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December 27, 2009

The United States has gone through—and been defined by—Knight and Gardener phases in its history. Heroism in each time was defined differently.

  • The country began in a Gardener mode—a time of exploring, pioneering, settling, and prospering from the bounty of the New World. While conflict with Native Americans, the British, and others was always a factor, the time was defined by opportunity more than conflict.
  • The country operated in Knight mode during conflicts like the Revolutionary War, Civil War, both World Wars, and partly through the Cold War.
  • Since the end of the Cold War the United States has had difficulty deciding from which mode to operate on the world stage. Without a worthy enemy the size and menace of the Soviet Union, Knights cast about for another worthy enemy. They finally set their sights on—and thoroughly stomped—Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s forces, and Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1991. This struggle for direction was reflected in the James Bond film series. The producers, unable to identify new global menaces worthy enough for Bond to fight, suffered a six-year gap between 1989’s License to Kill and 1995’s Goldeneye. In License to Kill, Bond fought a drug kingpin and American televangelist. In Goldeneye, he fought world-class villains again—a rogue Russian general and a computer hacker bent on ransoming the world with a military satellite capable of assassinating world leaders from space.
  • During the relative peace of the 1990s, the country operated from a Gardener mode on the world stage as economies and political structures became increasingly interconnected.
  • In the post-9/11 era Americans have struggled over whether terrorism can be best resolved with a Knight or a Gardener approach in the lead.

Currently the U.S. is trying to decide whether to relate to other countries and peoples—and world problems—from a Knight’s or a Gardener’s perspective and policy orientation.

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