What a sight! This is -- those who have a seat, be seated. Those that don't, stay standing. And thank you for coming and being here.
General Myers and I are proud to be here with the first team. We had a meeting -- the days are kind of blurring together, but today's what, Thursday or something? We had a meeting earlier this week, I think it was on Monday, with President Bush. And we told him that we were thinking about coming out here because we wanted to have a chance to look you folks in the eye and tell you how proud we are and what a wonderful job you folks are doing.
And he said to give you his respect. He knows what you're doing is noble work, he knows it's important, he values it and appreciates it, and wanted to send his personal regards.
You folks have helped to liberate 25 million human beings. You've also performed any number of acts of kindness, generosity and compassion to the Iraqi people that you've met, that you've worked with. I know you have security responsibilities to be sure, but I'm told that you folks have also trained new members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps; you've built playgrounds and a sports complex; you've improved local health clinics; and you're showing the Iraqi people and, indeed, the people of the world who will look, the character of the country that we're from and the character of the men and women in the armed services.
In recent days there's been a focus on a few who have betrayed our valued and -- values and sullied the reputation of our country. Like each of you I'm sure, and like most Americans, I was stunned. It was a body blow. And with six or seven investigations under way and a country that has values and a military justice system that has values, we know that those involved, whoever they are, will be brought to justice. And we've spent the day talking to people and seeing the steps that have been taken to see that those types of abuses to people for whom we have responsibility and custody will not happen again.
But it's important for each of you to know that that is not the values of America and it's not your values. And I know that and you know that and your families know that. And we're proud of you, each of you. We're proud of your service. We know each of you is here because you volunteered to serve your country. You said that that is important to you, and it's important to our country that we have the freedom that we all enjoy.
You know, the American men and women in uniform over the decades, they helped to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II and then helped to rebuild them. They've helped with the folks in Bosnia and Kosovo, and some of you have undoubtedly been involved in that; they're currently helping people in Liberia and in Haiti; and they understand America and our values. The people of the world understand that also. We hear a lot of criticism in the press, but the fact of the matter is that people every year line up to come to the United States of America. They want to become American citizens, and the reason they do is because they know, as Abraham Lincoln said, that the United States is the last best hope of humankind. I've stopped reading the newspapers.
It's a fact. I'm a survivor.
And instead, I've been reading a book about Ulysses S. Grant and the Civil War and the challenges that our country faced during that period. And of course, there are enormous differences between that conflict and this conflict. But I was constantly struck as I each evening -- and indeed, coming over on the plane I spent some time reading the book. In that conflict there were casualties that were just horrendous. There were battles, several battles, where a thousand, 2,000, 3,000, were lost in two or three days.
Back then the debate was vigorous; indeed, I would say vicious. Politicians were saying things about each other and about the conflict that were almost unprintable. Editorials were written that were critical of everything. I guess that's what editorial writers do. There were no e-mails or telephones to be used back in those days, but there were soldiers' diaries and letters, and letters from home. And it was interesting to read them.
There were questions -- honest questions -- by the politicians, by the editorial writers, by the families. Can we win? Is it worth it? Those are big questions. And you could see that the back and forth and the heartfelt concern and the questions and the unbelievable criticism of Abraham Lincoln, and indeed the criticism of generals on both sides -- but they were steadfast. And those veterans, when they looked back on that conflict and saw a nation that was together, a single nation, a union, they knew they had been part of something really big. And it had been worth it.
You folks are young. I'm not. But you're going to look back on this conflict, on these debates, on these difficulties, and it's going to be a tough road ahead. We know that. It's not going to be an easy path from a repressive dictatorship to a stable, prosperous, successful country that respects all of the various religious and ethnic groups, that's at peace with its neighbors, that understands what human rights are. That's not an easy path, it's a tough path. And there will be plenty of potholes in the road, and mistakes will get made, and people will have to be picked up and put back on that path towards a freer system. But one day you're going to look back and you're going to be proud of your service, and you're going to say it was worth it.
Thank you very much.
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