This year we must pause to acknowledge the sacrifice of American veterans over hundreds of years in many different countries.
Americans have invaded or fought in 85 different countries, representing 44 percent of all of the countries in the world. We have been militarily involved with even more countries. Of 194 countries recognized by the United Nations, we have missed military involvement with only three – Andorra, Bhutan, and Liechtenstein.
Many of these invasions have, of course, been liberations. Just consider the D-Day landings in occupied France, the annual commemoration of Liberation Day in the Netherlands, or the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese.
Our military involvements have taken many forms. We have never invaded Portugal, for example, but we have had bases in the Azores since World War II when they were installed to counter the German U-boat menace. We still have air and naval bases in the Azores today.
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This year, 2015, is a particularly important year to recognize U.S. veterans.
First, this year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of V-J (Victory over Japan) Day – the end of World War II. This war was the costliest war in human history. Over 16 million Americans took part, and over 400,000 were killed. Today less than 1 million of those that served are still alive.
Second, we also marked this year the 70th anniversary of V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. With the exception of the breakup of Yugoslavia, Europe has enjoyed a 70-year period of general peace. Given the blood-soaked history of Europe through two world wars, the Napoleonic wars, the Hundred Years’ War, the Thirty Years’ War, etc., this is a remarkable achievement that is underappreciated.
This lasting peace could not have been secured without the sacrifice of the U.S. military during World War II and in further service over many decades.
Third, we remember the shocking liberation of the Nazi death camps by American and other Allied soldiers that took place 70 years ago. After Gen. Dwight Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf concentration camp, which had been liberated by American troops on April 4, 1945, he declared: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now at least he will know what he is fighting against.”
The world we live in today would have been much darker had it not been for the sacrifice of young Americans at places like Anzio, Omaha Beach and Tarawa.
Finally, we remember that a lasting peace could not be achieved without an enduring American commitment. American military involvement succeeded the violent ending of the war as Germany and Japan were occupied. NATO was formed to counter Soviet Communism and the Warsaw Pact.
Though we Americans first invaded Italy in 1943, we still have over 11,000 troops serving in Italy today at bases such as Aviano Air Base in Venezia and Camp Darby near Pisa. Spencer Stone, the heroic U.S. airman from Sacramento who intervened to halt a terrorist incident on a train in Europe this past August, had been based in Portugal.
In the 21st century, the United States faces major new challenges to its power and influence around the world (Islamic State, the Taliban, Russian aggression in Ukraine, etc.), and it will face new demands to fight in the name of justice and freedom.
We can’t know what the future holds, and we can’t predict how this generation of Americans and those yet to come will deal with that future. But we do know that they build on a solid foundation of bravery, daring and sacrifice.
Christopher Kelly is the author, with Stuart Laycock, of “America Invades: How We’ve Invaded or Been Militarily Involved With Almost Every Country on Earth.”