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Today's World More Free Than Ever, Rumsfeld Says

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2006 – Wars, by their nature, are full of successes and failures, no matter how they are remembered, the nation's top defense official said today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks to the Virginia Military Institute Class of 2006 during their commencement ceremony in Lexington, Va. on May 16. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke to 245 graduating cadets, about 105 of whom will soon serve as military officers, at Virginia Military Institute's commencement ceremony, in Lexington, Va.

"We remember the D-Day invasion as a great American victory. That's how it's taught," Rumsfeld said. "But many historians also remember it for a series of strategic and tactical errors and decisions based on imperfect intelligence, difficulties that cost thousands of lives and delayed the allied advance. Actually, it was undoubtedly both of those things, which, of course, is the nature of warfare."

Rumsfeld invited the cadets seated in front of him to remind people "that for every story of failure we know, there are hundreds more of courage and self-sacrifice, and America's proven can-do spirit."

Although the cadets are entering the world at a complicated time, he said today's world is more free than it has ever been in history. "But those freedoms are threatened as never before," he said.

The nation is fighting a war unlike any other in its history, he said. For the first time, Americans are seeing "the full view of war" displayed in continuous, real-time digital news media, while warfighters conduct battles with similar new technologies.

"Because of these new technologies, the American people are seeing things they never saw before about the realities of major conflict and postwar violence," Rumsfeld said. "And they will need the help of those of you who have studied military strategy to better understand what it is they are seeing every day and to become more aware that war requires continuous adjustments and calibrations, just as the enemy, an enemy with a brain, is constantly adjusting its tactics."

The secretary warned the graduates not to become cynical in the midst of the nation's current struggle. He said concentrating on America's imperfection does not make a person a realist; rather, it is "the sign of a cynic."

"Idealists write history's stirring chapters," he said. "Cynics read those chapters and seem to not understand. Choose to be an idealist."

Rumsfeld mentioned several famous VMI graduates who have carried on its "proud tradition," including Gen. George C. Marshall, author of the Marshall Plan, which focused on rebuilding post-World War II Europe and won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. Rumsfeld also spoke about Dave Williams, who died while on duty in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Yours is the first class to have entered VMI since that horrible day," he said. "Tell your fellow citizens that since then our forces have gone on the offense. Our forces are fighting the enemy on their territory so we do not have to fight them on our territory."

Before closing with a reminder to "resolve to live a life knowing you will leave footprints," the secretary quoted Jonathan Daniels, VMI's 1961 valedictorian, who said during his address to classmates, "I wish you the decency and nobility of which you are capable."

Upon graduating from VMI, Daniels went to seminary and was later jailed for protesting with civil rights activists. "After six days in a crowded jail, the group was released, only to be confronted by a violent segregationist, who aimed his shotgun at a 16-year-old girl," Rumsfeld said. "It is said that Daniels pushed her aside and was hit by the burst.

"He died, a foot soldier for a cause beyond himself, and a believer in a power beyond this world," Rumsfeld said. "His life was one that mattered."

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Donald H. Rumsfeld

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