isolationists, and sometimes they've been right. It seems likely we should never have become involved in either Korea or Vietnam. We were embarrassed about being too slow to enter World War II, so we made up for it by moving too quickly in Korea and Vietnam. When Hitler moved into Poland and started to take over Europe, Americans generally were cool to the idea of going to help. Our policy was indifference. An organization called "America First" had a huge number of supporters who were isolationists.

It took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to make us realize that we were also residents of this Earth and what happened any place on it also happened to us.

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