We gather here today to honor those who have sacrificed for our country. We consider it our patriotic duty to memorialize their efforts and accomplishments in building this exceptional nation.
There are Americans today who differ with us. They view our country as being in decline. Some even relish this possibility, preferring a more even distribution of economic, military, and political power throughout the international community. They decry the sacrifices of those who serve in the forces that guard our freedom as unnecessary, and too great a burden to bear. On this day, and on this ground hallowed by such sacrifices, I would take issue with these Americans.
To fail to acknowledge this country’s current problems, however, is to bury one’s head in the sand. We do have problems – among them:
Excessive public debt
Reluctance to confront our problems
A divided electorate, and
Threats to our security
Everything else is going great!
But, this situation is not unique. American power and influence have waxed and waned before as we passed through various stages in our development as a nation. The good news is that – up to now – we have always pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and reasserted ourselves as a great nation.
But let us not dwell on the past. Let us take inventory of our strengths as predictors of our future. We are militarily and economically strong. Because of our military and economic strength, we also exert significant political and cultural influence.
Our military remains the dominant force on this planet. No nation can expect to prevail against us. And those who would employ terrorists to evade responsibility for their attacks on our shores have been put on notice that they will ultimately pay the price. Some already have.
Those who say we are overstretched around the world fail to consider our past commitments. In the 1960s we had 3.4 million active duty troops, a million of them overseas. Today we have 1.4 million active duty troops, with nearly a million of then stationed in the US and its territories. The annual cost of our military has declined as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 6 – 10 percent during the Cold War days to about four percent today.
Even with these reductions, the US military provides security to about half of the land mass of our planet, polices the world’s toughest regions, and serves not only as the free world’s first responders, but also as its final line of defense.
Our economy, weakened as it is by the current recession, remains the world’s largest. Together, the 27 economies of the entire European Union barely rival us. Many industrialized countries would find enviable our current public debt level of 85 percent of GDP. Britain’s public debt is 413 percent of GDP, France’s 250 percent; Japan’s 199 percent, Germany’s 185 percent, and Australia’s 138 percent. Not good company to be travelling in, but at least we are not heading this pack of spendthrifts. There are times when it pays to lead from behind!
The US remains the engine of economic development in the global economy. It hosts 18 of the 50 largest corporations in the world – three times its closest challenger – including the largest in:
Computer Services (IBM)
Communications Equipment (Cisco), and
Heavy Construction Equipment (Caterpillar)
And the list goes on. But I don’t want to bore you.
The United States is also unique among western industrialized nations today because it has a population growing at or above the minimum replacement rate. Populations in Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union are declining at rates that suggest their future irrelevance on the international stage.
America overcame worse challenges in the last century. And as The American Legion Magazine recently notes, no country enfolds the full spectrum of economic, military, and cultural power, and embraces universally appealing attributes such as political pluralism, economic opportunity, and cultural openness like the United States does. This confluence of strengths gives the United States a decisive edge.
This is no time to be complacent, but it certainly is not time to accept defeat. This country will be what Americans make it – using the strengths we have developed over two centuries.
Together, Americans will overcome these challenges as they have overcome past challenges, and retain our position of leadership in the community of nations. To do otherwise is to betray the sacrifices of those who went before us in the battle to remain free and prosperous, and to accept second class status. Americans don’t do that well. Nor should they!
It has been an honor for an old soldier to be here among you today. May God bless you and keep you, and grant you fair skies and a following wind on your journey through this life. And, although I realize it is a little late for Mother’s Day greetings, for all you mothers out there – thank you. Without you there is no exceptional nation!