We mark another Veterans’ Day with young men and women defending our country overseas. As these brave Americans carry out their missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we pause to reflect with pride on their sacrifices, and to honor the service of all those who wore the uniform before them.
It’s proper that we take the time to do that, for every U.S. soldier has contributed to the freedom and prosperity America enjoys today. Our enemies are deterred whenever we demonstrate the willingness to use our power. And our allies–even those who criticize us–depend heavily on our strength to ensure their own protection.
Europeans are free and live in peace because American soldiers shed blood to liberate them from Hitler, Stalin, fascism, and Communism. And a stable Europe contributes greatly to a safer world. Today, Japan is an indispensable ally in the Far East because, after World War II, General Douglas McArthur, and others helped forge a new country modeled on American principles.
Because of the sacrifices and dedication of our veterans, the United States today is the world’s unrivaled military power–admired, feared, counted on, resented, beloved. No single military has ever amassed such superior capability in all of human history, and few fighting forces have ever contributed so much to the cause of democracy and freedom.
Today, more than ever, it’s important that we remember that.
In recent months, our men and women have been stationed in unstable, often volatile, areas of the world. The work is hard. The danger is real. No doubt many soldiers face hot, sleepless nights, the fear of attacks, and the painful longing for friends and family. Carrying out those duties must be even tougher when the mission that our fighting soldiers are undertaking faces skepticism, protests, and doubt back home.
I know there are concerns about the situation in Iraq. Debate and discussion of our plans there are signs of the health of our democracy. But we spend too much time in this country focusing on our setbacks and doubts and too easily dismiss what have been awesome–and unprecedented–military achievements. This tendency is reflected in the media, in our politics, in social discussions. Americans are–quite properly–told about every bombing, every American soldier’s death, and every friendly-fire incident. But we are not notified–or we quickly dismiss–those times when a young American soldier protects an Iraqi mosque without incident, or when a medical team at a U.S. military hospital saves the life of a pregnant Afghan woman, or every time allied soldiers deliver school supplies, food, or medicine to Iraqi children. We don’t rejoice every time a bomb does not go off in Baghdad, or every day we don’t have a terrorist attack in Boston or Baltimore or Tucson.
Today, many worry about instability in Afghanistan and Iraq; they doubt our military’s capacity to avoid “quagmires.” How quickly they lose sight of the efficiency of our operations to topple the dreaded Taliban government–patrons of Osama bin Laden–and to eliminate, with unparalleled precision and restraint, Saddam Hussein’s brutal despotism, long feared by its neighbors in the region. Our soldiers–under the direction of some of our nation’s finest military leaders–carried out these critical missions with minimal casualties on either side and without destroying much of the infrastructure critical to a quick recovery.
Though you don’t hear about their achievements often, our soldiers rack them up every single day. Today in the Baathist triangle near Baghdad, for example, armed soldiers are killing or capturing dozens of terrorists and Saddam allies. (Thousands of America’s most violent enemies have been arrested or eliminated in the space of a few short months.) Allied forces are protecting and helping the Iraqi people build better lives throughout Iraq, which outside the Baathist triangle is generally stable and filled with people anxious to exert their newly won freedoms. Our mission is crucial to making the Middle East a more peaceful place, which itself is essential for a safer world.
Our soldiers could probably find plenty of things to complain about as they perform their duties, but most don’t. Many might feel unappreciated, but they don’t ask for thanks. Instead they carry out their duties skillfully, trusting in the purpose of their mission and demonstrating compassion, courage, and commitment–just as our veterans have always done since this republic was born.
–Senator Jon Kyl is a Republican senator from Arizona. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security.