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Town Hall, Youngsan Garrison
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Seoul, South Korea, Friday, October 21, 2005

Thank you very much.

This is an impressive gathering and I thank you so much for your warm welcome.  I appreciate it a great deal.  It's a real privilege to be with you.

General LaPorte, thank you so much for those kind words.  Your friend Dick Myers before he retired once introduced me as the only person who have been Secretary of Defense in two centuries.  I didn't know quite how to take it.  But I also want to thank you, Leon, for your superb leadership that you provide our country and this important command.  We recognize it, we value it, and we thank you for it.

It is terrific to be back here in Korea and have a chance to say hello to the folks who are serving so many thousands of miles away from home.  Men and women in uniform and their families who we saw when Leon introduced you earlier.  You're serving on the frontiers of freedom.  It's important work you do, it's noble work, and we as a country are very much in your debt.

I also want to make a special comment about our family members -- those that are here and those that are back in the United States, and the loved ones.  For each of them, for their support of you, it really also serves our country and we appreciate it a great deal.  Thank you so much.

What I'd like to do is to talk for five or six minutes and then answer questions.  I understand there are microphones located around the floor, in the balconies and even behind me.  But first let me make a couple of comments about what it is you're doing and why.

I know it may be hard to believe when you look around the Republic of Korea and Seoul and other cities in this country that about half-a-century ago this peninsula, the same ground we stand on here today, was ravaged by a truly brutal conflict -- millions dead and an entire country almost completely destroyed.

I remember well the time, in the summer of 1950, armored divisions of the Army of North Korea crossed the border.  And in those next three years almost 40,000 young Americans would fall in some of the toughest combat in our history.  And during that period, American forces endured repeated setbacks and difficulties.

Partially as a result, President Harry Truman -- would leave the White House in 1953 with a 23 percent approval rating, probably one of the lowest ever since they started recording those kinds of things.  We should remember that.

Today President Truman is properly remembered in history as a President and a leader of great significance and vision.  He was one of the architects who fashioned the free world's post-World War II strategy to the great benefit of our country, the American people and indeed the world.

The success that we see here in the Republic of Korea today is another of the examples of the contribution he and the young men and women who served in those days and the American people who supported them accomplished.

Back then, in the midst of the carnage a great many people questioned whether the fight in Korea was worth it.  Whether brave young Americans should face death and injury so many thousands of miles from home for a result that seemed uncertain at best.

Today, the answer to that question is so clear.  All one has to do is look around this country.  I keep a satellite photo under a piece of glass on a little table in my office, with a night photograph from a satellite of the Korean Peninsula.  What it shows is south of the demilitarized zone -- light everywhere -- energy.  And north of the demilitarized zone -- darkness, total darkness -- except for one little pinprick of light in the capital of North Korea.  In Pyongyang -- which says it all.

In the South -- a free political system.  A free economic system opportunity for people.   In the North -- a dictatorship, a command economy, people starving.  The North Korean military taking people in the military who are under five feet and under 100 pounds because of malnutrition.  It says a lot.

Here in South Korea you've got a vibrant democracy that is sending 3,000 of its folks over to Iraq and has people in Afghanistan contributing to the liberation of those people and the opportunity to set them on a path of free political systems and free economic systems.

It's worth remembering that contrast when you're considering how your children and their children will think about the fight that our country and our allies are engaged in today, as we navigate through the difficulties and the controversies inherent in a complex, struggle against violent extremists.

Some people still question the seriousness of the threat posed by our enemy.

They find it hard to understand how a group of violent extremists could actually carry out plans to reestablish an Islamic caliphate stretching across the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Asia, parts of Europe.  But that's their goal.

[inaudible] as once said about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis -- even though Hitler had spelled out relatively clearly in his book "Mein Kampf" in the 1920s what he had in mind.  Only a few people -- people with vision like Winston Churchill -- read it, understood it, believed the danger, and were prepared for the danger.  They took him seriously.

Osama bin Laden declared war on America in 1996, but it wasn't until five years later -- and after 3,000 people had been killed in our country -- that our nation declared war in response.

We've seen the designs and intentions of the next generation of terrorists most recently in a letter Al-Qaida's second in command, Al-Zawahiri, wrote to his top lieutenant in Iraq, Zarkawi.

"The first stage: expel the Americans from Iraq.  The second stage: establish an Islamic authority.  The third stage:  extend the jihad."

He called in this letter for war against Jews, against Christians, against Shia Muslims, against moderate Sunni Muslims, against all who do not share Al-Qaida's violent and medieval version and vision of the world.  Those are their plans.  And we must respond.

President Bush understands this.  He said in a recent speech that:

"Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously -- and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply."

That's why our country is on the offensive.  That's why our forces are on the attack.  They're having very good success.  And that's why our goal as a country is nothing short of victory.  Unapologetic, unyielding, unconditional.

When the history of this era is written, I'm confident that it will be recorded as one of the finest hours for our men and women of our armed forces.  And that future generations of Americans will remember you and thank you for the proud history that you are making.

To face these new and lethal threats, our military is undergoing important reforms and restructuring -- to be more agile, more capable and more lethal.  So too, America's historic alliance with the Republic of Korea is undergoing a transformation -- one that you here are helping to execute in the months and years ahead.

The United States has boosted our capabilities to maintain and strengthen our deterrent, while at the same time making ground combat forces available for other important missions.

The vital work you're doing, and the service of the troops of the 2nd Infantry Division up north, are part of a long, noble tradition of Americans soldiering here on the Korean Peninsula.

Each of you stand on the front lines of freedom and the great sweep of history is for freedom, and we're on freedom's side.

So I thank you for your service.  I thank your families for their support of you and for your commitment to the defense of our country.

Now I'd be happy to answer some questions.  You might want to stand up near a microphone.  And be gentle on me.  It's been a long day!  I'm just kidding.  Fire away, I can take it!

For a complete transcript, including questions and answers, please visit:
http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2005/tr20051021-secdef4182.htm