Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Armed Forces Review and Welcoming Ceremony
Ft. Myer, Virginia
Friday, February 14, 1997
Thank you, Secretary White, for making me welcome and my
transition into office seamless and efficient. And thank you,
General Shalikashvili, for your generous thoughts. High praise
from a genuine American hero is both gratifying and humbling.
Secretary White honors me with his reference to my personal
hero and fellow Mainer, Joshua Chamberlain, and his exploits at
Gettysburg. A year after the Civil War, having witnessed the
Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Chamberlain struggled to
describe the magnitude of the event, asking: What language
shall I borrow that can hold the meaning of this hour?
That is my dilemma at this hour: What language shall I
borrow to acknowledge the awesome duty I have accepted, to
steward the greatest Armed Forces in the world?
First and foremost, I offer you a simple pledge: I promise
to devote every fiber of my being to this challenge. In so
doing, I will call upon every measure of love and support from my
colleagues, friends, and especially my wife, Janet, and my entire
I pledge to uphold the confidence President Clinton has
demonstrated by bringing me into his Cabinet. The President
recognizes that when it comes to national defense, there is an
overarching truth that transcends party label and partisan
advantage: That as a global power with global interests to
protect, America must maintain the best-trained, best-equipped,
most ready and most capable forces on the globe.
That is what we all want. And that is the state of the
American forces today. The evidence is here before me in all of
you -- the men and women standing in rank today. You are the
pride of our nation and the envy of the world.
I pledge to earn your trust and fulfill your expectations.
As a Member of Congress, it was my duty to employ the power of
the purse to support you. Now as your Secretary of Defense, it
is my duty to lead you wisely and always in the cause of peace.
This duty is a high privilege. For I am stirred by your
dedication and devotion; inspired by your service and sacrifice;
confident in your courage and capability. And so I pledge to
defend and protect you as you defend and protect our country.
In leading our nation's defense, I will not act alone but
serve as a central member of the President's national security
team. To serve this team well, I will draw continuously from the
vast reservoir of wisdom and experience of our military
leadership, beginning with General Shalikashvili, the Joint
Chiefs and the unified CINCs. I will also draw from the
wellspring of experience of the civilians at the Department of
Defense who support the troops. It is this DoD family --
military and civilian -- that will ensure I provide the Commander
in Chief with the best possible advice, counsel and choices.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge of all is to live up to
the standard set by my predecessor, Secretary Perry, and build
upon his legacy. His stewardship of the Department these past
three years came at a critical period in world history -- in the
wake of the Cold War, the third global war of this century. In
this post-war period, like those previous, the world often
appeared fragmented, inconstant, uncertain -- mantled in mist,
to quote W.H. Auden after World War II. And in each of these
post-war periods, America has faced a similar challenge: How to
create order out of disorder; to see the world as it was; to
imagine the world as it could be; and to set about to narrow the
gap between the two.
After the First World War, America declined to place its
hand on the helm of history. We retreated instead into a cocoon
of false security. Soon the world brought another global war to
our doorstep, and we paid for it in blood and treasure. After
World War II, we chose to stay engaged in the world and responded
to the evolving superpower rivalry with the Marshall Plan, the
strategy of containment, and the construction of NATO. They
brought us to the peace we enjoy today.
We are just now emerging from the third post-war era. Once
again, America has been challenged to create order out of
disorder. And today, six years after the Soviet Union's
collapse, we see a world where change is the only constant.
Where threats to American interests can erupt anywhere, at any
time. Where brutal dictators test the world's will to protect
the innocent. Where closed regimes oppress their citizens and
lash out at their neighbors, more eager to dig fresh graves than
to bury old hatreds. Where rogue states and free-lance
terrorists can spread fear and death with a truck full of
fertilizer, a vial of volatile liquid or a home-made nuclear
device. It is a world that demands American leadership and a
strong, capable and ready American military force.
But we also see a hopeful world. A world where America
continues to inspire nations to choose the path of freedom.
Where free markets and free trade pry open closed societies and
closed borders. Where nations join energies, forces and
resources in pursuit of common causes.
We can also imagine the world we want. A world where
America is secure in peace. Where there is more democracy, more
cooperation, more stability and fewer weapons in fewer hands.
Today, thanks to the work and imagination of this Department, we
have the tools to shape this world: The vision, the plans, the
strategies and the forces to narrow the gap between where we are,
and where we need to be.
There are still more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in Russia.
Our challenge now is to work with Russia to further reduce and
safeguard these arsenals.
We know how to build a secure and stable Europe. But the
Cold War scars have not completely healed. Our challenge now is
to carry on with the Partnership for Peace, to enlarge NATO,
engage Russia, and with our allies help bring stability to
We know how to contain aggression in Southwest Asia, where
vital American interests are at stake. But rogue regimes pose a
never-ending threat to the oil and the commerce the
industrialized world depends on. Our challenge is to maintain
strong forces in the region and a clear willingness to use them
to protect our vital interests.
We know that in the Asia-Pacific, our forward presence and
strong alliances are critical to peace in the region and to
prosperity at home. But Cold War thinking persists on the Korean
peninsula. China is a major Pacific power, with interests that
often overlap and sometimes conflict with our own. America's
challenge is to remain a Pacific power. To strengthen our
alliance with Japan. To promote the peaceful unification of a
free Korea. To beckon China into the family of great and noble
Behind all of our policies and programs is our strong, ready
and capable military. This too we know how to maintain. We have
kept the force strong even as the force was being reduced and
reconfigured. We must continue to put people first, to draw and
keep the best America has to offer -- and that means providing a
good and decent life for all who wear the uniform and for their
families. And as the 21st Century approaches, we must take a
fresh look at how we defend America, to be willing to reexamine
our force size, structure, strategy and commitments in light of
the changing threats. Our challenge is sustain the best military
in the world under tighter fiscal constraints, getting the most
from each defense dollar. It is the challenge to pursue 21st
Century military concepts and business practices before the 20th
This is an hour of greatness for our nation -- an hour
gained by the trials and triumphs of the past; an hour focused on
the possibilities and portents of the future. As Joshua
Chamberlain asked in his day, what language can we borrow that
can hold the meaning of this hour? Let me borrow the language of
Winston Churchill, at a dinner he hosted many years ago for
Stewart Alsop, one of our finest journalists.
After dinner, having indulged in some champagne and a touch
of brandy, Churchill said: America. America. A great and
powerful country. Like some strong horse pulling the rest of the
world up behind it out of the slough of despond, towards peace
and prosperity. Then he fixed his cold blue eyes on Alsop
accusingly and asked. But will America stay the course?
Nearly 50 years later, we can answer his question. America
has stayed the course because that is our responsibility. We
will stay the course because that is our destiny.
Last month, in saying farewell to Bill Perry, President
Clinton said: The measure of success for the Secretary of
Defense is a military stronger and a nation safer than when he
took office. Secretary Perry exceeded that measure. That
measure is now mine to meet. I pledge to you, and the American
people, that I will do everything in my power to do so.
Thank you very much.
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