THE CLOSEST THING to a hero’s welcome that I’ve ever experienced came when I was just ten years old, and my parents made the odd choice of Grenada for a family vacation.
It was early 1984, just months after the U.S. invasion had liberated the island of its Marxist, Cuban-backed regime. My father, a hotelier, thought that under its new leadership, the island might emerge as a popular tourist destination, and so he brought us along while scouting out a potential business opportunity (which, sadly, never panned out.) As our cabdriver took us on the drive down the winding roads between the airport and our hotel, we were met along the way by throngs of Grenadians standing out in front of their homes and in the streets. They waved and cheered as we passed by.
What had we done to receive this kind of greeting? Nothing except be Americans, and that alone made us heroes as far as the Grenadians were concerned.
Coming so soon after the invasion, the island’s tourist industry had yet to recover, and although the sight of Marine helicopters was quite common, American civilians were still few and far between. The Grenadian people were eager to show their appreciation. "God bless the USA" had been scrawled on the wall of a nearby church; it was even printed on towels and T-shirts sold in the local shopping area.
The experience reminded me of stories my father used to tell about growing up in post–World War II Austria. The occupying American GIs were regarded as heroes. They brought in staples for adults, chocolate for children, and, most precious of all, freedom to a country that had recently lived under the heel of Nazism.
Throughout high school and college, I heard much about American "imperialism." Professors prattled on about how the Cold War had been little more than a pretext for capitalist aggression, an outlet for the American elite’s insatiable appetite to impose its will on indigenous people and deny their rights. That version of events never rang true for meit simply didn’t square with what I saw during that trip to Grenada: poor, black, Third World citizens praising America for putting an end to their suffering and restoring their liberty.
This Thanksgiving, that same gratitude is visible in Afghanistan, where America has toppled yet another tyranny and freed its people. The swift collapse of the Taliban has prompted heartfelt and public celebrations as Afghans exercise the most basic freedoms that we Americans have long since taken for granted.
The sheer joy of Afghan men shaving their beards for the first time in five years, of women shedding their oppressive burkas, of children flying kitesthese are all reminders of the limitless reach of tyrannies that are left unchecked. Despots march under many banners and creeds, but ultimately they all share the same goal: the subjugation and domination of the individual. Until only a few days ago, Afghans could be beaten for the crime of seeing a movie, listening to music, or owning a television.
That’s true aggressiona real instance of an elite imposing its will on indigenous people. How wrong the critics of American policy only one or two months ago now appear, those who warned that by going after tyrants and terrorists, the U.S. would be creating generations more of the same. They lacked the moral clarity or the vision to distinguish between liberators and captors, and assumed the Afghans would, too.
Having seen the Taliban routed and crushed, the Afghan people are hardly lining up to join its ranks. They’re just excited about the prospect of playing an entire soccer match without having to pause for the public execution of some poor woman who violated the ruling mullahs’ sense of decency.
Often it’s those who have been denied freedom who have the best sense of its innate value. The rejoicing Grenadians I saw on that day almost 18 years ago certainly had a better understanding of their liberty than America’s European allies and its mainstream media, both of which widely denounced President Reagan’s decision to invade. Similarly, the newly liberated Afghans know better than to take for granted the freedom to pray, speak, or simply live as they wish. Surely they realize that these freedoms may be lost as quickly as they arrived.
How blessed are those of who us who live in a country where these freedoms are so much more secure, where liberty is considered a birthright and not a luxury that must be imported by foreign armies. Thanksgiving couldn’t have come at a better time this year, with the abundance of our blessings so clear.
God bless the USA.