From the Voice of Vice President Dick Cheney

On my way to work last week, I stopped behind a purple Geo Metro with my least favorite bumper sticker ever plastered across the back.  It read: "It'll be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber."

At that moment, I realized who the most undervalued and under appreciated segment of society is. And it ain't teachers. Teachers, I believe, rank second on that list.

Heading the list are the men and women of the forces, who, throughout history, have protected our country from the Hitler's and Stalin's - they who would have had our white children marching to the school bus in jackboots and our minority children locked up in laboratories and labor camps.

The US military-the most powerful and influential group of people in the world, hands-down-gets an awfully bad rap these days. Many Americans seem to think that simply because the communist Soviet Union no longer exists, the world is as safe as Beaver Cleaver's neighborhood. This, of course, ignores three facts: (1) Dozens of countries have nuclear weapons that could kill millions of people with the turn of a key. (2) Leaders of several countries (e.g. North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Lebanon and perhaps China and Russia) would love to see the US and its people blown to pieces and, most importantly (3) The US has the greatest collection of human, economic, natural and technological resources anywhere on Earth, making it the greatest natural target for military aggression.

Though some would like to fashion the US of the 21st Century as a flowery feel-good fantasy where war and violence are mere after thoughts of a time gone by, that can never be the case. As bad as our crime and drug problems are, we're still considered the jewel of the planet by the half of the world that has yet to make its first phone call.

In ancient Greece, the people of Athens were unparalleled world leaders in art, philosophy and technology. Their rivals in Sparta were not; instead, the Spartans built massive, well-trained armies. When the two countries fought, who won? Sparta. And guess who lost their entire civilization because they didn't think it was important to build an appropriate army? Athens!

Right now, the US has the best of Athens and Sparta: we are the most cultured and most well-defended country in the world. As we continue to lower our defenses by devaluing the military, we open ourselves wider and wider to a takeover. A takeover of the US? Ridiculous, one might say. But why does it seem so unlikely? Because the power and protection of the US military has been so overwhelming in the last century that Americans have been free to enjoy a comfort level unlike any in the world. We all take it for granted that we will never be invaded by another country, but few other countries can afford to be so sure of themselves. It's not only Americans who can go to bed feeling safe. Children everywhere from Israel to England, from Brazil to Japan - know that, if their country is attacked, the US will be there to help.  On TV, the military is often represented by stiff, buttoned-down generals or the occasional drill sergeant who is accused of feeling up a female recruit. In reality, things are much different. The men and women of the armed forces are, in most ways, just like everyone else: they are mechanics, pilots, cooks, photographers, engineers, secretaries and X-ray technicians. They work from 8 to 5 and then come home to their families. The one difference comes when the US or any of its allies is threatened by a foreign power. In that case, military people pack up and ship out, off to fight-and many times die-so the rest of the country, including teachers, can continue their lives without interruption.

Teachers mold young minds into intelligent, independent people, and they should be admired for the job they do; however, I don't know any teachers who are required to catch bullets and swallow shrapnel if so ordered by the principal.

So, old-fashioned as it may seem, I'm happy to give my taxes to the military and tell the tots and teachers to fire up the oven if they want extra dough. Make muffins, cookies and candy and be happy you're allowed to Because, as the old saying goes, if it wasn't for the US military, we'd all be speaking German now." "It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you."

Dick Cheney