I love America. I lived overseas for the past eight years, in Chile, in Panama and in Bolivia, and when I came back to the United States to live I had forgotten what a wonderful country America is.
America is a force for tremendous good throughout the world. We have transformed the world into a better place in countless dozens of countries. I think sometimes we have forgotten just how much good we have done.
In 1947, President Harry S. Truman formed the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO was basically a defensive military alliance formed from western European countries, the U.S. and Canada to protect from a possible Soviet invasion of western Europe. NATO helped prevent a third world war from 1947-1991, when the Soviet Union finally collapsed.
Western Europe enjoyed its longest period of peace in its history thanks to NATO. No war has broken out in western Europe for more than 60 years, thanks to the courageous vision of one president and the bipartisan support of the U.S. Congress. While none of us are in favor of war, surely all of us are for lasting peace.
In 1999, I was asked to serve as an international election observer in Panama for their presidential elections. Only 10 years before that, Panama had been suffering under a military dictatorship under Gen. Manuel Noriega. The legally elected President of Panama, Guillermo Endara, had been attacked in broad daylight by a pro-Noriega goon squad, and his bodyguard killed in front of him. The elected vice president of Panama, Billy Ford, had been beaten bloody on international TV. Panamanians who tried to exercise their right to vote were attacked, or in some cases, killed.
After this, a wave of violence broke out against Americans in Panama. An unarmed U.S. Marine lieutenant, Roberto Paz, who was coming back from a disco in the Cesar Park Marriott, was shot and killed at a checkpoint by Panamanian soldiers. A second U.S. Navy officer, Lt. Adam J. Curtis, who was waiting at that same checkpoint after having dinner with his wife at the Las Cascadas restaurant, was beaten unconscious by Panamanian soldiers and his wife threatened with rape. To protect American lives, President George Bush then ordered an invasion of Panama that restored the legally elected government of Panama.
Today, Panama is a fully functioning democracy. Panamanians of all political persuasions may freely vote for the candidate of their choice, without fear of arrest or intimidation. The Panamanian economy is growing steadily. Regardless of how you feel about the invasion of Panama, in the end we did help produce a functioning democracy.
There are many more countries around the world that we have helped to become democracies " South Korea, which we defended from outside aggression in the Korean War; Japan, which we helped to rebuild and to establish a firm democratic tradition after World War II; Singapore, which we help protect with our naval base there; and many smaller countries in the Caribbean.
Grenada is another example of a country that we have helped return to democracy. On Oct. 19, 1983, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was killed, not by the U.S., but by hard-line leftists within his New Jewel Movement political party. The U.S. sent in two consular officers from the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados, Linda Flohr and Ken Kurze, to try to meet with the thousands of U.S. medical students who were stranded at the St. George's School of Medicine. The leftists within the New Jewel movement refused to allow these U.S. citizens to leave the island, in effect making them hostages.
The U.S. subsequently invaded Grenada to rescue these hostages. The governor general of Grenada, Sir Paul Scoon, became the temporary head of government until elections could be held. Grenada today is a sleepy Carribbean island, but it is a functioning democracy.
No country is perfect, but our country has tried to make the world a better place, and has succeeded in many cases. In 1991, the U.S. invaded Kuwait to expel the Iraqis and restore the legitimate government of Kuwait.
Many Americans said that the emir of Kuwait was a despotic ruler, and that it was wrong to support a country without a democratic tradition. But today, thanks to our influence, Kuwait has an elected parliament, with free elections. Democracy has began to grow in the Middle East.
I would ask all of you, when you think of world events, to try to remember how many countries have become democracies thanks to the hard work of American soldiers and the enlightened leadership of the U.S. government. We are making a difference in the world.
(Tim Tyler, an Evans resident, is a civilian intelligence employee at Fort Gordon.)
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