Pace Calls for Reasoned Discourse to Advance U.S. Democracy
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT MYER, Va., Oct. 1, 2007 Reasoned discourse allows American democracy to grow and flourish, but some people seem more intent on spewing personal venom than in finding solutions, Marine Gen. Peter Pace said here today as he retired from the Marine Corps after more than 40 years of service.
Pace spoke at an armed forces hail and farewell ceremony as he turned the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over to Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen.
The United States is well-served by divergent views and discussion that grows from those views. But the discussion must be civil and in a way “that allows people to argue on the merits of what they believe and to understand that what they believe is part of the answer,” Pace said.
Americans must have the willingness to cooperate to find the right answers for challenging times, he said. “What worries me is that in some instances right now we have individuals who are more interested in making somebody else look bad than they are in finding the right solution,” Pace said. “They are more interested in letting their personal venom come forward instead of talking about how do we get from where we are to where we need to be.”
Americans have the right to object and to be heard, Pace said. U.S. servicemembers fighting in many corners of the world do so to guarantee their fellow countrymen those rights. “I can hear voices right now of folks out in the street who are exercising their right of free speech in this democracy to say what they want to say,” Pace said. “And I take pride in knowing that the men and women on the parade deck in front of us are going to ensure that they continue to have that opportunity.”
The dialogue on the war on terror is not about voting the country out of the war. “We have an enemy who has declared war on us. We are in a war,” Pace said. “They want to stop us from living the way we want to live our lives.
“So the dialogue is not about are we in a war, but how and where and when to best fight that war to preserve our freedom and to preserve our way of life.”
The United States will prevail in the war on terror, “there's no doubt about that,” he said.
Pace recounted impressions he has had in his travels during his last 40 days as chairman, including a visit to the 4th Marine Division reunion. The Marine Corps activated the division in World War II and deactivated it in 1945. In 60 days of combat in the Pacific, the division fought at Guam, Saipan and Iwo Jima and suffered more than 18,000 casualties.
“They were decommissioned in November 1945, (which) happens to be the month I was born,” Pace said. “Through an accident of birth, I was born in the United States of America. Through the incredible valor of the members of that Marine division and so many other Marine, Army and Air Force and Coast Guard and Navy units across the globe that fought during World War II, through their valor, I was born free.”
In talking about going to his last NATO meeting, Pace said he sat in the conference room and looked at the 26 flags and nameplates on the table, many from countries once in the Warsaw Pact -- countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Romania, Hungary, Poland. “And I thought to myself, how wonderful that we have NATO as an alliance, how sad that the newest countries had to crave for their freedom for so long, and how instructive that those who have most recently joined that table of freedom are the most energetic in trying to share that freedom with those around the globe who do not yet have it,” he said.
He also spoke of seeing a screening of “The Kite Runner,” the movie based on Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel about Afghanistan. “If we ever forget what it is that we're fighting against, just go see that movie,” Pace said. “It will strengthen in you the understanding of the true nature of those who seek to dominate us.”
The general recalled he and his wife, Lynne, visiting with families of the fallen. He said he couldn’t ease their pain, “but I hope that in commemorating the lives of the fallen and in the way that we spend the rest of our lives, that we will pay respect to their sacrifice in a way that will give meaning to all that they fought for,” he said.
Pace recalled a recent visit to Marines of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, on duty in Karmah, Iraq. It was the unit that 2nd Lt. Pace joined at the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968. Yesterday evening, the general had a reunion with men he had served with in that unit.
“It was a wonderful bookend for me to have seen those Marines in that platoon about two weeks ago and then last night at my house seeing the Marines from my platoon from Vietnam,” Pace said. “Now, if you saw the guys from my platoon in Vietnam right now, you might think that they are middle-aged, sometimes a little bit overweight men.
“When I look at them, I see heroes, men who answered the call as those who serve today answer the call,” he added.
Pace said that when he travels he hears the same question from American servicemembers: Do the American people still support us? “In the last 40 days, I've been with organizations like the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation that takes care of the children of the deceased; the Sentinels of Freedom, who help those who are severely wounded assimilate into productive lives in our community; the USO, that after decades has provided entertainment and has been a home to the troops overseas,” he said. “The answer is a resounding yes, the American people, no matter what they believe about the ongoing conflict, believe in their troops.”
He also talked about two other destinations he’s visited in the past 40 days. The first was Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., where he spoke to 1,700 young men who were “clear-eyed, smart, sharp, looking forward to taking over leadership positions in our country.”
The second was a family wedding. “What struck me … was that the clear expectation of everybody in the wedding party was one of great hope and optimism for the couple that was getting married, for the possibility of them having children, and the belief that this country would provide to them and their children and their grandchildren the same liberties and freedoms that we have enjoyed,” he said. “I could not help think about what an incredible country where weddings and other ceremonies like that reflect on the pure optimism that rightly so pervades our nation.”
Being able to participate in the processes of government – such as news conferences and testimony before Congress -- are privileges, Pace said. “I would be less than honest if I told you I looked forward to either one of those,” he said. “They are not fun. But it is a privilege; it has been a privilege to participate as an American citizen, to know that the senior military leadership of the country gets called in front of the Congress of the United States to answer is an important part, a fundamental part of our freedom.
“There is no country in the world that is free that does not have a free press; said differently, you cannot be free unless you have a free press,” he continued. “So the fact that sometimes questions are tough is tough because it's right for a democracy.”
The general said he is sad to leave, not because he will miss the perks of being chairman, “I simply will miss putting on this uniform, going to work each day and trying to do the right thing for Pfc. Pace, wherever he or she may be serving,” he said. “And I will miss being able to walk out and hug them and tell them I love them.”
Pace said he owes a debt to Marines who died following his orders. “I made a promise about 38 years ago to that I would serve this country in whatever capacity I could for as long as I could and try to do it in a way that would pay respect to the sacrifice that they made following Second Lieutenant Peter Pace in combat,” he said. “I am still in debt, but I leave today knowing that I have tried to fulfill that promise and in doing so have been led on an incredible journey.”