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John Glenn Institute of Public Service and Public Policy
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio , Monday, October 30, 2000

Thank you very much. President [Britt] Kirwan [Ohio State University], ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure for me to be back here today. I must tell you, it was not without some apprehension that I come back to Ohio State. [Laughter] But when John Glenn called, I, of course, answered. I answered for a couple of reasons. Number one was John, number two was Annie [Glenn]. They have become two of our dearest friends. Janet and I hold them as real examples of what public servants have been and should be in this country.

You know all about John Glenn’s background. I won't take the time this afternoon to recount it. But he made one misstatement when he was introducing me. He said by the luck of the draw we were on three committees. That's not true. I looked at every committee he was on, and I said that's where I want to go [laughter] because he has had, and well deserves, such a reputation for character and integrity and honesty and credibility. I think Confucius said that the way of a superior man is threefold. Virtuous, he is free from anxieties; wise, he is free from perplexities; and bold, he is free from fear. If ever there were a man who is virtuous, wise and bold, we have him right here.

When I think of his lovely wife, I think of a book that Janet and I are very fond of that is entitled, Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. It's about the battle that took place at Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persians. The king of Sparta had selected 300 of his warriors to go out and defend against over a hundred or two hundred thousand of the invading Persians. They knew it was a suicide mission, but their honor – and certainly their survival -- was at stake. But what really comes through in reading this wonderful historical novel is how did they happen to pick those 300 Spartans. And as you read through the novel, you finally come to the conclusion that they picked those 300 warriors because of their wives, because they knew that the Spartan wives had to be able to be strong, knowing their husbands are going into battle, and that they would go back to the Spartan society and say, "We are strong and we are here and we have survived because of the bravery of our warriors."

Annie, you're a Spartan woman. [Applause.] Along, I might add, with my wife Janet [laughter] but I'll get to her at a later time.


I have two people I want to single out. John Marshall, who is a South High graduate, and he is responsible for organizing many of my visits domestically, including organizing this one today. So we have an Ohioan here who is really plays a key role in my efforts.

Also here is Colonel Roy Byrd. I am told, although I can't see with these lights on me, that Colonel Byrd's parents are here. Could they please stand up so I could see them and pay tribute to them. [Applause.]

Colonel Byrd is someone – and I believe he had graduated from Eastmore High, is that correct? – who played on the Little League baseball team that [his father] coached. [Laughter.] He tried to go out for football -- is that right, Colonel Byrd? -- and broke your arm in one of the first practices. He had aspirations of being a great musician, and to this day, I think, can still recite the Otis Redding songs and maybe Queen was your favorite band at the time. [Laughter.] And you used to wear a three-piece white suit with platform shoes, looking like John Travolta? [Laughter.] And I could go on. [He has also] run at least two Marine Marathons and is preparing for a third or fourth.

But Colonel Byrd is someone that I depend upon a great deal. He provides the kind of military assistance to me that a Secretary of Defense needs, he carries on a great tradition and it's no wonder that you have made it from the corridors of Eastmore High all the way to the corridors of power in the Pentagon. It is because of your talent, Roy, and I'm glad you could be here today to join your parents, and I look forward to meeting them after this.

I see we have a number of ROTC students in the audience and military leaders who are here. I'd like to begin this afternoon with a couple of my favorite quotes. I keep them nearby my desk to help me keep perspective.

The first one reads, "Our Earth is degenerate in these latter days. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents. Every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching." It has a familiar ring to it, but it appeared on an Assyrian tablet some 4,700 years ago. [Laughter.]

Another of my favorites is that, "It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Not in the lifetime of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension. Never has the future seemed so uncertain as it does at this time. The domestic situation is in chaos, our dollar is weak throughout the world, prices are so high as to be utterly impossible. The political cauldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. Russia hangs, as usual, like a cloud, dark and silent upon the horizon. It's a solemn moment of our troubles and no man can see the end." Well, that has a certain familiar ring to it. You might pick it up in the daily press, New York Times, the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. In fact, it appeared in Harper's Weekly magazine back in 1897. And so I cite these words to try to put our current challenges and troubles in some kind of perspective.

John, when you were giving my background from Bowdoin College and also my love of poetry and basketball, I was reminded of one rather embarrassing scene from those basketball days. Back in my youth when I was Mayor of Bangor, Maine, I had the occasion to play substitute for K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics when they were touring in the state of Maine. And Don Nelson, who was then playing for the Celtics, took a look at me as I was shooting a round, and he said, "Boy, I want you as my sixth man tonight." I had my business suit on, and I was only prepared to orchestrate the official events before the game.

