November 02, 2001 11:00 pm

In the latter half of the 20th century, the United States became the dominant nation in the world. Is America also willing to take on the role of world policeman?

Prior to World War II, Great Britain played that role. Britain, as the worlds most powerful nation, attempted to keep a balance of power around the planet.

After World War II, the world had no single country that nations could turn to in times of crisis. The United States and the former Soviet Union maintained an uneasy balance in the world, arbitrarily divided between East and West. When the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc began to dissolve in the late 80s and early 90s, it became apparent that the United States would become the worlds policeman, whether our relatively young republic wanted this role or not.

The United States ascendancy to the top of the heap has been as much created by our nations military might as by its economic strength. But the question remains. Are we willing to take on the role of the worlds policeman? We might like the glory of being the worlds top mediator, but are Americans willing to pay the price?

Not all nations are willing to accept the cultural baggage associated with America. Like a big-talking Texan, Americans often give the impression that we know it all. We want others to embrace everything our culture has to offer from Coca-Cola to Playboy magazine and the sexually graphic, violent movies produced by our film industry.

We must accept that our culture is not perfect, and it isnt the best culture for everyone. What we fail to realize is that most of the worlds cultures are much older than ours. As the fairly new kid on the block, America must learn to respect and learn from the cultures of other nations.

The United States has come to the aid of many troubled nations. After World War II, we put up billions of dollars to rebuild the economies of the nations that we and our allies decimated during the fighting. We provided aid for Germany and Japan to help those nations retool their economies and provide for their citizens a high standard of living. We did the same in Korea following the conflict there. We have been willing to help just about any nation following a disaster. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, we mobilized our military forces and the world community to repel the aggression of Saddam Hussein.

The role of the worlds policeman has cost the lives of young Americans. It has fostered hatred of us among many in the Middle East. We have now tasted the bitter pill of terrorism in New York City and Washington, D.C. Our nation did not do too well in its world policeman role in Vietnam. Perhaps with our new effort to combat terrorism in the world we will do better.

The role of world policeman has its downside. We must be willing to endure suffering and death. The British learned this when they were the worlds dominant power. Can Americans stomach it? Are we willing to pay the price?