Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Armed Forces Day Ceremonies
Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland
May 16, 1997
Men and women of the greatest Armed Forces in the world: To
stand before you on Armed Forces Day is the greatest privilege of
my position, and the greatest honor of my life.
It's also exciting to be here with Harrison Ford, and we are
glad to be of help with his new movie. I've always been a big
fan of Mr. Ford's movies, especially Star Wars. But whenever
I start talking about Star Wars around the Pentagon, they want to
start building a new missile defense system.
Actually, Mr. Ford and I have quite a few things in common.
I'm a football fan from New England, so I always try to catch a
few Patriot Games. Whenever I talk to the press, I sense a
Clear and Present Danger. And when I don't talk to the press,
they treat me like The Fugitive.
Most of all, whenever I meet with the men and women of the
United States military, I am proud to know that the Force is
I worked with another Ford some years ago. When he took the
oath of office as President of the United States, he said, I'm a
Ford not a Lincoln. Actually, Gerald Ford turned out to be a
Cadillac. But while in office he demonstrated a generosity of
spirit and heart that Abraham Lincoln captured when he spoke of
the better angels of our nature.
America's strength has always been in following the better
angels of liberty, of our passion for peace, of our ceaseless
harboring of hope, of our colossal willingness of the heart. And
today, the better angels of America are at large in the
world. They are the best, bravest and brightest our nation has
to offer, men and women who have learned well, trained hard and
stand ready -- ready to bear what heaven sends, and wear what
John F. Kennedy called the greenest garlands of courage. We
send you -- the soldier, the sailor, the airman and the Marine,
enlisted and officer. You -- who stand for the better angels of
our nature. You -- who serve us as the better angels of America.
What does it mean in today's world to serve as our better
angels? We must ask this question anew, for we have come to a
pivot point in history. Today technology has miniaturized the
globe, reducing vast oceans to mere ponds. Distant countries
are now almost neighbors, as our bodies travel at the speed of
sound and our voices at the speed of light. Today the world is
not much bigger than a ball spinning on the finger of science.
To paraphrase Pasternak's Lieutenant Schmidt: We know that
the stake where we will stand will be the border of two different
eras of history, and we are glad to be chosen.
As we stand at this pivot point, we have to ask: What type
of military must we choose for the 21st Century? We have been
asking this question in the Quadrennial Defense Review. It is
telling us how to reach the future we want.
The Spanish poet Antonio Machado once captured the challenge
of reaching an uncertain destination: Traveler, there is no
road, he said. You make the road as you go along. To make
our road, we must choose our destination, and then chart a course
that will take us from where we are today.
The destination we choose is a world where there is more
democracy in more nations. More stability in more regions. And
thus, fewer threats to American interests, and fewer risks to our
Some may ask, what threats? The Berlin Wall is rubble.
The Soviet empire dissolved. And the Cold War a distant memory.
We're at peace now. So we are asked, Why maintain the best
Armed Forces in the world?
Our response has to be very clear: Because America cannot
simply zip itself into a continental cocoon and watch the world
unfold on CNN. We must try to shape events so that they will
favor the interests of the United States and those of our allies.
We have no intention -- and we cannot afford -- to become
the world's policeman. By the same token, we cannot afford to
become a prisoner of world events. We must and we will remain
engaged in world affairs, to inspire, to impel and compel the
better angels in our friends and foes alike.
This takes diplomacy. But it also takes military power.
You cannot have one without the other. The military is the
muscle behind America's will. And that is why we send you out
into the world, forward deployed, out there, every single day and
night. On the front lines, the flight lines and the supply
lines. At sea, in the air and on foot. On the tip of the spear,
providing the steel in the sword of freedom, offering comfort to
allies and caution to antagonists. By your duty, your commitment
and your sacrifice, you are ensuring that America remains the
master of her destiny.
In times of tranquil freedom, we must never take for granted
those who face the trials to guarantee the tranquillity. It is
the weight on your shoulders, the miles you march, the sorties
you fly, the leagues you sail and the time you spend away from
home -- it is this service and sacrifice that permits our country
to thrive and prosper in safety and security. I know that it
takes a great deal of commitment on your part, a lot of
sacrifice, not only for yourself, but your families.
So what I want to say to you today is simple, from the soul,
and shared by millions of Americans: We need you. We thank
you. And we are proud of you.