So I called my folks and said, "Bring me my sneakers, I'm playing tonight." Don Nelson gave me his practice uniform, and the shirt came down over my elbows, his pants came down over my knees. I was wearing horn-rimmed glasses at the time, and I needed a haircut desperately. And I went out and proceeded to be a substitute for K.C. Jones. And Sad Sam Jones threw me a pass from end of the court to the other, I went up to grab it and it carried me right into the stands. [Laughter.] And after the game was over, a young man came into the locker room to get all the autographs, and there was Sad Sam Jones, Don Nelson, K.C. Jones and Sad Sanders. And they said, "You guys were terrific! But what was that Woody Allen act out there?" [Laughter.] And so it always was a very humbling experience for me when you go back and recount my athletic days.

Bowdoin College was a liberal arts school, and I tried to study as much as possible to be as broad-gauged as possible. I don't know whether the students who are here today are studying liberal arts or majoring in mathematics or science, but whatever it is, I hope that you will continue to keep yourselves as open as possible to virtually every new idea, and to be as well versed in history and the humanities as you possibly can.

But shortly after I finished up law school, Alvin Toffler started to become quite popular, and I remember reading his first book, "Future Shock." And I remember reading how he had predicted that we were going to see time itself speeded up by events; that we were going to see our values and our culture just kind of shaken in this hurricane wind of change, and that events would go faster and faster.

In fact, that is the name of a book by James Gleick, "Faster," in which we see that we are entering this nano-second world. John and I were talking about this on the plane. We are processing information at such an incredible speed that it is even more incumbent that we try to step back and have some appreciation of the past. Because if you're simply rocketing your way into the future without any sense of history, then you don't have any roots, you don't know if the direction you're taking is the right one or the wrong one.

I think about the nano-second world in which we're living, and I go back to the days when I was serving in the Senate with John. In 1989, I was the vice-chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate. Mikhail Gorbachev was at that point putting the finishing touches on his five-year economic plan. The Berlin Wall was still in existence and it divided the Europeans, and Germany in particular.

Today the Soviet Union no longer exists, and a piece of that Berlin Wall actually is hanging in the Pentagon on a trophy case behind a piece of plastic as a memory of what had divided Europe for so long before that Iron Curtain -- in Churchill's phrase -- had come ringing down. Poland and Hungary, the Czech Republic are now part of NATO. And the countries lining up to get into NATO would almost resemble the waiting line for the next Harry Potter book.

In 1989, our relations with China were at a very low level, following the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Today we see that we have granted China permanent trading relations and they are about to enter the WTO [World Trade Organization]. I was in China again in July, and tomorrow morning, as a matter of fact, I'll be hosting a top Chinese general at the Pentagon office to explore ways in which we may continue to cooperate on a military-to-military level in order to engage the Chinese in productive ways.

In 1989, the thought of dialogue with the North Koreans was virtually impossible. And just a week or so ago, Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright was in Pyongyang meeting with the so-called "Great Leader," Kim Jong Il. We are now exploring whether or not we can have a more productive relationship with the North Koreans. And, of course, that has been a key flashpoint for us to be concerned about since we have some 37,000 uniformed Americans serving in South Korea, and another 45,000 in Japan. So we should be concerned about what would happen should conflict ever break out on the Korean peninsula.

So things are changing rather dramatically. The economic situation has been almost completely reversed during the past decade. I recall reading books at the beginning of the '90s saying, "America: What Went Wrong?" or "Age of Diminished Expectations" or "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers." Today we have the strongest economy, certainly in recent times, and we have our two presidential candidates who are debating on how to spend the surplus, which at this point doesn't exist, of course, but nonetheless, we're debating about the surplus and not about the deficit. So there have been remarkable changes in a very short period of time.

In the early 90s I used to read about this abstract notion of -- and it was always in quotes – a "linked world." Today we have humanity tied together by 7 billion hyper-links on the web.

And so you can see how rapidly the world is turning, faster and faster. And we can look to the Middle East and see how quickly things can become undone. You had seven years of painstaking efforts on the part of the administration, working with the Israelis and the Palestinians, to try to achieve a peace agreement. And in a matter of moments, hours, days, it all became unraveled.

Hopefully, we can put the process back together. Hopefully, we can persuade the leaders of the Israelis and the Palestinians -- Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak and Chairman [Yasser] Arafat -- to persuade their respective people to cool the passions so that we can get back to the bargaining table, because the opposite of what the peace negotiations are is what I would call a descent into hell. When you take a look at the evening news and you see the kind of violence that's erupting, there is no alternative to peace in the Middle East. It's just more violence upon more violence, and it's not confined to Israel, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. It has the potential to engulf the entire region.

So there is a great deal at stake in seeing if we can't persuade everybody to cool the passions and step back from the violence that currently exists and see if they can't come back to the bargaining table. It won't happen overnight, but if we can have a few weeks or a month of people cooling those passions, then perhaps we'd have an opportunity to get back to the bargaining table.

