This is the time of year that America rightly salutes, and gives thanks to, our military veterans who have protected this nation from foreign enemies for more than two centuries. I join in that celebration. My thoughts about them are conveyed in my Memorial Day tribute, and need no restatement here, except to reiterate the essence of that post:
The highest tribute I can pay to our veterans is to say that they were cut from the mold of the Founding Fathers; that they did not set out to die for their country but rather that they set out to fight for that radical set of ideals that is the United States of America.
But America’s veterans are not the whole story. So, I’d like to use this Veterans Day post to acknowledge the unsung hero of America’s military prowess, the productive American citizen. No military as strong and as competent as America’s can exist in a vacuum. It requires something else - something indispensable – a great economy.
America's economy, historically the most productive the world has ever seen, is the foundation that supports our military personnel. American taxpayers pay trillions of dollars. American defense contractors invest in and produce the most advanced weaponry in the world, weaponry that American soldiers rely upon to do their jobs and stay alive. American technology produces the high tech means for our intelligence community to gather the information our soldiers need to keep track of the enemy.
What enabled the creation of the economic powerhouse that enabled the creation of our military powerhouse? What is the foundation of that foundation?
In 1776, the Founders of this nation signed the Declaration of Independence, which sanctioned the individual to egoistically pursue his happiness in support of his life, by guaranteeing him a government that protected his unalienable individual rights – his liberty – to act upon his own reasoning mind. That short document unleashed the power of the human mind, possessed individually by every person. The result was an unprecedented explosion of productiveness leading to exploding general prosperity and a standard of living unimaginable by the wealthiest noblemen of centuries past. The cause of that progress is simple: the unleashing of every individual to self-interestedly strive to make his own life the best it can be, by his own effort, in voluntary trade with others, free from the coercive interference of his fellow man, including the government. Another name for this social statement—free market capitalism. America was built not by sacrifice, as it is fashionable to assume, but by personal achievement unleashed by individual liberty.
America’s response to the threat of the Axis powers at the onset of World War II demonstrates this incredible power behind America’s military power—American free, private enterprise. If you’ve ever visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, you’d be struck—I know I was—by the section that displays the array of private, profit-seeking companies that rose to meet the threat posed by Germany, Italy, and Japan. Companies from Boeing and Caterpillar to Harley Davidson and the Mars Candy Company converted their consumer-oriented production facilities to produce for the war to defend America. Dozens of household names are profiled in the display, and undoubtedly far more smaller companies labored anonymously in support of the war effort.
Germany’s Hitler was said to have ridiculed America as soft, because America was good at making consumer goods like razor blades and washing machines, but not military hardware like aircraft. This was mentioned in a fantastic film narrated by Tom Hanks titled Beyond All Boundaries, presented by the museum. Indeed, charts on display at the museum showed that, in 1939, America’s military was utterly dwarfed not only by the commulative size of the Axis powers Germany, Italy, and Japan, but in comparison to those countries individually as well. But just a few short years later, America’s military dwarfed all three combined, as America’s industrial might turned its focus from producing consumer goods to producing for the American military. Hitler obviously underestimated what can happen when a free enterprise nation, which only wants to live in peace, freedom and prosperity, is threatened by tyrannical aggression.
Tyranny, as the history of WW II demonstrates—and as Germany, Italy, and Japan learned the hard way— is no match for a free market capitalist nation when that nation is aroused to turn its industrial might to self-defense. America won not only because of the bravery and skill of its soldiers, but in no small measure because America simply out-produced—in quantity and technological might—the enemy. Not only did America rearm amazingly fast, it did so even while rearming Britain and supplying arms to Russia, China, and other nations battling against the Axis powers. As the museum’s website explains:
Total war meant that all levels of the economy and all segments of society dedicated themselves to victory. FDR urged Americans to join the war effort by “out-producing and overwhelming the enemy.” While scarcity, rationing, and shortages became regular topics of conversation, so too did talk of duty, patriotism, unity, and victory. The United States, which had the world’s 18th largest military in 1939, mobilized itself for total war production almost overnight once the nation entered the war. The immediate conversion of peacetime industries into war production facilities involved companies of all sizes and types. Toy companies began to manufacture compasses. Typewriter companies made rifles and piano factories produced airplane motors. The Ford Motor Company ceased producing cars and began turning out tanks and bombers. And behind each soldier stood hundreds of civilian workers making everything an army needs to fight around the globe. The Depression was over. Full employment was a reality and confidence in victory was strong.
From 1940 until the Japanese surrender, the United States produced more than 300,000 aircraft, 86,000 tanks, and 12.5 million rifles. Its shipyards were just as productive, building 107 aircraft carriers, 352 destroyers, and 35 million tons of merchant shipping. The US also supplied a majority of war materials for its Allied partners. By 1945, the U.S. had produced more than twice the war supplies of Germany, Italy, and Japan combined.
If Hitler underestimated America, some in Japan, it seems, were more prescient. As Japan’s political leadership confidently prepared for war with America, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto soberly warned:
Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians (who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war) have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.
After his nation's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto was said to have uttered, “I fear all we have done today is to awaken a great, sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Indeed, from a starting point of 18th largest military, America had, as FDR envisioned and as Yamamoto feared, out-produced and overwhelmed the enemy. So, let’s celebrate, along with the brave contributions of our vets, the productive American of all income levels—the CEOs, entrepreneurs, innovators, scientists and inventors, workers, investors—and the resultant industrial powerhouse upon whose shoulders our military might stands. Let’s celebrate the individual pursuit of happiness that is the fuel for that American strength. Let’s celebrate his willingness to pay for, build, and support the military whose job it is to protect his pursuit of the good life.
Today, the foundation of America’s economic and military might is under intense attack by those who would “fundamentally change America”—a change that, in actuality, has been going on for decades. Let’s stand up and reject that “change” from liberty to tyranny, and instead renew our allegiance to the Founding Fathers, who engineered a change from tyranny to liberty. The best tribute one can give to our military veterans is to vow to fight for the rediscovery and reinstatement of the ideals that this country stands for: the supreme value of the individual human being, his freedom, and a government whose sole duty is to protect his right to live and prosper for his own sake.
Because that is what American veterans fought for.
Happy Veterans Day!!