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The Enemy Is Complacency
Prepared remarks ADM J.M. Boorda, chief of naval operations, the Armed Forces Day luncheon hosted by Military Veterans Education Foundation, Columbus, Ohio, Friday, May 19, 1995

Thank you. ... Friends of the armed services of this great nation: Happy Armed Forces Day 1995!

It is difficult to start this speech, because it is simply too hard to know who to mention at the outset. Everybody here is important. Everybody here is special.

There is one group who is extra special today. They are former military service people. I want to start by telling you: Thank you! Looking at all of you gathered here. I feel enormously proud. Proud to be an American. Proud to represent our great Navy. And very proud to spend this time with so many men and women who have done so much for our country.

I want to mention, vets, that I depend very heavily on you to help us. You are the great patriots who can speak to Americans about why we cannot grow complacent, about how critical it is to keep our armed forces strong.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been chief of naval operations for one year now. As I travel around our Navy, I find morale to be very high. I am happy to tell you that as I visit our Navy and our sister services, I can report without any reservation at all that we've got wonderful people in uniform. They are out there getting the job done and doing it with pride. That is cause to celebrate. ...

We can celebrate, because these service members are part of a greater legacy, a courageous and proud legacy that many of you in this room wrote. A legacy of courage and honor written by deeds at places like Midway, Okinawa, Normandy, Anzio, the Battle of the Bulge, Korea and many, many more.

In this year, the 50th year since the end of World War II, it is fitting that we look back and remember. There are so many to whom we owe so much. Your fight for freedom ensured ensuing generations would have a chance at the American dream. You are the very best. ...

In this special year, it is also important to remember the families. ... We don't always remember to thank you for the sacrifices you made and the courage you showed, but just the same, you served your country in a very special way.

You know, there are many unsung heroes here today just as there are many unsung heroes in today's military. I'm talking about those of you like the Naval Reserve pilots who just yesterday left for Europe for one month away from their jobs and family and fly missions off the carrier Theodore Roosevelt over war-torn Bosnia. These individuals share something very special. ... It is in part a pride for having sacrificed together for a cause greater than your individual pursuits.

Your lack of selfishness humbles me: that in the prime of your lives -- many of you starting college, starting families, starting careers -- ... so many of you volunteered to fight a war not of your own making, not even of your country's making, simply because your sense of what was right and what was wrong told you it was the right thing to do.

Let me talk now of what you gave your country, the contribution for which the nation is in your debt. It is more than the battles you won. All the battles, all the grim tests of courage and character have made a legend of the American fighting man's devotion to duty in every community in America. And it is the lesson of your courage that will help instruct those who will defend our country tomorrow in their duty.

I speak of the courage that our master of ceremonies, Sgt. Maj. Jake Brewer, demonstrated at the Battle of the Bulge while serving with Patton's Third Army. I'm talking about Jake Brewer's courage at Pusan [South Korea] and subsequently when he lead his 462 men into China. All brave Americans.

There are many other great warriors here to choose from who demonstrated their courage on the battlefield, and we are grateful. There is one special person I want to talk about. A Columbus native, Cpl. Ronald Rosser won our nation's highest medal for valor on a cold January day in 1952. Korea, where singlehandly he stormed an enemy position not once, but three times, armed only with his carbine and grenades and only returning to get more ammunition after silencing three enemy bunkers. He stayed in the fight, although wounded, to help remove other men injured more seriously than himself. ...

World War II was one of the greatest man-made disasters in history. Fifty million people died. Historians will debate the whys and wherefores of the Second World War for many years to come, but one thing I'm certain of is that history has not ended. It continues, just as forces working against peace are present today throughout the world. Today's new risk, once again, is complacence. Let me explain.

It is the same kind of complacence that we experienced when World War I ended in 1918 and many said, "Never again!" This proved one of the grand illusions of history. Then, after World War II ended in 1945 -- after many of you returned victorious from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, after you destroyed the dictators who grew so powerful while our nation was complacent -- it happened again. Two great wars within 50 years. It seemed that mankind is slow to learn the lessons of being prepared for war.

There are those of you in the audience who are Korean veterans who know the penalty all too well that results from this complacence. Then, after Vietnam, by the late '70s, our armed forces were hollow. We had ships that couldn't deploy, planes that could not be safely flown, and divisions that lacked parts and the training to perform their missions. Thinking that detente meant peace, we shrank our arsenals and we allowed our forces to atrophy once again.

Tomorrow, I'm going to tell a group of Notre Dame midshipmen who are receiving their commissions that America needs to be reminded that while chances of a world shattering into global conflict again have greatly diminished, the uncertainties of the world make this far from a safe planet. I'm going to tell them there are 20 active wars around the world today and an additional 12 hot spots where political violence is resulting in deaths.

