Every single day ought to be treated like the Fourth of July. Not simply because the timeless ideals of the American founding represent the best of what humanity has to offer intellectually, but also because normal, modern, everyday life is only possible due to the raw power of the American military. As we celebrate humanity’s escape from what Jefferson referred to as “the throes and convulsions of the ancient world” and “the agonizing spasms of infuriated man” in which war and slavery were the norm, let us reflect on the truth that the peace to which we have grown accustomed is enabled by global United States military primacy.
First, it is crucial to understand that the sort of world that the average human inhabits today is exceptional. That is, it is an exception to history’s most constant rules: that life is short, tyrants are unassailable, destitute poverty is casual, and mass misery is normal, and slavery is unquestioned. As Cato Institute senior fellow Jim Powell eloquently notes in his introduction to “The Triumph of Liberty: A 2,000-Year History” all of world history until very recently has been defined by genocide, open mass-trafficking of slaves, senseless wars, and a myriad of other unspeakable horrors which have left hundreds of millions of innocent people slaughtered like cattle in the name of false progress. What Powell explores in his book is an exhaustive list of how liberty was brought into being, and how individual liberty miraculously became the assumed default in a world so consistently addicted to oppression.
What this piece shall examine is how individual liberty has managed preserve itself. While no one factor can claim one-hundred percent of the credit for this achievement, no factor is larger than the constant strength of the armed forces of the United States. Additionally, this piece will shed light on important impact stories for any advantage or disadvantage regarding American military strength. There are six important ways the U.S. military makes civilized life a possibility (and indeed, a reality) in the modern world.
1. Literally the Entire World Economy
America discovered near the beginning of the twentieth century the importance of sea power and the critical ability to patrol and control key trade chokepoints (places where maritime traffic must necessarily flow as it travels between nations). During the nineteenth century, British naval forces managed to maintain an “empire” with outposts tens of thousands of miles away from the homeland by focusing on untouchable naval strength in these key geographical spaces. For instance, one of the single most important chokepoints is the Strait of Malacca. When British power was at its height, the Malacca Strait was a critical asset for their empire. Being able to monitor and constrict trade as they saw fit through this narrow waterway was crucial to maintaining London’s power in East Asia. Today, the United States military is one of the primary sources of security for the Malacca Strait (along with U.S. allies such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand), ensuring that Asia’s economies are able to continue the trade that has brought them careening out of extreme poverty and starvation.
This is merely one example of the American military safeguarding trade. Other notable examples are the Strait of Bosphorous, which connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea (also known as the Turkish Straits). Russian naval investments are increasingly being made in the Black Sea because Putin understands that control of the Bosphorus waterway means control of most of Eastern Europe’s food supply (given that it is far more expensive to transit food grown on the Hungarian plain overland, especially when there are three large mountain ranges in the way). America’s naval power in this theater contains Russia’s ability to seize Eastern Europe’s food as a bargaining chip for future invasions such as the ones in Georgia and Ukraine. Thanks to America, Asia and Eastern Europe can eat.
This dynamic of America protecting global trade is the norm, rather than the exception. All products enjoyed by the average world citizen today are merely the byproduct of safe global trade facilitated and ensured by the United States military. For the majority of world history, the reverse has been true: piracy and maritime warfare were the norm, and security was the exception (from ancient China to ancient Greece), placing a proverbial eight-hundred-pound gorilla on the back of any possible economic development. The average poor person in the world today (in terms of goods and services) is living with more wealth than the millionaires of the nineteenth century. That is nothing short of a miracle.
2. The Internet
One of the primary drivers of the mind-shatteringly rapid development of technology is the internet. Since the creation of the internet, innovation and invention has skyrockets to rates never seen before in human history. It used to be that a simple math calculation required the power of a computer the size of a Costco. Now, the average person carries a supercomputer in their pocket at all times – and in the near future humans are likely to begin experimenting with brain implants and augmented human abilities. In less than fifty years, humanity has gone from cord phones to quasi-cyborgs. This break-neck speed of development is (once again) made possible by the American military. Leave aside the fact that the Internet was created by the American military. Instead, focus on the fact that the constant transmission of Internet communication is made possible by a navy that guards undersea cables.
Undersea fiberoptic cables are the primary means by which the Internet travels from one location to another. They are laid underwater (as the name may imply) which make them rather soft targets for terrorism and rogue states. Imagine for a moment that an entire nation was shut off from the Internet for merely a month. Don’t just imagine the amount of millennials that would be impulsively throwing themselves from rooftops, but also the impact on business, governments, the stock market, and non-profits. The fragile web of online communication is intact thanks to the United States military, allowing the modern world to exist and accelerate at unprecedented speeds. Without a global and persistent American naval presence, the uncertainty of communications would be far higher, which would drive overall costs higher, which would further highlight the vulnerability of undersea cables, incentivizing attacks.
3. Most of the Human Race
The single greatest unnatural killer of humanity in the past century alone has been unrestricted tyrants making unjust war on their neighbors. From the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, to the satanic sadism of radical Shintoist Japan, to the self-inflicted cannibalism in Soviet Ukraine, the herculean weight of indiscriminate slaughter aimed at innocent people by tyrants has claimed a total of two-hundred and sixty-two million lives in the past century alone according to democide research from the University off Hawaii. There is only one thing that has killed more people than the genocidal tendencies of flailing ideologues: disease. Some would say that the estimates for the body counts (from Communism, for instance) are unreliable, saying that they might be exaggerating by four or five million people. When the margin of error is that massive, and after the first ten million deaths, it becomes clear that the point has already been made: the enemies which America has chosen in the past century represent the largest unnatural existential threat to the human race. The intentionally intimate killings and barbarism of imperial Japan were cut short thanks to the American military. The global threat of Communism was contained and eradicated by the American military. The exchange of nuclear weapons thus far in the world has been made possible by the U.S. nuclear umbrella and nuclear arsenal. Without the United States military, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Eastern Asia (just to cite a few examples) would be starving, burning, or warring to their own demise. The era of world peace known today is made possible by a legacy of U.S. military might, and there are hundreds of millions of people who are alive today thanks to the existence and moral resolve of the armed services.
So enjoy the blessings of liberty which so few in world history have thus far come to know. Reflect of the importance of free trade by eating your favorite foods and lighting off fireworks. Share America memes on Facebook and Instagram. Give your neighbor a firm handshake or bro-hug. Thank God that you get to sleep tonight without the fear of being murdered in the night or dragged out to a slave market or gulag. Be grateful for the exceptional world you know.