Aaron David Miller: How Geography Explains the United States

tags: national security, foreign policy, geography, Aaron David Miller



Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled Can America Have Another Great President?. "Reality Check," his column for ForeignPolicy.com, runs weekly.

Do Americans have a worldview? And is there a central organizing principle that explains it? To frame the question in Tolkienesque terms: Might there be one explanation that rules them all?

I think there is.

Sigmund Freud argued that in the human enterprise, anatomy is destiny. In the affairs of nations, geography -- what it wills, demands, and bestows -- is destiny too.

It can't explain everything, to be sure. Britain and Japan are both island nations. That might explain their reliance on naval power and even their imperial aspirations. But what accounts for their fundamentally different histories? Other factors are clearly at play, including culture, religion, and what nature bestows or denies in resources. Fortune, along with the random circumstances it brings, pushes them in different directions.

Still, if I had to identify that one thing that -- more than any other -- helps explain the way Americans see the world, it would be America's physical location. It's kind of like in the real estate business: It's all about location, location, location....



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