Yes, we don't have this huge enemy on the other side of the world, an ogre that forces us to spend higher and higher amounts of our tax dollars on military forces. But in its place is a new old risk for our country, one that I believe you in this audience appreciate better than most. The new risk is complacence.

So there has been this cycle throughout this century, a cycle of enormous and costly exertion followed by a false sense of relief. A delusion that we had done our part and that it was time to rest, to collect the dividends for our efforts.

Well, this time around, we have to -- we must -- resist the dangerous embrace of complacence.

Let me remind you of a fact of American history: Since our nation was founded, we have never experienced a 20-year period of uninterrupted peace. Put another way, no sailor, Marine, soldier or airman in this country's history has ever completed a military career when our nation did not engage in armed conflict at least once.

This is the reality that underscores our need to remain ready. But I'm proud to report that the fighting spirit our sailors and Marines and soldiers and airmen have, a fighting spirit we inherited from you, has not grown complacent. As I look into the eyes of the young men and women today, I know that your many sacrifices 50 years ago live on in their hearts.

In the 50 years since you fought, we've had about three or so generations of naval officers and enlisted men and women, 5housands of American sailors in all. I can tell you that ships and weapon systems have changed a great deal since the World War II Navy, and I can tell you that sailors have changed too. Today, they're more educated than any time in our history. But there are some constants when it comes to Navy people, and that's what I'd like to talk about for a few minutes.

Hitler could not comprehend the generosity and gallantry that was America in the '40s and I believe is still America today. This is the constant that I speak of, a constant that is passed from generation to generation. We can all be proud of our sailors, whose pride and professionalism run deep and could only be matched by their selfless devotion to duty and love of country. All of these traits, these military virtues, they inherited from you. It is a foundation of honor, courage and commitment. You taught us nothing should be more sacred than our liberty and our freedom.

Hitler and some since him clearly didn't understand this great country's hatred of bullies. Our America will never tolerate cowardly bullies. We didn't then, and we won't now! Some fellow named Saddam Hussein, who never seems to get the word and proved it again this last fall, moved forces south of the 32nd parallel -- something he isn't supposed to do. Well, the United States moved our carrier George Washington, along with several Tomahawk-capable surface ships, to his neighborhood, and we told him, "Saddam, you go to Kuwait again and we'll come to Baghdad." And we meant it, and he knew it. Who would have gone to Baghdad? Tomahawk missiles from cruisers, destroyers and submarines, and aviators and airplanes from our carrier. Saddam got the word, and he moved his forces back north. Good call.

This example, plus others like Bosnia, North Korea, Haiti and Somalia within the last year show how your Navy fits into this new post-Cold War world. Our national military strategy has land and air forces stationed overseas and at home with the idea that, if they are needed, we will rapidly deploy them to the area, just like we did in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Our National Military Strategy also says that our Navy and Marine Corps team should be forward deployed to act as the nation's 911 force, and that is exactly what we are doing today -- doing what navies do best. We have 51 percent of our fleet at sea today around the world.

I also want to tell you that we are joint. We learned a long time ago that it makes no sense for services to try to go it alone. Just as our Navy and Marine Corps are a team, a tough team, from the sea, so are we teammates with our Air Force and our Army teammates. We fought joint at Okinawa, Normandy and Anzio, and we are training and fighting joint today. Together, our four services are the superpower military of this era, the only superpower in the world today. I like being on the first team. Let's keep it that way.

Finally, I want to repeat to you what President Clinton recently said about the extraordinary World War II generation who triumphed over the forces of darkness. He said: "There is one thing that even you could not do, that no generation can ever do. You could not banish the forces of darkness from the future. We confront them now in different forms all around the world and painfully, here at home. But you taught us the most important lesson: that we can prevail over the forces of darkness, that we must prevail." That lesson must never be forgotten.

Thank you for your outstanding service to this great country. Thank you for fighting America's wars and for keeping this nation and its principles safe.

Thank you for creating a tradition of great courage and of service snd of sacrifice to our country -- a living tradition, a tradition that inspires every man and women serving in uniform today. And thank you for fighting and winning to make our world a place full of vast opportunities for our people, a people who, because of you, live in freedom today.

I am proud of our Navy, I am proud of our Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, and of the veterans and the people of Columbus. And I am proud of each and every one of you who loves this nation enough to sacrifice when you must, as you have done so gallantly in our past. In the final analysis, a great country is really a combination of a great cause with a people who have the courage to make it come true. That simple statement really defines America. Thank you.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at