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Pentagon Town Hall Meeting
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Pentagon Auditorium, Friday, May 19, 2006, Friday, May 19, 2006

Thank all of you for being here, and for those folks across the country and around the world watching on the Pentagon channel.  Thank you all for doing what you're doing to support our country and to support the troops.

They're doing a superb job, and we are deeply in their debt.

A few days ago, I spoke at VMI -- Virginia Military Institute's graduation ceremony, and I went to the museum next door.  They had two museums, the VMI Museum and the George Catlett Marshall -- General George Catlett Marshall Museum -- a lot of items from World War II.  And it was a chance to reflect on that period, how difficult it was.

We look back on these things -- like World War II and the Cold War and think:  Well, it was inevitable that we'd win, it was inevitable that everything would work out well, and that it was a relatively smooth path from the beginning to the end of those.  And it wasn't.  World War II -- there were so many difficulties, so many losses, so many lives lost.

And certainly in the Cold War, throughout that 50-year period, there were people who said, on the one hand, we can't win it, we can't sustain this level of investment, so we ought to toss in the towel.  There were people who said we don't need to worry about winning, because -- Euro-communism came in vogue, and everyone said, "Gee, it's really not so bad."  There were people offering in the Senate amendments to withdraw all of our forces from Europe just as the Soviets were building up and building up their military capability and putting more and more pressure on Western Europe and on -- in Africa and even in Latin America.

So at the time, it was tough, and it took staying power and perseverance.  It took people of both political parties, successive administrations, in our country and in other countries, in Western Europe, to have the perseverance to see that through.  And we did.

And now, unfortunately, people look at it and think:  Well, it’s written that it would end that way, that there was never any doubt.  Well, there was doubt.  And it was expensive.  And it was hard, just as World War II was.

General Pace just talked a bit about the tasks we're facing today.  And they're important, they're serious, and they're difficult.

And as always in our history, there are different views about things.  People argue and debate and discuss and second-guess and critique and opine on this and opine on that.  And that's fair enough in a democracy.

But the important thing is to remember that it is sticking with something and prevailing that's important.  I guess these posters being put around the building in various places, reminding us all that we are at war, as General Pace said -- and indeed we are.

I'll never forget just after 9/11 thinking about the next 9/11 and what might be done to avoid another 9/11, and what might be done, in the event that there is one, to mitigate its adverse effects against our society and our people and the deaths.

It's been a long time since September 11th.  There's a tendency for people -- the longer the time passes, that it kind of slips from people's minds.  And one way to think about it is this -- imagine another 9/11 in this country six months from now of a size or twice that size or three times that size, which is perfectly possible in this day and age.  It just took a few hundred thousand dollars, 19 people with box cutters and visas and tickets, boarding passes, that's all.  Terrorists can attack at any time, at anyplace, using any technique, and it's not possible to defend in every location against every conceivable technique at every moment of the day and night.

It is possible to put pressure on terrorists, and that's what we're doing.  You can't just play defense.  We have to play offense, and we have to go after them and weaken them and capture and kill them.  We have to go after them and put pressure on them and make everything they do more difficult.

But if, in one's mind -- if you project out six months and assume another September 11th of some size, the question we have to ask ourselves every day is, "What ought we to be doing now to avoid that, to prevent that, to mitigate that, were it to actually occur?"  And it's that incentive, that impetus, that sense of urgency that comes from that that I think motivates this institution, all of you here.  And if we keep reminding ourselves that we have been very fortunate as a country to have not experienced another September 11th in the intervening years -- other countries, friends and allies, have -- on a number of countries on a number of occasions.

I mention that as a way of encouraging all of you to reflect on that in your lives, in what you do here in the Department.  And the entire government is engaged in what's going on, to be sure, in varying degrees in varying ways.  A lot of it we don't see.  People tend to see more what this Department does.  But it does take all elements of national power to prevail against an enemy that is not a nation-state, to prevail in this struggle that's taking place within the Muslim religion between violent extremists -- a very small number percentage-wise -- and the overwhelming majority of Muslims who do not adhere to the extremists' views of the few.

We have a big task ahead of us.  We are -- I am very grateful to what all of you do.  Every one of you here is -- are here because you want to be here in uniform or out of uniform.  Every one of you volunteered to be a part of this Department, and we're grateful to you for that. And we appreciate what you do.  I would -- the only thing I would add would be to remind yourself of what could happen six months from now, and every day give a thought to what view in whatever you're doing, what you might do different or better or faster or harder to prevent that from happening.

Now, we'll answer some questions, but no more of those hand- raising things.

All right.  And someone's going to tell me if someone behind me has their hand up?  I've got a wrestler's neck, and I can't turn my head; I have to turn my whole body.

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