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Keynote Remarks at the Christening of the Winston S. Churchill
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, Saturday, April 17, 1999

Senator [Olympia] Snowe, thank you very much for your very kind and generous words, and thank you also for the great contributions you've made over the years in your service in the House and now in the Senate. You are a leader of the Sea Power Subcommittee and make a great contribution to our national security debate at all times.

As long as we are picking out people in the audience, let me just take a moment to recognize the former Secretary of the Navy, Secretary [John] Dalton, and his lovely wife Margaret, who have joined us here today. Thank you for being here. [Applause.]

I was just checking with Allan [Cameron; President, Bath Iron Works] and I said, "How are we doing on time?" And he said we were running ten minutes ahead of schedule. I might point out this is the first time over the many years that I've appeared on this platform when I haven't had to follow Sir George Mitchell [Former Senator, Maine] as a speaker. And I think it's only a matter of coincidence that we're running ten minutes ahead of schedule because George is not here. [Laughter.] But we are very proud of him and all of us have known what a great job he has done in promoting peace in Northern Ireland. So we're very proud to have him as a son of Maine.

I'd like to begin with a passage describing a defining hour in history. "It's a solemn moment for democracy. Opportunity is here now, clear and shining for our countries. But with this primacy and this power is joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future."

Those words could, of course, well leap from the pages of today's newspapers, but in fact, the speaker was Winston Churchill in his legendary Iron Curtain speech back in 1946. And the countries that he spoke of were the United States and Great Britain.

Half a century later, the United States, Great Britain and our NATO allies stand at another solemn moment in history. Today, our accountability to the future compels us to stand together in the Balkans to ensure that the darkest chapters of this century do not cloud the shining opportunities of the next. And indeed, this ship, this magnificent ship with its outstanding Commander [Michael] Franken and crew, will sail into a world that will in many ways be defined by the actions of our alliance; an alliance that is stronger because of leaders such as the man who joins us here today.

For George Robertson, this visit to Maine may be at once foreign and familiar. He was born and raised by the sea. He comes from a small town in northern-most Scotland, a land of rugged terrain and rugged people. And while his family, some four generations of policemen, may have had different plans for him, today, Defense Minister George Robertson stands as one of the most talented leaders on the world stage.

By virtue of his character, Minister Robertson is infused with the courage of Winston Churchill. By virtue of his office, he is literally surrounded by the spirit of the "last lion" himself. Back in the Defense Ministry in London, he sits at Churchill's beloved desk. And from that desk, he has led British force with great conviction and resolve in our mission against fear and for freedom in the Balkans.

And let me add on a very personal note that I often seek the extraordinary wisdom, and I would add the wit, of my friend George. In fact, in the midst of one of the crises that we have to deal with, I spoke to him about the often conflicting and contradictory pressures that characterize our jobs each day. And he responded with a brogue that you will come to appreciate. He said, "Bill, if you can't ride two horses at once, what are doing in the circus in the first place?" [Laughter.]

Minister Robertson can look at the landscape and not only see the present, but the future as well. He sees a future where old foes in Europe forge new friendship, a future that defies thugs like Slobodan Milosevic who would rather dig fresh graves than heal old wounds. And he sees a future where a strong America and a strong Europe stand together, ready and resolved to meet the new challenges of a new century.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to welcome to Maine a great friend of mine, a great friend of America, the Minister of Defense of the United Kingdom, George Robertson. [Applause.]


Allan [Cameron; President, Bath Iron Works], thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished platform guests, especially Lady [Mary] Soames [daughter of Winston Churchill] and the first lady of the Pentagon, Janet [Cohen]. This is a highly unusual experience for me to have the opportunity to speak to the workers here at Bath Iron Works, to the management, to the citizens of Bath and all the surrounding communities and to be told that I should lengthen my remarks to speak as long as possible. This is truly an irony in my career.

I must say that I was relishing the words that you were using, Senator [Olympia] Snowe, in describing my service to the state of Maine and to the country. And Janet was believing every single word that you uttered. [Laughter.]

I was thinking also of the many stories that we could all tell about Winston Churchill. The one that I read most recently in Manchester's wonderful two-volume compilation biography of Winston Churchill was about the time that a young photographer was taking Winston Churchill's picture on his 75th birthday. The young man was so enthused and enthusiastic that he looked at Sir Winston and said, "I hope that I'll be able to take your picture when you're 100." And Churchill looked back at him and said, "I don't see why not, young man. You look reasonably fit and healthy." [Laughter.]

