America's Constitution and commitment to liberty have inspired people and governments across the globe. We led the way during World Wars I and II, as well as the Cold War. Thanks largely to the sacrifices of brave Americans, the world is free from both Nazi rule and Soviet totalitarianism.
Known as much for our helping hand as our military might, the United States fed much of Russia when, after WWI, Herbert Hoover led a major humanitarian effort to help the famine-starved in the then-Communist country. After World War II, we launched the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe, which included massive aid to rebuild Germany and Japan, our former enemies. It is ironic that if North Vietnam had lost the Vietnam War, we probably would have rebuilt their country, too.
America's philanthropy continues today. When an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, there was an outpouring of small donations by many Americans, rich and poor. The same was true following the 2004 tsunami that ravaged Indonesia.
Americans have much to be proud of. But what is it about America that causes us to do so much for the world?
Freedom is the most important American value and is our nation's greatest strength. It is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press.
This freedom is often the magnet that draws people from the rest of the world. Americans can write the script of their own life. They can be the architects of their own destiny. This is the essence of what it is to be an American.
A significant aspect of that freedom is America's religious tolerance. Americans are content to let others practice any religion they choose -- or practice no religion at all. Some Americans may disagree with others' religious beliefs, but few Americans dispute the right of other Americans to believe and practice whatever religion they choose.
It is not just our freedom of speech and religion that make America great, but our political freedom and economic freedom, too.
The cornerstone of our political freedom is this: No one should rule another without their consent. (This principle was the key reason slavery could not endure.) This led to America's republican form of government, a Congress that reflects its constituents and, ultimately, our universal voting rights.
America was the first country in the world to consider the pursuit of happiness an unalienable right. This pursuit is commonly manifested in the entrepreneurial spirit; Americans are encouraged to take risks, with our capitalist system rewarding the winners.
Because our Founding Fathers created a nation that incentivizes big dreams and hard work, America is the most innovative country in the world. No country in the history of the world is responsible for more inventions, more innovations or more scientific discoveries. As a result of America's economic freedom, the life of almost every person on Earth is longer, safer, richer and more comfortable.
If a person lives in a society where customs must be followed, respect must be paid and compassion is required, there is little virtue in doing good. But when a person lives in a world of choice, where he can live his life in any manner he chooses, living a good and honest life -- as so many Americans do -- is far more virtuous. Above all, it seems, the American Experiment has proven that people, when given freedom, use that freedom for good.
Americans have used our many freedoms to liberate and to innovate, to worship and to learn, to acquire and to share. As long as we continue to cherish and protect our freedoms, as long as we can pursue a life that is self-directed, not directed by others, America will not only be a country we can be proud of, but will remain the very best hope for the future.
Walter E. Hussman Jr. is the chief executive officer of WEHCO Media Inc. and publisher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.