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New England Council, Public Sector New Englander of the Year Award
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Westin-Hotel Copley Place, Boston, Massachusetts , Thursday, September 28, 2000

Anne [Finucane; Chair, New England Council], thank you very much for your very generous introduction. I think it was Kipling who said that he had learned enough to know never to argue with a Bostonian, so I accept everything you've said as being true and accurate. But I remember another Bostonian by the name of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who when to see his portrait unveiled at the Harvard Law Library. As they unveiled it, he looked up and said, "It's not me, but I'm glad you like it." [Laughter.] And many times, when I hear such a complimentary introduction, I say, "It's not me, but I am glad that you like it."

Jim Brett [President, New England Council], Carl [Gustin; dinner chairman], and Bill [Van Faasen; President, Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts], thank you for your very generous words about sharing this platform with me. I was going to say precisely the same about you. Anybody who could take a company from $60 million to $400 [million in annual revenue] needs to be in charge of this country. [Laughter and applause.]

When we talk about health care, I am reminded of Oscar Wilde, who said that, "Health. It's the silliest word in the English language. When you think about it," he said, "[it’s like] an Englishman on a fox hunt -- the unspeakable in full pursuit of the inedible." But we know that health care isn't the silliest word in the English language; it's probably the most important. It's also the most important in terms of the security of this country. Because we need healthy and well people in the military, health care has become a crucial issue. This is not something that's secondary. Health care is a fundamental issue for our national security, because unless we have a good health care system for our military families, they're not going to be able to carry out their duties in helping to defend us. So health is critically important to our national security.

I'd like to say hello and thanks to Collette Phillips. Colette, thank you for helping to arrange this tribute tonight and for twisting my arm -- although you didn't have to do much of it -- to get me to address the Council when it came to Washington in March. I had occasion to speak to quite a few of the members who are here tonight at the Executive Office Building and it was a great thrill for me to see so many people that I've known over the years. So I thank you, Colette, for all that you've meant to me, and especially to Janet [Langhart Cohen]. You've been a life-long friend of hers, and it's been great to have your friendship for me as well.

Earlier this evening I also saw Herb Collins and Chris [Collins]. They were supporting me way back when I was a young congressman and senator. So Herb and Chris, thank you for being here this evening.

I see Fran Miller in the audience tonight. Fran went to law school with me and served on the Law Review. Fran, it is great to see you after all of these years.

I suppose I could go through all of the people that I know here, but let me just say how good it feels to be back in Boston. My roots go a long way back to Boston when I went to law school. But even beyond law school, I had two sons, Kevin and Christopher, who were born at the Boston Lying Inn [today’s Brig. I also had occasion to meet someone pretty special in my life, who is right next to me now, and that's Janet. When she was starting [her career in journalism] here in Boston, she was known as "Miss Boston." Now she's known as "The First Lady of the Pentagon." [Laughter.] And I want you to know how important a role she is playing. She is not simply the spouse of the Secretary of Defense, she is known for her own contributions not only domestically, but globally.

As a matter of fact, I was humbled recently. We were both in China in July, and I walked up to meet President Jiang Zemin at his personal, private compound. I had my best suit on and I was walking in as if I were a head of state, reaching out to shake his hand, and he quietly pushed me aside and said, "I want to meet this most famous lady." [Laughter.] So it had a way of keeping me very humble from that moment.

But Janet has kept me humble and she's kept me inspired by her commitment to our troops. I can't tell you what it means to see her out mixing with the troops. Many times I feel pretty much like John Kennedy when he used to travel with Jackie, "I'm just the husband of Janet Langhart." But she has just done a great job on behalf of our country, and I'm delighted that we could be back to your hometown here in Boston, Janet. [Applause.]

Janet also has a great sense of humor. We attended the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington last year. One of the honorees was Sean Connery and dinner was held at the State Department. Now, ordinarily they separate husbands and wives so that you don't even sit at the same table. And Janet looked down to see where she was sitting, and she looked at the card that was next to her chair and it said, "Sean Connery." And she said, "There is a God." [Laughter.]

About a century ago, Charles Mackay said that, "In Boston, the onus lies upon every respectable person to prove he has not written a sonnet, he has not preached a sermon or delivered a lecture." I must confess to you, I have written several sonnets. But I will not deliver a lecture this evening or inflict a sermon on you.

In fact, I was asked to speak tonight about national missile defense. I thought, well, it's an important project. It's unprecedented in scope and in size. It's demanding of the most sophisticated technology that we can conceive of. It will takes years to finish, and it will costs billions of dollars. But, why should I talk about the Big Dig here in Boston. [Laughter and applause.]

This is sort of a pre-dinner set of remarks I'm about to deliver to you. I have a speech here. It runs 31 pages. So I'm going to set it aside and just perhaps just say a few words to you.

Serving as Secretary has been the greatest experience of my life. When President Clinton offer me the position of Secretary of Defense, it was one of those offers you really couldn't even conceive of turning down. I asked him why he offered the position, and he said because, "I want to send a signal to the country. I want the country and the Congress to understand that when it comes to national security, there should be no partisanship. There shouldn't be a Republican or a Democratic policy. It should be one policy, and I'd like to send that signal by naming you." And I said, "Under those terms, I accept, and I'll do the very best to try to establish a non-partisan approach to national security and to foreign policy as well."

