U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
On Israel's Independence Day
Embassy of Israel
May 12, 1997
Last month, I began a new friendship with Israel's Minister
of Defense, Yitzhak Mordechai. To capture the spirit of the
continuing relationship between our two nations, I quoted Oliver
Wendell Holmes, Senior, when he said: A thought is often
original, though you have uttered it 100 times.
I shared this quote with Minister Mordechai, because more
than 100 times in the 49 years our countries have stood together
we have uttered the thought that the United States is unshakably
committed to the safety and security of Israel. But this thought
always strikes the ear as original, for the times and the
circumstances continue to change and progress as we work together
to build peace and stability for Israel.
What has not changed is the Israeli-American friendship
built on our common bonds, vested in our common values, and
carried on by our common commitment to a just, lasting,
comprehensive and secure Middle East peace.
My new friendship with Yitzhak is yet another flower rising
from the roots that formed 11 minutes after Israel declared its
independence, when the United States recognized her. The
Washington Star newspaper called the U.S. action a wise decision
and a heartening one. To Clark Clifford it was, everything
this country should represent. But for Harry Truman, it was
simply the right thing to do, because everyone else who's been
dragged from his country has someplace to go back to. Or, as
Golda Meir once remarked in explaining why Israelis fought with
such ferocity and courage, It's simple, she said. We have
nowhere else to go.
As I thought about how I might express my sentiments on
Israel's Independence Day, I recalled a passage from the book
Self Portrait of a Hero, the collected letters of Jonathan
Netanyahu. In a letter to his brother Benjamin, Jonathan wrote,
Don't forget: strength, justice and staunch resolution are on
our side, and that's a great deal.
I thought also of a famous passage written by Thucydides
almost 25 centuries ago, in which he describes the funeral
oration of Pericles paying tribute to Athens. If you simply
replace the word Athens with Israel, it is remarkable how
true the words still ring, line after line. So in celebration
of Israel's independence, let me pay tribute to my hosts and the
state of Israel with these timeless words of Thucydides:
Fix your eyes on the greatness of Israel, as you
have it before you day by day. Fall in love with her.
And when you feel her greatness, remember that this
greatness was won by those with courage, with knowledge
of their duty, and with a sense of honor in action.
So they gave their bodies to the commonwealth and
received, each for his own memory, praise that will never
die, and with it the grandest of all sepulchers, not that
in which their mortal bones are laid, but a home in the
minds of men, where their glory remains fresh to stir to
speech or action as the occasion comes by.
For the whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men,
and their story is not graven only on stone over their
native earth, but lives on far away, without visible
symbol, woven into the stuff of other men's lives. For
you now it remains to rival what they have done, and know
the secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of
freedom is a brave heart.