The post below is by Ryan Richards, a Juniata College student who is currently studying International Development and Spanish in Puebla, Mexico.

I used to believe that the world was like the movies; the good guys battled the bad guys and one was distinguished as good or evil by the color of the horse they rode. For me, the U.S. always rode the white horse. ” When I was a child, I thought like a child.” Now, I am abroad in Mexico, and I’ve had to put such childish thinking behind me.

The United States is regularly mentioned in my Latin American History textbooks, often followed by phrases such as “CIA organized military coup”
and “overthrow of democratically elected government.” (And no, these mainstream texts can not be dismissed as leftist propaganda.) The historical reality is that our nation’s foreign policy has borne mixed fruit. For all of its good, our policies have also produced some of Latin America’s worst human rights abusers. U.S. funds and military aid helped to bring to and keep in power the regimes of General Pinochet in Chile, Rios Mont in Guatemala, and countless others across Central and South America. The result were state sponsored rape, torture, and the slaughter of civilian populations. Terrorism.

I don’t write this to defame the United States. We have much of which to be proud. Rather, I write this to debunk the ideology that the US is infallible. The blind faith that our country can do no harm is a bastardization of religion and a bad reading of history. Moreover, believing that we are always the white knight is dangerous for it stops the very self-criticism that checks against abuses of power. Whether or not America lives up to its ideals of spreading justice and democracy in the world depends on whether or not we hold our government accountable to those ideals. The current administration couldn’t be further from the truth in labeling those critical of its policies as unpatriotic. On the contrary, it is the critical citizen who ensures that America’s actions are worthy of our pride.