The biggest threat to America? Americans.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond explains why some nations make it through epic crises and why others fail.

JARED DIAMOND: National crises: There are lots of them, and they have common features. The United States is spiraling into a crisis today. Other countries, countries that I know well and have lived in, have gotten through crises, such as Australia, Germany, Finland, Chile, Indonesia, Japan. There are generalizations about the outcomes of national crises. A country is not going to resolve a national crisis unless it acknowledges that it's in a crisis. If you don't, you're going to get nowhere. Many Americans still don't recognize today that the United States is descending into a crisis.

An obvious second step is that once you recognize that you're in a crisis, you have to acknowledge that you have a responsibility. There's something that you can do about it. It's not enough to say, 'Wah, wah, poor me. I'm a helpless victim. Pity, pity, self pity, there's nothing I can do.' Nonsense. Even if there were bad countries out there, getting out of the crisis will then depend upon what you are going to do vis-á-vis those bad countries. In the United States nowadays, there's too much talk about what those Chinese and what those Canadians and what those Mexicans are doing to us and isn't that terrible, and not enough talk about how we Americans are generating our own problems. The only people who can ruin democracy in the United States are Americans. There's no way that Canadians and Mexicans or Chinese can undermine American democracy. These are national crises.

But by now, all of you just reflect back on your personal lives; we've all had personal crises. Our marriages have broken down; a loved one, a child, a spouse, a brother or a sister died, transforming our view of the justice of the world; we encountered a financial crisis or a career crisis or a health crisis. We all know about these crises, and we all know by experience how we succeeded or, for a while, we resisted at getting through our personal crises. We all know that as long as we deny that we were in a crisis, as long as we said, 'My marriage is working great' until the day when your wife or husband walked in and said 'I'm getting a divorce,' you didn't deal with problems in your marriage as long you said my marriage is doing great. Or when your marriage breaks down, and you say, 'Wah wah, it's because of my terrible husband or wife.' But what did you do to provoke your terrible husband or wife? It's your responsibility. If you want to have a better next marriage, you better do something about it. Or the confidence that you get from previous crises. I had a severe professional crisis at the age of 21. I had subsequent professional crises, but because I got through my crisis at age 21, when new crises came up later, I thought 'Hm, I got through something terrible before. I'll probably get through this one now.'

Similarly, for nations, nations gain confidence looking through -- from the memory of the previous national crises that they got through. Finland -- when Finland celebrated its 100 years of independence last year, the focus of Finland's celebration of independence was not Finland's independence. It was instead, Finland preserving its independence in the war against the Soviet Union in 1939 to 1945. The Finns felt we got through that, we can get through anything. For we Americans, we got through some terrible things in the past. We got through our war of independence, we got through the Civil War, we got through the Depression, we got through Pearl Harbor, we got through these terrible things. Yes, we have problems today. But we solved difficult problems in the past. We can solve this one today.

  • "A country is not going to resolve a national crisis unless it acknowledges that it's in a crisis," says Jared Diamond. "If you don't, you're going to get nowhere. Many Americans still don't recognize today that the United States is descending into a crisis."
  • The U.S. tends to focus on "bad countries" like China, Canada and Mexico as the root of its problems, however Diamond points out the missing piece: Americans are generating their own problems.
  • The crisis the U.S. is experiencing is not cause for despair. The U.S. has survived many tragedies, such as the War of Independence and the Great Depression – history is proof that the U.S. can get through this current crisis too.




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