Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England
at the Naval Order of the United States
Admiral George Dewey Award
20 October 2006
Thank you, Carter [CAPT Conlin, USN (ret)] for the warm introduction and thanks to the Naval Order of the United States for this very gracious and generous honor.
Thank you for the invitation to me and my family to join you today. It’s always nice to share memorable experiences with your family. And today it’s especially nice – and especially appropriate – since my wife Dotty has been my partner in service these last 5-plus years, and is the sponsor of the US Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia. My daughter Marisa is a nurse at the US Naval Hospital in Okinawa. This is a Naval family!
It’s a privilege and honor to follow in the footsteps of President George H. W. Bush, the first recipient of this award. I was with the President a few days ago, at his presidential library at Texas A&M. He is truly a great American – and a wonderful person.
Today, since we’re meeting just after lunch, you may be pleased to hear my theory of remarks. The perfect after-lunch remarks include a short but interesting introduction; a short, memorable conclusion, and as little as possible in between!
Looking back at my own career, I have truly been blessed.
There have always been three truly great jobs in the world: Manager of the New York Yankees, Coach of Notre Dame football, and Secretary of the Navy… but not in that order! It was a true privilege serving with the brave men and women of the US Navy and the US Marine Corps.
In fact, I’ve had the distinct – and, I think, unique – honor, of leading the brave men and women of all of our Nation’s Sea Services, since - as the first Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security – I had the opportunity to integrate the US Coast Guard into that organization.
All of our Nation’s Sea Services have inspired my deepest respect. Working with them, I’ve had the opportunity to build close and lasting friendships with the leadership. Tomorrow, you’ll be honoring my good friend and a magnificent American, ADM Vern Clark. I am blessed, you are blessed, and the Nation is blessed to have such great men serve America.
It is truly an honor to join you today, to reflect on America’s maritime history. The Companions of the Naval Order perform an essential service to the Nation, by keeping alive and furthering our strong, proud naval traditions. Back in 1963, at the US Naval Academy, President John F. Kennedy told the midshipmen: “Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction – ‘I served in the United States Navy’.”
All the men and women of Naval Order have also chosen to serve in one of our Nation’s Sea Services, and again as part of this Naval Order. You have lived lives of service – and I do thank you and applaud you.
As it turns out, the year 1890 was a pivotal point in America’s naval history. That was the year that Mahan published his path-breaking book, “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History”. His work is still read today in our school houses and war colleges. And 1890 was also the year that the Naval Order got its start – your own hard work, every day, proves Mahan’s point, about sea power’s profound and lasting influence.
America inherited a bold sea-faring tradition from Christopher Columbus… and made it her own. The Naval Order’s current projects and initiatives reflect the deepest appreciation for our past struggles and successes, and for the lessons and value they still hold today.
I also applaud your support for naming the USS Constitution America’s “ship of state”. “Old Ironsides” was a founding “member” of the US Navy, and built to outfight any other warship. She and the men who sailed her logged years of noble service. A painting of her victory over HMS Java still hangs in my office – on loan from the Navy.
The Naval Order has also proposed creating a monument to the heroic naval forces that fought and died at Normandy, on D-Day – and the French Government has agreed. This is another wonderful initiative – our naval heroes from the European Theater in WWII do deserve such a fine tribute.
You know, World War II was the backdrop for my own earliest memories…
On 7 Dec 1941, I was four years old. As a kid growing up in Baltimore, I still remember the blackouts, the civil defense wardens, the ration stamps, and the newsreels at the local theater. We were indeed a Nation at War.
It was the courage of our military in those days – some perhaps here today - and the will and determination of the US and our allies and friends, that made the life I’ve lived possible… and the lives of people around the world.
During the Cold War, peace and prosperity were again under threat. America’s leaders disagreed about many things, but they made the choice to stand together – they put security first, based on a fundamental belief in freedom and liberty. And liberty did win the day…
Now, my personal experience of WWII has a parallel today – on 9/11, my granddaughter was 4 years.
On that day, 9/11, terrorists turned civilian airliners into guided missiles and killed 3000 people of 60 different nationalities… Do you know why they killed 3000 people that day? I’ve concluded that the reason they killed 3000 was that they didn’t know how to kill 30 000 or 300 000 or 3 million. But they would have, if they could have, and they are still trying.
Our terrorist adversaries know no national borders. All who love liberty and freedom are fair game for them – and the conflict is likely to be a long one.
At the same time – we could still face serious threats from renegade states. North Korea has recently had a nuclear detonation, and Iran is apparently developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful nuclear program.
The global security context is evolving, but some things never change: historically, in a time of crisis, the first thing the President asks is, “Where are my carriers?” This Nation’s Sea Services are still an absolutely essential part of the fight.
At the Department of Defense, we are reorienting our approaches – including our maritime capabilities – to better meet the challenges of the 21st century:
· That includes improved irregular warfare capabilities – like greater agility, and the ability to act from the sea if we are denied access on land, in distant corners of the globe.
· It includes working with our international partners and using maritime interdiction to stop the proliferation of WMD.
· And it includes hedging against possible future peer competitors like China – which continues to modernize its military, particularly for undersea warfare.
The sea power that Mahan praised is as relevant – and essential – today, as ever...to the preservation of freedom and liberty, for us and for our friends and allies around the world.
I do thank each of you for what you do every day to protect and defend America, to keep alive our great traditions, and to inspire hope and patriotism in your fellow citizens. God bless each of you and your families… God bless our magnificent men and women who wear the cloth of the nation, who daily protect our freedom and liberty… And God continue to bless America…