I might say that I hope that you will still be here when I finish this speech. You look reasonably fit and healthy, although a bit cool.

This day is indeed one of commemoration and celebration. It's a commemoration of an enduring legacy of a man who painted boldly on a world canvas. It's a celebration of a new legacy that's going to be created by this ship that is graced with his name. For a ship in the United States Navy to bear the name of a non-American is rare indeed. And yet, Winston Churchill was a rare man of rare deeds.

As a soldier, he watched Europe descend into the darkness of the First World War. As a statesman, he spoke out loudly when strong nations stood silent or made excuses for flagrant aggression. Churchill knew then what we know now: that freedom, opportunity and prosperity are not legacies left to us in perpetuity. They were not gained without sacrifice. They will not be preserved without purpose and without suffering. There can be no bluffing, no empty exhortations, no hollow contrivances. We must be willing to pay the price of our policies. Wishful thinking and all the might-have-beens offered by would-be leaders are not worthy of a grand and powerful nation and can only lead to a corrosive self-doubt that masquerades as thoughtful reflection.

Winston Churchill knew that when the honor of a nation is in the balance, when freedom is being ripped from others, when the forces of tyranny and the tactics of the brutal are on the move, there can be no surrender to fear. He said, "The only choice is the old grim choice of our forebears, whether we shall submit or whether we shall defend our rights and our liberties."

Four weeks ago, a mechanized evil began its rampage in the heart of Europe. Once again, the United States and our European friends faced a choice. We could either stand on the sidelines while hooded thugs carried out their reign of terror, or we could stand up for freedom and for what is right and just. We decided not to allow the potential and the promise of the 21st Century to be stained by the most wretched barbarism of the 20th.

We knew from the beginning that this struggle was going to be difficult, not simple or speedy or neat. And we also knew that we would prevail because we have what Slobodan Milosevic will never have. We have the power that is derived from the collective will of free peoples. We have the resolve of our men and women in the military who will fight for a just cause. And we have the United States Navy.

A champion of naval power, Winston Churchill knew that a nation's place in the world rests in no small measure on its place on the seas. And he would have fully appreciated the amazing capabilities of this awesome ship and the many hands that built it right here at Bath. It's been said that Churchill was "a man of simple taste. He was always prepared to put up with the very best of everything." To those who gave your talent and your expertise to build this destroyer and to those who will command this crew in war and peace, as well as the families who support them, you are fulfilling Churchill's desire by having created, and now serving on, the very best.

A leader steeled by war who envisioned a new path of peace, Winston Churchill knew that Europe and America stand strongest when we're standing together; A lesson that reminds us of the vital need for a vibrant NATO alliance that can defend our common security interests and shared values. And it's a lesson that requires us to maintain a strong America and a strong Europe, enduring pillars in a strong alliance that contributes to an even safer world.

In an epic account, Winston Churchill chronicled the trials and triumphs of the history of English-speaking peoples. And on the final page of that final volume, he penned wisdom that echoes down through the decades. "Another phase looms before us in which our alliance will once more be tested, and in which its formidable virtues may be to preserve for peace and freedom. The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope."

The man for whom this ship is now named gave the world hope in the darkest of hours, and he helped shaped the world that we know today. And I recall the meeting he had once with a very famous journalist named Stuart Alsop. They had consumed a fair amount of wine and champagne and brandy during the course of an evening. And Churchill finally turned to Alsop, and he looked him square in the eye and he said, "America is a great and strong country, like a work horse pulling the rest of the world up from the depths of slough and despair." And he looked almost accusingly at Alsop and he said, "But will it stay the course? Will America stay the course?"

Fifty years later, we can answer that America has indeed stayed the course. We have joined with our valiant allies, our British friends, in the common cause of peace and prosperity. And so, today, we christen Winston S. Churchill to ensure that the lamp of liberty that he lighted continues to burn brightly; that as a nation, we remain worthy of the motto of this ship, "in war, resolution, in peace, good will;" that we preserve peace and freedom in the unknowable tests that will come.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Thank you for your support for our military. Thank you for you commitment to the nation's security. God bless. [Applause.]