WASHINGTON -- Sixty-six years ago, Aug. 14, 1945, the bloodiest war in human history finally ended with a radio broadcast by President Harry S. Truman. Even before the instrument of surrender was formally signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, plans to demobilize the 16 million American men and women in uniform were being carried out. Though the conflict claimed nearly 50 million lives -- including more than 400,000 American dead and another 670,000 wounded -- it was the beginning of an era of great expectations for our "Greatest Generation" and its progeny.
Unlike those in Europe, Africa and Asia, our cities had not been razed, our fields were not sown with unexploded ordnance and our industries were not laid waste. Though our losses still were being mourned and "war bonds" had yet to be paid, our government was nonetheless intact, and prospects for peace and prosperity were deemed realistic. Words such as "victorious," "powerful" and "exceptional" were used routinely to describe our people and our nation. Though there were concerns about Moscow's designs for hegemony, it was reasonable to anticipate that America's political leadership and our economic and military prowess would remain the cornerstone for global tranquility. None of that exists today.
The North Atlantic alliance we created to defeat Adolf Hitler's fascist legions and protect against the threat of Soviet expansion is now in ruins -- incapable of bringing even a tinhorn despot like Moammar Gadhafi to heel. The aircraft, ships and military hardware necessary to protect us and our Western allies -- including our former adversaries Germany and Japan -- are deemed to be too expensive to build. New threats, such as a nuclear-armed Iran or North Korea, are ignored. Meanwhile, flaccid political leaders in Washington and Europe continue to loot national treasuries to fund unaffordable social programs and "entitlements." Whole nations, ours included, are being bankrupted by catastrophic "sovereign debt." It's fair to ask, What happened to those post-World War II expectations for an increasingly better future?
The answer, of course, is an absence of leadership. No leaders equals no future. The good news in this country -- unlike in Iran and Syria -- is that we can use ballots instead of bullets to fire our leaders. An election can change everything. As we watch images of cars and businesses being torched in Greece and Great Britain, we need to be thinking about the kind of leaders we want to elect 15 months from now.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.