Every Memorial Day, when we honor the soldiers who have
sacrificed so much for the greater cause of liberty, I think about
My grandmother's brother served in Europe during World War II. I remember him playing Chinese checkers with us kids in the 1970s, not knowing then that he was almost incapable of relating to anyone older. Physically whole, Uncle B suffered from the quiet disease we used to call "shell shock."
The military today makes great efforts to help veteran troops deal with the transition away from the heavy psychological burden of combat. Sadly, not all vets can escape the nightmares, the memories and the doubts. A recurring question haunts: After so many have died, and have killed, did we really help the world?
It's a question that touches on today's deployments. Calling for accelerated disengagement from Iraq, Sen. Ted Kennedy has asserted, "The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution." Those are painful words for a solider to hear. They echo the anti-military sentiments of many 1960s protestors, and they resonate with many who see America as just another empire. And they are wrong.
Surprisingly, there has never been a detailed study that looked at troop levels across countries and measured them against objective achievements. But using new troop deployment data compiled by The Heritage Foundation, we can see a clear relationship between economic growth and American engagement.
The U.S. presence has been overwhelming. Some 87 countries hosted more than 1,000 American troops during 1950-2000, and 54 different countries hosted that many during a single year. Nearly one in four GIs were stationed on foreign soil during the typical year, and with a 27 percent deployment rate, 2005 is a typical year.
In a study I am conducting with Dr. Garett Jones of Southern Illinois University, troop deployments correlate with the economic growth in the broadest possible sample of countries. Countries with high U.S. troop presence during 1950-2000 had GDP per capita levels in 2000 that were nearly double the world average, while the 50 countries hosting the fewest U.S. troops had income levels that were roughly half the world average.
Even when other variables that explain growth rates are accounted for, the presence of half a million American troops over 50 years (e.g. 10,000 per year) increases growth by a full percentage point per year. Importantly, the duration of U.S. presence seems to have an important relationship with growth as well. The finding is a strong refutation of anti-military arguments that assert harm is inflicted by the presence of U.S. troops.
The reconstruction successes of Japan and German are well known, but the tremendous economic growth rates enjoyed by South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Italy and Turkey, to name a few, are less celebrated. Yet they are the beneficiaries of the American-secured peace in Asia and Europe during the Cold War. If past is prologue, investing in alliances with Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and other Middle Eastern states will reap rewards not just for peace and democracy, but for prosperity as well.
I cannot imagine a more fitting memorial to our fallen American soldiers than proof that their sacrifices to create a better world has not been in vain. That is the legacy of the last century across the Earth. We may be too close to see it now, but history hundreds of years hence will remember those warriors who provided comfort instead of revenge, and prosperity instead of exploitation.
Tim Kane is a research fellow in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. He is a veteran Air Force intelligence officer, and former San Diego software entrepreneur.
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