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Memorial Day/Introduction of the President
Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, May 28, 2001

Good morning. Mr. President, Members of the Cabinet, Distinguished Members of Congress; Secretaries of the Armed Services, General Shelton and Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Senior Enlisted representatives, General Jackson, we thank you all for your service.

Distinguished guests; families of those we remember today; veterans, God bless you all; men and women of the Armed Forces, ladies and gentlemen.

The headstones we see, row upon row, powerfully remind us of the suffering and sacrifices made to ensure our country’s freedom.

Here rest America's sons and daughters. They gave everything any human being could ever be asked to give, so that our sons and daughters can live in liberty. They remind us that freedom is not free; it is a gift, selflessly purchased by others at great cost.

Our Founding Fathers warned it would always be so. For more than 200 years, Mr. Jefferson’s tree of liberty has grown from a sapling into a mighty oak. It is today so strong and sturdy that it might be tempting for us to believe that just perhaps the era of war and sacrifice might be finally behind us. To some Americans, cataclysmic war seems unthinkable today – a relic of a savage past that has no place in a peaceful future of our imaginations.

 

That temptation is not new. In 1926, a young Winston Churchill summed up the prevailing mood of his countrymen at the turn of the last century. In an ironic voice, he said: "War is too foolish, too fantastic, to be thought of in the 20th century. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of law, the Hague convention, liberal principles... common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible." Then he mused: "Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong."

And what followed, of course, was the bloodiest century in recorded human history. Wars raged, hot and cold, leaving untold millions dead. But heroes stood in tyranny’s path – and thanks to their sacrifice, liberty triumphed at the close of the 20th century. Many of them are here in these fields.

Now, we are again at the start of a new century. And once again, it might be tempting to lulled by that familiar refrain: war is finally behind us; international law, arms control agreements, growing interdependence, liberal principles, globalization, free trade and common sense have "rendered such nightmares impossible."

But with the vastly greater power of weapons today, it would be much more than a pity to be wrong.

So we need Memorial Day –we need to remember. And that is why on his first Memorial Day as President of the United States, our President is here at Arlington. It is, to be sure, a day to remember fallen heroes; but it is also the one day, each year, when we pause as a nation to listen to their voices.

And what might they say to us?

They might caution that our liberty is fragile, and that there are still enemies of freedom; that with the vastly greater power and reach of weapons today we must not be wrong; that we must prepared to deter and defend, so that future generations will not be called upon to make the same sacrifices.

These headstones are more than memorials; they are reminders as well – warning of the perils and the price of complacency in our still dangerous and untidy world.

That is why our President has made building a 21st century military one of his highest priorities. [Applause.]

As he told the graduates at Annapolis on Friday, we must build a military that "draws upon the revolutionary advances in the technology of war that will allow us to keep the peace by redefining war." We must do this because our Armed Forces "are America’s insurance policy in a world of change and challenge. They give comfort to our allies and pause to our enemies and adversaries."

I am proud stand with him as he works to build a 21st century military that can deter aggression and expand the peace well into this new century.

Veterans, men and women of the Armed Forces, ladies and gentlemen, it is a true privilege to introduce our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush.