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Wreath Laying Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Arlington National Cemetery, Saturday, September 11, 2004

Chaplain Kerr, Mayor Williams, the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, and distinguished officials, families and friends that we honor today.  Thank you all for being here.  We think of you often.  We remember your loss--our loss, the country’s loss, and the loss of loss of precious lives not lived -- colleagues from the Pentagon, passengers aboard Flight 77 and crewmembers.

More than two centuries have passed since an assembly of citizens established a republic, rooted in liberty, and cemented in place by their belief in the unalienable rights of man.

The idea of government by the people was a truly audacious thought back then when our country was founded.  And, in many parts of the world, it is still an audacious thought today.

There have always been those who benefit by the rule by the few -- by the tyrant.  Because America and freedom represent everything they preach against, they have fought our Nation since it’s founding in one way or another.

Free societies are, in a very real sense, an affront to their worldview.  Free systems are the truth that points out their lies.  They must know that, if given a real choice, the people they try to intimidate and rule would prefer freedom to that which the extremists offer.

Over the centuries these enemies have come in many forms -- Nazis, Fascists, Communists, fanatics, extremists of one type or another -- and they’ve killed millions trying to impose their will.  In those battles, America has, of course, lost many lives -- those who were innocent victims of the violence and the lives also of those who courageously sacrificed themselves to defend our ideals.

Here, in this place, we need not look far in any direction to see tens of thousands of reminders of those sacrifices.  Brave patriots occupy these hills, just as they occupy cemeteries across the globe.

And they include the souls we gather to honor and remember today.  And to their friends and families, our Nation offers our heartfelt condolences, our gratitude, and our prayers.

It’s common to hear that the taking of life was senseless.  But those who inflicted this suffering had a sinister logic.  They believed that by killing thousands of our citizens that they could frighten and intimidate our country, our people -- that they could shake the trust we have in each other, and that they could weaken the glue that holds our society together.

They wanted America to retreat from the world so that they could impose their ideology of oppression and hatred.  They thought they could strike us with impunity, and that we would acquiesce.  That the American soldier, and the American people themselves, were, in the words of one of their leaders, “a paper tiger.”

Those we mourn today were not the first victims in the war declared against us by the extremists, nor were they the last.  All across the world, the enemy has taken innocent lives.  Extremists think nothing of cutting off people’s heads to advance their cause.  They have murdered citizens -- even hundreds of schoolchildren recently -- from countries across the globe.  And even today they plot to strike again.

But the enemies underestimated our country.  They failed to understand the character of our people.  And they misread our Commander-in-Chief.

Shortly after the September 11th attacks, President Bush told a shaken nation; he said, quote, “The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain.  Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.”

The wound that was opened three years ago will always be with us.  We know that.  Yet our grief has found its purpose.  September 11th was a call to arms.

And once again, brave men and women from this country have deployed abroad to defend freedom.  And once again, an uncertain world looks to America and her allies to lead the way.  And once again, a determined enemy faces the arsenal of a purposeful nation awakened to danger.

In 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the United States Congress in Washington D.C., warning Americans of the great struggle before them.

            Churchill, of course, had warned of the Nazi advance long before it was accepted wisdom, and people properly gave his words great weight.  He said, “Sure I am that this day -- now -- we are the masters of our fate; that the task which has been set us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance.  As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable will power, salvation will not be denied us.”

Decades later, we again resolve to remain true to the mission that has been set before us.  The lives that were lost on September 11th have meaning.  They live on as a testament to a country that is courageous, that is determined, to a people who are resilient despite great loss, and to a cause that continues until that mission is accomplished and beyond.

May the Lord watch over all of us and bless our great country.