WHEN the history of the 20th century is definitively written, America will be renowned for many contributions.
There is American culture, derided by some, but a culture nonetheless that through film, and video-tape, and music, has swept the world and impressed itself upon communities from Patagonia to St. Petersburg.
There is the innovative technology of American inventors and engineers that has made life easier and more enjoyable for millions, and now, in the area of communications, is about to unleash an information revolution whose extent we can barely grasp.
There is American generosity, now crimped as a result of reckless spending, but still evident in gifts of foreign aid, and remembered for such far-sighted projects as the Marshall Plan after World War II.
There is American marketing genius, which may not have been successful in selling cars to the Japanese, but has Russians chomping on Big Macs, and saffron-robed monks in Thailand sipping Coca-Cola, and fastidious Englishmen exploring offerings from Pizza Hut, and superior Frenchmen snapping up American jeans.
There is, although Americans are not a militaristic people, military might at the ready which, in time of need, has been committed at great human cost.
But when the century's encompassing history is written, it will be for its defense of freedom and human rights that America will best be remembered.
It was the United States that was critical in vanquishing the two greatest threats to freedom in this century - fascism and communism.
True, in World War II, the British bore the initial brunt of Hitler's Nazi onslaught. But without the moral and military support of the US, that terrible tyranny would not have been halted and destroyed.
In the post-war world, America has been the sturdy center-piece of the alliance that stood against, and ultimately triumphed over, Soviet-directed communism.
Dwight Eisenhower, the warrior-turned-statesman, was the first to recognize that in addition to a defensive armory of military weapons, the US must propagate the word of truth and the ideals of democracy to captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain.
Thus came into being the powerful Voice of America, broadcasting around the world, and its sister stations Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, targeting Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. More recently came Radio Marti, broadcasting to Cuba.
American presidents after Eisenhower continued the mission. Though dismissed by some critics as naive American evangelism, this American persistence in asserting the basic freedoms for all men, everywhere, has been a significant force in wrenching millions of people in Eastern Europe out of dictatorship's grasp and propelling them down the road to democracy.
Now we are on the brink of a new, Asian, chapter in mankind's quest for freedom. The upheaval in Thailand, its outcome still not clear, nevertheless signals mass dissatisfaction with the old military rule.
Coming after significant democratic movement in the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, it tells us that Asians are no less impelled by the desire for freedom than anybody else.
The democratic revolution will come too to China, whose misguided leadership believes it can have economic reform and political repression simultaneously; and to communist North Korea and Vietnam, and to the people of Burma, living under harsh military rule, and the other countries whose autocratic regimes have been left as isolated islands amid the onrushing tide of history.
It is a great moment for the US to seize, to champion as vigorously as it did the rights of Russians and Poles and Czechs and Hungarians and East Germans, the rights of more than a billion Asians who have yet to win the same freedoms.
To proclaim democracy's merits is not to "meddle." It is in the grand and selfless tradition that should continue to characterize America's greatest contribution to the 20th century - the defense of man's rightful freedom.