If you live long enough, you may see things that once were considered impossible. On that score, you can now chalk up a low-flying, slow moving show of force by a U.S. B-1B Lancer and a B-52 Stratofortress and Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighters that buzzed Stockholm two weeks ago.

While I didn’t personally witness this flying fortress during a family visit to the country (we were staying in a small town west of Stockholm), the internet is full of videos of what happened. The flyovers apparently were meant as a show of strength and comfort to the Swedish people, with U.S. and NATO officials issuing a statement saying “we eagerly anticipate deepening our collaboration with our Swedish allies.”

And the stunt seemed to work. The Swedes I spoke with overwhelmingly expressed gratitude for the show of force and their nation’s decision to enter the military alliance. The 87-year-old owner of an antique store I visited was typical. When asked how he felt, he launched into a tirade about the “madman” Vladimir Putin, and how it was time Sweden allied itself with the Western world in opposing him.

I had to pause after each such conversation to remember my first encounters with Swedes during a two-year mission for my church from 1978-80. That was just after the end of the Vietnam War, in which Sweden had sent support to communist forces in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The American government was viewed unkindly by many.

Swedish neutrality had often come with caveats and asterisks. But even the Swedes I spoke with during this visit expressed surprise at how quickly public opinion changed after Russia invaded Ukraine. Some said the key was when Sweden’s largest political party, the Social Democrats, quickly embraced the idea of joining NATO. But the feeling seemed much deeper and wider than that.

A major national newspaper, Aftonbladet, published responses from five random people on the street to the question, “Is it good that Sweden is now a member of NATO?” All five said yes. Only one, 66-year-old Ola Larsmo of Uppsala, added a note of negativity. “Yes,” he said, “after the invasion of Ukraine it was necessary (to join NATO). But that doesn’t mean it’s something to be happy about.”

The question I kept asking myself, however, is whether the United States is as committed as Sweden is. Clearly, this was not the Sweden I originally encountered in 1978, or in several visits since then. But the U.S. I flew home to isn’t the same as it was 46 years ago, either.

Perhaps the biggest Swedish news story surrounding NATO happened during President Biden’s recent state of the union speech, when he welcomed Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who stood and received a rousing ovation. A video clip of this was replayed several times on Swedish television, as reporters took pains to explain just how important the moment was.

Speaking of the beaming prime minister, Aftonbladet said, “Seldom has a man been so close to exploding with satisfaction.”

The reports didn’t mention anything about the rest of the speech, which had strong political overtones, or of the catcalls from Republicans, many of whom want to tie funding for Ukraine to U.S. border issues. They didn’t talk about the partisan divides that today make even commonsense solutions to issues such as immigration impossible. There were, however, reports of Donald Trump’s statement that he would encourage Russia to attack any nation that hadn’t met its financial obligations to NATO.

My wife has relatives who own a beautiful summer house on the Stockholm archipelago. While we didn’t visit there this time (March weather is seldom inviting for outdoor activities in Sweden), in the past I have been sobered by gazing at the water and surrounding islands and realizing how close St. Petersburg is. These are the waters in which Russian submarines have been detected through the years.

Swedes are well aware of the current dangers and their proximity to Russia. While they haven’t fought a war since 1814, Kristersson earlier this year urged Swedes to prepare to protect their homeland “with weapons in hand and our lives on the line.”

To the people I talked to, this is not some theoretical exercise. Sometimes they would preface their comments by noting how obscure their nation is to the United States, and how people often confuse it with Switzerland.

As an editorial in the local Eskilstuna Kuriren said, the number of democracies worldwide is on the decline. By joining NATO, Sweden has made it clear it wants to join the fight to protect freedom.

Despite their own recent history, they also are relying on the United States to back them, and they desperately hope the U.S. is equally committed.