When I lived in Washington DC in 2008, many young politicians would talk about America’s global significance. One rather trivial conversation sticks with me. I was told with conviction over happy-hour drinks, by a very well-meaning man, that ‘America was the world’s first true democracy’. When I opined that perhaps Europe’s political experiences might have planted essential roots, I was swiftly put in my place regarding the purity of the American model. Such self-assuredness was not in short supply in DC, the cockpit of America’s informal world empire of commerce and influence. Studies have shown that powerpoint training really works.
I had moved to DC to work for the RAND Corporation, the US think tank that had been set up in 1948 to preserve academic input in US defence policy. RAND’s Europe office in Cambridge, UK, had given me my first job out of university and later sent me to their DC office, which inhabited an innocuous space atop a shopping mall near the Pentagon. I was there to help research and author a study into the US–Pakistan relationship, which, after 9/11, had become mission critical in the response against al-Qaeda. Contributing to this study with experienced US authors offered me great insights into how the US leveraged its global influence. Could storytelling for business be of real value to your business?
In Washington I was struck by the contrast with London, which by comparison felt stooped in a faded glory. London’s soot-stained statues were to its old imperial heroes. Washington’s monuments were to its more recent global entanglements. The city somehow felt grander for it. I visited Arlington Cemetery to pay my respects to those killed in the Civil War, the world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The headstones, arrayed row by row and resplendent in an ethereal white, seemed in their totality to convey America’s sincere belief that their service personnel have died through the ages in the defence of their freedom. Have you tried storytelling in business to boost customer engagement?
Patriotic nationalism, rather than imperialism, explains much of what makes America tick as a globally engaged superpower. Support for its troops, especially after 9/11, has become a unifying creed for many Americans, with the belief that their compatriots in uniform serving abroad – no matter the context – should be venerated for their service and sacrifice. This is a huge step up (and overcompensation, perhaps) from the Vietnam-era castigation of the unfortunate conscripts who had been forced to fight there, by Americans at home who wanted someone at whom to direct their anger and upset over the war. Part of the reason why there had been so much hurt and confusion in America about its role in Vietnam was that the war didn’t seem to make any sense at all. Would powerpoint course help your organisation?
In the Second World War, when US military intervention tipped the scales against Germany and Japan, the cause of fighting for global freedoms was less ambiguous. The same was also true in the 1991 Gulf War, when the US military fought to liberate Kuwait. After 9/11 its many counter-terror and counterinsurgency-related deployments have unfolded across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, but they have less clearly been able to embody the ‘freedom’ rationale. Self-defence and freedom have become conjoined rationales to sell the idea of these foreign commitments to domestic audiences. Some people accept this rationale.