I must tell you, for Janet and me, this has been the experience of a lifetime. We don't always understand this, but every country in the world looks to us. They look to us with great admiration or envy and some with opposition. But nonetheless, they look to us as setting the standard for freedom, individual liberty and for prosperity. They look to our military most of all. That's what so great about being Secretary of Defense. I can't tell you what it means to step off a plane that says the United States of America on it, and to see the men and women who are wearing the uniform parade in front of us. You ought to see them out in the field.

Most Americans have no idea what our military men and women do for us on a day-to-day basis. We have some people here who just got back from the George Washington in the Persian Gulf. But if you're on one of those aircraft carriers in the summertime, the temperature -- combined humidity and heat -- can reach 140 degrees. And these kids are out there working with ice collars and ice jackets on, watching those F-14s and F-18s take off, containing Saddam Hussein through Operation Southern Watch.

I’ve seen the Marines in a live-fire drill, in the Udairi Range in Kuwait, where the temperature's 115-120 degrees in the desert. Just look at any place in the world where they are serving and you'll find out the reason why we're the most admired and respected nation in the world. It's because of our military. We have the best-educated, we have the best-led, the best-equipped, the best fighting force in the world, bar none. And we ought to thank them each and every day. [Applause.]

We tend to think of our forces only as warriors, but they're far more than warriors. They're great peace-keepers. They're great humanitarians. And when disaster strikes, who does the world call upon, whether it's a hurricane or a typhoon or some natural disaster? We're the first ones they look to to get the planes there with relief, medical equipment and medical assistance. We are the ones who are there.

I just came back from Asia last week, and I was in Indonesia. Our Marines had just landed in East Timor, and there were all kinds of stories that were flooding the newspapers at that time saying, "Marines Landed at East Timor." They implication was that there must be trouble. They must be trying to take over the country. You know what they were doing? They were building houses. Our Marines were landing in East Timor to build houses for the people who have no shelter.

So we have great warriors, but they are also great peacekeepers and humanitarians. They're also great diplomats. And that's something that we fail to take into account when we look at our military and say, "Why do we need the best and the brightest?" We need the best and the brightest because when other countries take a look at the people in the military, and they see the way they carry themselves, and they see how professional they are and how patriotic they are, how competent they are, and how they conduct themselves and just in the way in which they interrelate with people, then they say, "There's a country whose side I want to be on." And when our adversaries take a look at us, they say, "There's a country I don't want to take on."

So our forces are out there helping to spread stability throughout the world. Sometimes I hear talk coming from either party suggesting that, "Well, it’s time for us to come home. It’s time for us to let others take care of themselves." So I point out that the reason we are out there forward-deployed -- with 100,000 in Asia, with 100,000 throughout the European theatre and with our 23,000 in the Gulf – is because those countries all trust us to be a neutral arbiter. They trust us to keep the peace. And when there is peace being kept and stability being maintained, then investment starts to flow in those regions. And when investment starts to flow, you generate prosperity, and prosperity reinforces democratic ideals.

So we're out making the world safe for people to be free and to be prosperous, and we owe it all to the men and women who are in our military today. We also owe it to the companies here who are supporting them. What’s great about Boston and about the New England area is that you have Harvard and MIT and Tufts and so many others, the great institutions where all this research and development is taking place. We also have so many companies who are here tonight -- MITRE of Bedford, Thermo Electron of Waltham, Raytheon of Lexington and Sanders of Nashua -- all of which contribute to the technical capability that we have.

Just think about what our military can achieve. I won't carry on about it, but think about that war in Kosovo. A year ago we were worried about a million people being ethnically cleansed from that area. Today they're back in their homes. Today we're seeing elections take place in Belgrade, throughout Yugoslavia. Today there is a remarkable change, all because of what we were able to do with our remarkable military.

Think about that operation over Kosovo. It was 78-day air campaign, the most successful air campaign in the history of the world. We had 38,000 sorties that were flown. 38,000. We lost two airplanes and no pilots. There has never been a record like that established by anyone in the world. Thanks to our technology and our professionalism we were able to bring peace to that region and help an entire people resettle their lives. [Applause.]

Now, I quoted from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. before. He is a great hero of mine. But I'd like to conclude with an observation by his father, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who happened to be a doctor. He said, "It's not so much where we stand today, but in what direction we're heading." And he said, "Sometimes we must sail against the wind, and sometimes with it, but we must sail and not lie at anchor or adrift."

That is precisely what we are doing today. We are sailing in the right direction. We have a great economic boom under way. We are the leader of the world in terms of our support for democratic ideals and prosperity and security. And that's the direction we want to continue to take this country and the world.

So thank you very much for the great honor you have given to me. I am humbled by it. I can't tell you what an honor it is for me to be up here addressing you and receiving this great tribute. The Council does fabulous work. For 75 years you've been a leader throughout New England and for the country. You've set a standard of excellence, and I can only say how pleased and humbled I am by your tribute this evening. Thank you. [Applause.]