Note: Emboldened portions done by me

October 9, 2001

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 non-combatant 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 destroy them. 

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 self-respect assured. 

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 importance. 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 longevity. 

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 greatness. 

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. 

Thank you. 


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