Thank you. It's a great privilege to be again asked to
participate in the Forrestal Lecture Series. I'm always very glad, and
somewhat amazed, to find myself in distinguished circumstances at the Naval
Academy, considering my less than distinguished career here. It's a great
country, my friends. No one knows that more than an old midshipman who was
once in a neck and neck race for the honor of being anchorman. I'm very
relieved if later in life I might have done something to give the Academy
reason to hope, against all odds, that it would not always be embarrassed to
claim an association with me. I am also quite proud that a distinguished
graduate and great supporter of the Academy, a great patriot, and a great
friend, John McMullen, joins us this evening. John's presence makes your kind
invitation to me an even greater privilege.
I had intended to use this occasion to share a few of my
thoughts about the reorganization of our armed forces as the administration
began to outline its plans with the release of the Quadrennial Defense Review
last week. It was, of course, an extremely important subject before September
11th, and it is all the more so now. The threats to the security of the United
States, to the very lives and property of Americans, have changed in the last
decade. The attacks of September 11th have made more urgent the already urgent
task, of reorganizing our military to make sure that we have the people,
weapons and planning necessary to ensure not only the success of our world
leadership, international peace and stability and the global progress of our
values, but to safeguard the survival of the American way of life.
In the months ahead, no task before the Administration and
the Congress will be more important or require greater care and deliberation
than making the changes necessary to strengthen our national defense in this
new, uncertain era of world history.
I take my responsibility in this important work very
seriously, and I intend to take part in the debate, using all the judgment,
however modest, that experience has granted me. But I have decided to wait for
a later occasion to more thoroughly address the subject.
Because of the attacks on our country, and because of the
presence here of so many who have or had the privilege of wearing the uniform
of the United States, I thought it more appropriate to speak tonight directly
to the midshipmen, and to speak of more enduring themes than defense
modernization, as timely and important as that subject is. I thought I might
share some thoughts about the privilege, the duty and the honor, that was once
mine, and is now yours.
On September 11, our country was attacked by a depraved,
malevolent force that hates every value Americans hold dear. It was a terrible
blow that no one alive today will ever forget. But we will survive it. Our
enemies will not. I have every confidence that the American people and their
government will remain resolute in waging the war that has been declared on
us. We have been attacked and we are fighting back. And woe to anyone who
dares oppose us.
We have now begun the first phase of military operations
against our enemies. As President Bush has explained, this war will have many
components, diplomatic, financial, intelligence. It will include both overt
and covert operations. But American military power is essential to our
success. There should be no confusion about that. Nor should Mr. bin Laden or
anyone who wishes this country harm have any doubt about what America can
accomplish by force when we are obliged to use it. They wrongly believed they
could destroy the way we live our lives. They are now just beginning to
understand just how radically their lives are going to change.
The professionalism and power of our armed forces, stronger
by a magnitude of ten than any other nation on earth, is something only a fool
would underestimate. When it is brought to bear in great and terrible measure
it is a thing to strike terror into the heart of anyone who opposes it. No
mountain is big enough, no cave deep enough to hide from the fury of American
military power when we are committed to victory. We must not shrink from using
it, in whatever measure necessary, to defeat our enemies, wherever they are.
I agree that we will have to use force wisely to avoid
inflaming the hatred for America that our enemies have been allowed to sow in
the Islamic world. Toward that end, we should try hard to minimize
noncombatant casualties. If we can use means other than force in some
countries to achieve our goal, then we should. But we must keep our attention
firmly fixed on our primary goal. Our goal is to vanquish terrorism, not
reduce it, not change its operations, not temporarily subdue it, but vanquish
it. All other concerns are secondary. It is a difficult, demanding task we
have undertaken. We must expect and prepare for our enemies to strike us again
before they are vanquished. Some of this war will be fought at home. And the
casualties that we will suffer may again include civilians. We must keep our
nerve at all costs.
We should use no more force than necessary, but no less than
necessary. Fighting this war in half measures will only give our enemies time
and opportunity to strike us again. We must change and change permanently the
mindset of terrorists, those who give them sanctuary and support, and those
parts of Islamic populations who believe the terrorist conceit that they will
ultimately prevail in a conflict with the West, that America has not the
stomach to wage a relentless, long term, and, at times, ruthless war to
We are at war, a new kind of war as the President has
rightly called it. It might not involve nations clashing in conventional sea,
land and air battles, although it is possible that it could come to that. I
should add that I don't consider the operations in Afghanistan that commenced
on Sunday to be a war against a nation, much less a war against the Muslim
world. The Taliban and Al Queda are not legitimate representatives of that
country, they are terrorists, period, who represent evil, not nations. But
whatever this war's unique attributes, it is war nonetheless, and like all
wars it will require sacrifice and hardship and casualties. And like all wars
it will occasion great heroism.
