Rachel Maddow's interview (time index 43:40) with the long serving State Department diplomat Daniel Fried is a must see. It is important because it states some very basic aspects of what we led, during, and after, World War 2, and what was captured, ultimately, in the idea of "The West."
Not all, unfortunately, that ended up being captured by the term "The West" has been so fortuitous, precisely because, after our economies got going again, and production needed supply, and consumption, the extremes of Capitalism began reasserting themselves.
What Mr. Fried is talking about, however, in my view is the importance of what our leadership did to champion not only connection with the rest of the world, so we could work together to solve big problems, but to also try and forge some kind of world consensus on norms for basic human rights, which is really the essence of taking Eastern Europe away from the Soviets.
This may have been couched mostly in anti Communism, and the fear of free market people that another social organizational mode might take over, but that has always been a mixed up combination of paranoid fear, and a misinterpretation of what the Soviets were really running. And to be clear, it was not true Socialism.
Marx had intended, as I understand it (see Socialism by Michael Harrington), that there be a certain minimum of both technological, and productive, advancement, before any society attempted to try and implement the norms of Socialism. The Russian economy, at the time, was certainly nowhere even close to that yet. And because of that, and because few people are ready to give up a cherished idea, even if it doesn't really apply now, the proponents had to resort to collectivism at the point of a gun to get, and keep their, economy going; a process that was, unfortunately, repeated in other places.
What we were fighting, then, during the Cold War, was not a rogue Socialist state, but just another example of an authoritarian, dictatorial tierney, with the people buried under both a police state, and a soul sucking bureaucracy. The Fascists could be just as dictatorial, and evil, but they brought in the Capitalist leaders and co-opted them enough to keep a competitive economy going.
First and foremost, it was not a new economic operating system that the Soviets were fielding. It was an attempt at a new social adaptation to the existing operating system (which is better described here as a specialist, mass production, mass consumption, money, market, economy). The social adaptation was to try running that operating system as a centrally planned market economy, with a party bureaucracy as the ruling board of directors. Workers may have been hailed as the true patriots, but the fact of the matter was the Soviets were breaking an important requirement Marx had stipulated for the adoption.
Getting back to Mr. Fried, however, what we need to remember is that it's not about being the world's policeman. It is about understanding the leadership role we took to get the rest of the world involved in seeing the value of being connected cooperatively. Taking leadership in showing that it is an interconnected world whether we want it to be or not. That's the whole point of complex systems when you have both ecosystems, and social systems, working in unavoidable interaction.
And we took that role because nobody else could. Because nobody else had the (relatively) clean slate to start from, within the perspective of an historical legacy, and the social inertia thus already built up. We have been the grand Democratic experiment, after all. We didn't have the centuries of conflict already established as a legacy, like the Europeans did. Centuries to form the generational distrusts, and hatreds, that make establishing common ground almost impossible, out of the gate. Though, of course, we risk creating that kind of legacy now, within our own sort of Balkanization.
Pride in your country is a good thing; especially if you can know, in your bones, and your mind, that it operates with consistency within the moral dictates of its highest ideals, at least to the very best of its abilities, because that is also something to aspire to. Nations have to be careful of the balance between being moral, and being practical in a still complex, scarcity driven world. Just as citizens have to be careful of the balance between wanting to be patriotic, but also true to their own moral compass.
Obviously then, pride, like anything else, can be taken too far. And in that extreme one of the dangers is that an exceptionalism can be made to apply almost genetically to the ones born there, and so being born there can come to bestow a kind of purity. Exceptionalism, a growing sense of a kind of purity, can then be fertile ground for automatically casting others as not only less pure, but less exceptional (which gets an awful kind of reinforcement when other people are the ones becoming desperate, and engage in desperate behavior; the underlying causes for which become ever more muddled because of all of the cross manipulation of the means to know that all of the extremely interested parties do). And from there do you then grow a reformed tribalism that is capable of terrible things. Evil precisely because other humans become excluded from any sense of morality merely because they are perceived as supposedly inferior, and/or impure.
What happens to other people matters. As already stated, it is an interconnected world, and for a host of reasons, but even if you forget our most basic interconnection as human, sentient life; there is still the many practical aspects of what one group does that might affect the air, or the water, upwind or upstream of you (on a globe you are always downstream, or downwind, of somebody in a more immediate sense, and everybody in a more general sense) . Or make too dangerous vital transportation lanes. Or flood your shores with desperate people who don't know what else to do. Or who export even more chaos; especially in your direction, because, right or wrong, they think you are at least partially responsible. And because you have had a checkered past, they have a lot of partial truths with which to make their propaganda way more effective than it would have been otherwise.
I would submit to you that at least one of the main causes for why our ideals don't always match our actions is the contradictory positions being a Capitalist, money, market, and consumption driven, society forces us into. Positions where we get sucked into being "sold on the gold that consumes another's treasure" (from my song "Can You Lend An Invisible Hand?"); as with the legacy of Colonialism, resource rape, as well as all of the political machinations involved with insuring our access to continued drilling, or mining, of whatever one might want to consider.
We need to continue assuming the leadership here because we are presented with something else nobody else can do but us, and that is more comprehensively define what a true, new operating system should be, and then actually put it in place. An new system that will allow this amazing Democratic experiment to continue, but to do so where we can better balance the rights of the individual, with the rights of the community as a whole. We were the ones who led Capitalism off the old rails of Typographic thinking, and organization. We have to be the ones to lead the effort to create a better economic operating system.