I know that President Clinton feels very strongly about it. President [Hosni] Mubarak of Egypt, who has been instrumental in trying to lead the effort, King Abdullah from Jordan, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, all understand that we cannot afford to let this spiral down into more and more violence.

Speaking of violence, all of you saw what took place with the USS Cole in the Persian Gulf. I had a brief press conference before coming out here onto the stage. That explosion ripped a hole that was torn into the heart of the American people. And my wife Janet and I had the chance -- not the chance, but the obligation and the responsibility -- of going to a [memorial] ceremony last week. And one of the most painful moments -- certainly, that we've had to endure during our tenure in office – was to visit with the families of the 17 people who have lost their sons or daughters and to try to bring comfort to them. [We also] meet with the wounded, and there were some 45 who were wounded on the USS Cole, some five right here from Ohio, none of them, thankfully, seriously wounded or grievously wounded.

It was an awe-inspiring moment to be out there looking into the faces of all the people who had come together to embrace the families who had lost their loved ones and the sailors who were there to give support to their comrades and colleagues. There were many poignant memories that we had, but [there was] one in which a very severely wounded sailor insisted that he was going to be part of that ceremony and be a witness of that ceremony. And he said, "Then we can go to the hospital and have my leg amputated." But that is the kind of spirit that exists within all of our services.

That's something that we have tried to do. Janet and I have spent the last three and a half, almost four years now, trying to what we call "reconnect" the American people to its military. We have the finest military force in the world, but we tend not to think about it or to think about all the things that they do to keep us free. I am able to be here, you are able to be students, you are able to be officials at this great university, we are able to do all that we do in this country and around the world, because we have people who are wearing that uniform out there who are putting their lives on the line every single day. And we don't think about it. We don't see it enough. We don't pay tribute to them enough.

Think about the USS Cole, think about that ship and what those sailors were going through at that moment with that impact. As I told the members of the press, they were taking on water. At one point, they lost power. They were in darkness. They had twisted steel, they had gaseous fumes, toxic fumes. They were operating under all kinds of adverse conditions, and then the power generation went out and they had to bail the water out by hand. And they were doing it all while they were saving other members who had been injured, and trying to recover those who had been killed.

We've got heroes out there who are working on our behalf every day, and we need to pay more tribute to them. We have to thank them. We have to go up to them when we see them in the airports, in the streets, and say, "Thank you for doing what you do for our country."

It's not only that they're out there being great warriors. They're great diplomats, too. They are forward deployed. They're out there engaged in humanitarian efforts. I was over in Indonesia recently, and there was a report that came out, and people were getting all anxious about it, and it said, "There's an invasion; the Marines are invading East Timor." In fact, they were building houses. They were out constructing houses for the people who had no shelter. And if you think about what happened in Hurricane Mitch, we had our uniformed services down [in Central America] providing relief to the tens of thousands of people who had lost their homes, electricity, and had no shelter.

So we do everything. We do peacekeeping, we do preparations for combat, and humanitarian missions. We run the full spectrum, evacuating citizens from other countries who are over doing business in foreign lands. We do all of these things, and the people carry it out with [the support of] their spouses who are totally dedicated to their husbands' or wives' careers. It's remarkable what our people do for us, and we want to pay more tribute to them and to reward them in a greater fashion.

I wanted to come here today to talk about this because Ohio, of course, plays a critical role. The 445th Air Wing from Dayton, as a matter of fact, helped to bring some of those wounded back. You have the 914th Combat Support Hospital in Blacklick, Ohio, who went down to Colombia, South America, to bring medical assistance there. Columbus's 121st Air Refueling Wing is also serving in Bosnia.

Think of all the good that we do. Think about Bosnia and what happened to that country over the last five years, where we have been present helping to maintain peace so that the roots of democracy can take hold and they can start providing a life for their own citizens with democratic institutions. We have been critical in playing a major role in that.

Now, this Odyssey 2000 is a lecture series, and I'm supposed to tell you a little bit about the future. Janet and I were at the Italian American Dinner this past Saturday and Yogi Berra was there. Yogi Berra once said, "It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." [Laughter.] So it's difficult for me to try to make any predictions about the future, but I think we can peer through that opaque window and pretty clearly see that we're going to face what we call asymmetric threats.

The attack on the USS Cole was an asymmetric threat and an attack. There is no other country out there that can take us on head-to-head. There is no other country that has the kind of force that we have in terms of our personnel, our officer corps, the NCO [Non-Commissioned Officers] corps, the equipment, the technology, the training or the education. There is no other country that can match us.

But other countries who see us as adversaries will not try to match us. They'll try to find our Achilles' Heels. They'll drive up on a small boat that's loaded with some powerful explosive and blend in with the environment or with the refueling operation or appear to be part of the refueling operation, and then try to take you at your most vulnerable moments. There are threats that will involve weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, indeed, perhaps even nuclear -- that we have to be prepared for. There's something called cyber-terrorism, where you could shut down someone's energy distribution system or their financial system or their air traffic control management, and suddenly you can create chaos with the stroke of a key.

