Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Later this week, Americans will gather around dinner tables across the country. They will sit down with family and friends and give thanks for the many blessings in their lives. Here are four that may not be among the first to come up, but are enduring gifts for which we should all remain grateful:
Men and women in uniform everywhere but here
After 11 years of combat in Afghanistan, many Americans are anxious for our military to leave behind this desolate and harsh terrain. Yet for tens of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, their war is far from over. Whether they are conducting raids against insurgent positions, working with tribal leaders, flying in supplies, or standing watch long hours in far-flung outposts, America's finest are spending Thanksgiving far away from the warm fires of home.
Still countless more Americans will also be far from friends and family as they conduct other important missions across the globe much less visible than those in Afghanistan. Thanksgiving for these service members will be spent in places like the Korean DMZ, on the seas of the Western Pacific, and in the jungles of the Philippines. Their quiet, daily work around the world provides a stabilizing presence that keeps a lid on tensions and minimizes the potential for future conflict. We cannot think of them or their families' sacrifices often enough.
Securing our economy
It is easy to forget the global vigilance that our military forces, including the Coast Guard, afford the American consumer each day. But they allow the free flow of goods and commerce to occur uninterrupted across the world's oceans each day and land at our local grocery store or Walmart.
Since its founding, America has been a maritime republic, a city thrown open to foreign trade and commerce. Yet without a military dominant across the global commons of sea, air, space, and, increasingly, cyberspace, Americans would not be able to enjoy the economic prosperity that we do today as our seaports, railways, sea lines of communication, and satellites all hum at work without interruption thanks to military vigilance. Steady security of the global commons also helps ensure that our fighting forces never have to face the same level of threat as other militaries. Because of U.S. aerospace dominance, for example, no American ground soldier has been killed in an aerial attack since the Korean War.
The Declaration of Independence reminds us that all people have inalienable rights. To secure these rights, the U.S. Constitution creates a government of the people to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."
The Founding Fathers believed that the federal government must provide for the common defense because—while they held out the possibility of more peaceful relations among nations—they nevertheless understood the best way to avoid war was to be prepared. As Thomas Paine warned, it would not be enough to "expect to reap the blessings of freedom." Americans would have to "undergo the fatigues of supporting it," including during peacetime. As President George Washington asserted in his First Annual Message in 1790, the "most effectual means of preserving peace" is "to be prepared for war."
Privilege of being American
Americans have it better than any society in human history. We enjoy the rights and responsibilities granted under the Constitution, we are the masters of our own destiny, and we have more material wealth than any civilization could have possibly imagined. All of this is not free. It has been passed like a torch from generation to generation. It is up to us to keep it burning for the whole world to see and our children to also enjoy.
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