This war will still be underway, in one form or another,
when some of you, perhaps all of you, receive your commissions.
Eighty-thousand sailors and marines have already been summoned to war. Over
three dozen warships, including the carriers Enterprise, Carl Vinson, Theodore
Roosevelt and the Kitty Hawk have been deployed. Four battle groups, including
Marine Corps Amphibious Ready Groups, destroyers, cruisers, submarines and
support ships, are on station.
We know that much of the air campaign to date has been waged
from American and British ships. And although this war cannot and will not be
fought only with cruise missiles and from 15,000 feet in the air, the Navy and
Marine Corps are always an essential instrument of American power, and your
service will be essential to our victory, in Afghanistan and beyond if
necessary. It is your duty and your honor to defend the greatest nation in
history in its hour of need. I envy you.
I say that fully aware of the hardships and risks that we
impose on those we send to fight for us. I say that fully aware of the horrors
that war inevitably visits on the innocent. I don't think war is glorious. I
don't know a veteran who cherishes a romantic remembrance of war. All wars are
awful. When nations must defend themselves by force of arms, a million
tragedies ensue. Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the
nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify the cruel and merciless reality
of warfare. That's what makes war a thing to be avoided if possible. But it is
not possible now. There was no avoiding the war we are in today anymore than
we could have avoided world war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In truth, this war was declared by our enemies long before
the attacks of September 11. And our reluctance to recognize this reality, and
commit ourselves to unconditional victory, has been a very costly mistake.
Because the only things worse than war are the consequences of refusing to
wage and win it when our vital interests and founding ideals are at stake.
Our enemies have now made plain to us the clear and present
danger they pose to our physical security and to the very essence of our
culture, liberty. Only the most willfully deluded Americans could doubt the
necessity of this war. We must fight. And we must prevail.
The term of art for the warfare of terrorists is
asymmetrical. It is the kind of warfare practiced by militarily inferior
forces against superior ones. We are most certainly militarily superior to our
enemies. But so was the Soviet Union when it invaded Afghanistan, if not
nearly to the extent that we are, as al Queda and their Taliban allies are now
learning. Yet what ensures our success is that our military superiority is
matched only by the superiority of our ideals, and our unconquerable love for
them. Our enemies are weaker than us in arms and men, but they are weaker
still in causes. They fight to express their irrational hatred for all that is
good in humanity, a hatred that has fallen time and again to the armies and
ideals of the righteous. We fight for love of freedom and justice, a love that
is invincible. We will never surrender. They will.
The obligation of victory is shared by all Americans, but
not equally. The public and the men and women they elect to serve them must
share a resolve to see this war through to a just end, whatever the costs
incurred, whatever setbacks we might encounter. As in all wars, we must endure
before we prevail. Our elected leaders, from the most obscure office holder to
the Commander-in-Chief, must not, as the President so eloquently promised,
tire, falter or fail. The President and his able cabinet must, and I am
confident will, wage this war wisely and decisively. But government is
responsible for the summons. It falls to the men and women of the United
States Armed Forces, it falls to you to give the answer. This is a righteous
cause, and there is much honor in your summons, but more honor still in your
answer. I have no doubt that you are worthy of it. No doubt at all.
In America, our rights come before our duties, as well they
should. We are a free people, and among those freedoms is the liberty to
sacrifice or not for our birthright. We no longer have military conscription.
Nor do we need it because we can rely on the patriotism of more than
sufficient numbers of Americans to defend willingly the liberty of us all. Yet
early in life, you have grasped a great truth: that those who claim their
liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it live a
half-life, having indulged their vanity and self-interest at the cost of their
self-respect. The richest man or woman, the most successful and celebrated of
our citizens possesses nothing important if their lives have no greater object
than themselves. They may be masters of their fate, but what a poor destiny it
is that claims no higher cause than wealth and fame.
I do not believe that war and military service are the only
means to honor in America. God grants us all the privilege of having our
character and our patriotism tested. But those who wear the uniform of the
United States know better than anyone the meaning of American citizenship.
Should we claim our rights and leave to others our duty to
the nation that protects them? Whatever we gain for ourselves will be of
little lasting value. It will build no monuments to virtue, claim no place in
the memory of posterity, offer no worthy summons to aspiring nations. Success,
wealth, celebrity gained and kept for private interest is a small thing. It
makes us comfortable, eases the material hardships our children will bear,
purchases a fleeting regard for our lives, yet not the self-respect that in
the end will matter to you most. But sacrifice for a cause greater than
self-interest and you invest your lives with the eminence of that cause, your
My father's generation fought depression and world war.