So these are some of the things that we have to look at. I could point to Kosovo and tell you that was the most successful air campaign in the history of the world. Think about it. There were 38,000 sorties that were flown by the NATO countries, 38,000. Just think of the management of that. And we lost only two aircraft, and no pilots. That's a record that has never been equaled. I doubt if it ever will be equaled. It tells you something about our capability and about the professionalism [of our forces], and our capability and technology. I could point to Desert Storm and say, "Look what a remarkable achievement that was, to put a half-million people on the ground over there and to conclude that effort in a very short period of time with limited loss of life."

But think about both of those environments. In Kosovo you had a mostly rural area; in Desert Storm, mostly a flat, desert region. But in the future, by the year 2020, 60 to 70 percent of the world's population will live in urban centers, and seven out of 10 will be on the coastlines. So we're going to have to confront very different environments if conflict ever should break out. We'll have very different challenges in terms of dealing with consequence management when those conflicts do break out or there's a release of some chemical or biological agent and you have mass casualties, and how do you deal with that.


So we're going to have to look at the world differently in terms of the kinds of threats we're likely to see. And the kinds of threats we're likely to see are asymmetric threats with the potential for mass casualties. So we are now in the process of revising the way in which we think about conflict – how try to anticipate it, try to train for it, develop our doctrine for it. We now have the Marines, for example, who are conducting their experiments in urban warfare. We have the Navy, of course, that is redesigning a number of their ships. We have the Air Force, that's becoming an air expeditionary force, and the Army, that is now making a transformation to a much lighter, much more agile, much more lethal force for the future. So we're trying to anticipate the trends that we see unfolding to make sure that we keep this country as well defended as we possibly can.

What is changing so dramatically [is that] 30 percent of the people worldwide were not born when Ronald Reagan said to Mr. Gorbachev, "Tear down this wall." Fifty percent of the people were not born when President Nixon went to China. And 75 percent of the people alive today were not born when Khruschev said, "History's on our side, we will bury you." So you can see the world has changed, demographically, quite radically in the past 50 years or more.

What we have to do is have a revolution in military affairs. We have a revolution in business affairs as well. How do we at the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, become more like a business? How do we adopt the kind of efficiencies, the kind of technology that business itself has adopted in the past 10 years and become the most efficient, productive business in the world? We are the leaders. We're trying to adopt and adapt many of the practices that we find in the private sector to the Department of Defense itself. And I won't take the time this afternoon to go into any detail about it, other than to say we are taking the best practices of business and trying to apply it to the largest corporation in the world.

Let me conclude with a quote taken from [the journalist] Walter Lippmann. I remember reading some years ago that Walter Lippmann gave an address to his 30th reunion of the class of 1910 at Harvard. It was on the eve of World War II, and he got up in front of his classmates and he looked out and he said, you know, whenever we've had a tough choice to make, we always took the easy way out. We have been lax in our abilities and taking advantage of the abilities we have. We have not been resourceful. We have been lazy and slothful. As a result, we're about to pay a penalty for that.

And Lippmann looked out to his classmates, and he said, "For every right that you cherish, you have a duty you must perform. For every hope that you entertain, you have an obligation you must fulfill. And for every good that you wish to preserve, you must sacrifice your comfort and your ease, because there's nothing for nothing any longer."

Those words, I think, are as true today, even though we are in this era of great prosperity. That prosperity can turn around as quickly as it was generated during the past decade, with the flash points that I've mentioned this afternoon erupting in a negative way. We have an absolute obligation to be forward deployed, as we are today. We cannot shrink back to a continental cocoon and watch the world events unfold, either on CNN or MSNBC. I want to make sure I don't get partial here. [Laughter.]

But we have to be out there helping to shape people's opinions about world affairs, because if we don't, then someone else will be shaping them for us, and we'll be reacting. And when we have to react, then it's going to be much more tenuous and much more fragile and much more dangerous for all of us.

So as much of a burden as it is for us, we are a superpower and we have to assess what it means to be a superpower. What are the benefits we receive? What are the burdens we have to bear? What are the responsibilities that we have as Americans to ourselves, certainly, but also to others who aspire to have the same freedoms that we enjoy? That has been our destiny, and I believe that we have an absolute obligation to maintain that.

We're going through an election now that's almost over. I guess in about eight more days, seven more days, and we will have the election decide -- the people decide -- who they want to lead this country. But whoever the American people choose, I see absolutely no alternative for us than to remain actively engaged and deployed in world affairs. There is nothing for nothing any longer, and we have a duty, and we have obligations, and we have hopes that we entertain, and we have an obligation to measure up to them. Thank you very much. [Applause.]