Members of my generation fought in the Cold War and in the struggle for a more
perfect union, a more just society. Some fought in uniform and some did not,
but all rendered good service to America and humanity. Service in worthy
causes give our lives meaning. They give even the most obscure names
historical mportance. Even when the names of the men and women who serve in
them are forgotten, the world will still remember what they did.
When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest
ambition, and that all glory was self-glory. My parents tried to teach me
otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn't understand the lesson until
later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.
In that confrontation, I discovered I was dependent on
others to a greater extent than I had ever realized, but that neither they nor
the cause we served made any claims on my identity. On the contrary, they gave
me a larger sense of myself than I had before. I discovered that nothing is
more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself; something that
encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone.
I have held a public trust since I graduated from the
Academy forty-three years ago. I have never lived a single day, in good times
and bad, that I wasn't grateful for the privilege. This country and her causes
are a blessing to mankind, and they honor all who work to make America a
better place, and a greater influence on human history.
For all the terrible problems that still afflict humanity,
the 21st Century would have dawned on a much less hopeful world absent
America's place in it. This is what our enemies fail to understand. But
they'll know it soon enough. As they race to their bunkers and caves while the
might of the world's only superpower concentrates on their destruction, they
will learn just how powerful a force for good we are.
Until the end of time, will there ever be a nation such as
ours? I cannot imagine that any other nation's history will ever so profoundly
affect the progress of the human race. That is not boastful chauvinism. It is
a profession of faith in the American creed, and in the patriots who
understood what history expects of us, and who saw to it that America exceeded
even the loftiest aspirations of our founders.
We are not a perfect nation. Prosperity and power might
delude us into thinking we have achieved that distinction, but challenges
unforeseen a mere generation ago command every good citizen's concern and
labor. But what we have achieved in our brief history is irrefutable proof
that a nation conceived in liberty will prove stronger than any nation ordered
to exalt the few at the expense of the many or made from a common race or
culture or to preserve traditions that have no greater attribute than
As blessed as we are, as empowered by liberty as we are, no
nation complacent in its greatness can long sustain it. We are an unfinished
nation. And we are not a people of half-measures. We must all take our place,
give our counsel, direct our passion to the enduring task of national
I believe we were all shaken from whatever complacency we may have felt before
September 11. And that is one good thing to have arisen from the ashes of the
World Trade Center. But it is only good so long as the absence of complacency
does not provoke an absence of confidence. What our enemies have sought to
destroy is beyond their reach. We must all have faith in that truth. Armed
with the power of our faith, we can endure whatever trials we must face.
Our enemies think we are weak, spared by prosperity from the hard uses of
life, bred only for comfort and easy pleasure, and not the violent, cruel
struggle they plan for us. The hatred that cramps their hearts has drained
from their judgment all wisdom and understanding about the power of the
civilization they battle.
Twelve years ago, in the first days of the last days of the Soviet empire, a
young Czech student stood before a million of his countrymen, while two
hundred thousand Soviet troops occupied his country, and, trembling with
emotion, read a manifesto that declared a new day for the peoples of Eastern
Europe. But he began that new day with borrowed words when he proclaimed:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
The message of the American revolution is the central truth
of human existence. Liberty is our God-given right. No one shall take it from
us. We fight today, we will fight tomorrow, we will fight to the end of time
to preserve it.
Our enemies have used our liberty to their cruel ends. But
our freedom is not our weakness. It is our strength. We will not let it be
circumscribed by fear. Our enemies have never had the strength to take our
freedom from us. They have taken innocent life. That is the limit of their
power. And awakened to their threat, we will destroy that power too.
The terror our enemies have tried to sow in the hearts of
Americans will now be the essence of their lives, however abbreviated their
lives will be. And when they meet their Maker they will learn that they had
their theology all wrong. Right, not hate, makes might. As they experience our
power, so will they know the full measure of our righteousness. And as their
last hour approaches they can ask an all-loving God for mercy. But don't ask
us. We bring justice, not mercy.
Soon you will be the shield behind which marches the
enduring message of our revolution. There is no greater duty, no greater
honor. Your country needs you. Humanity needs you. Hold that honor as dearly
as your country holds you. Hold it as dearly as do those who have already been
called to the battle. Hold it as if it were your greatest treasure. Because it
is. It is. Whatever sacrifices you must bear, you will know a happiness far
more sublime than pleasure.
My warrior days were long ago, but not so long ago that I
have forgotten their purpose and their reward. This is your call to arms. This
is your moment to make history. There will never be another nation such as
ours. Take good care of her. The fate of the world depends upon it. May God
bless you, as He has blessed America with your service.