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Secretary Cohen's live interview in New Orleans - CNN's Early Edition

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 06, 2000

Tuesday, June 6, 2000

(Secretary Cohen live interview on CNN's Early Edition)

Carol Lin, CNN: Welcome back to Early Edition. As we have been reporting today is the 56th Anniversary of D-Day, and today some 10,000 veterans are going to be gathering in New Orleans where dedication of a very special museum honoring these men. It may very well be the last great gathering of men who undertook what Eisenhower once called "the Great Crusade." There are only six million of these veterans left. Their presence in New Orleans is -- the U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen and he joins us live this morning. Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

Secretary Cohen: Good morning.

Carol Lin, CNN: Well, you got a chance to tour the museum yesterday and I really want to get your impressions for a younger generation which is so used to sort of the high tech images of air wars and air strikes today, and what it was like to be there and understand the battle that these men undertook.

Secretary Cohen: I think that any young person going through this museum will be absolutely stunned to find the kind of challenges that their fathers and mothers had to face in order to overcome a mechanized evil that was all over Europe and the Pacific. And when they see the challenge and courage that was displayed, I think that they are going to take a great deal more pride in the gift that they have been given, because it was not simply a gift that was purchased by their parents, the so-called greatest generation. And I think it's going to re-kindle in them an emotion that will be very patriotic in nature and that frankly is one of the purposes of this museum, to remind people of what has gone in the past so that we can better conduct ourselves in the future. And I think it's going to be very memorable for anybody who walks into this museum.

Carol Lin, CNN: Well the founder of the museum, Steven Ambrose, remarked that one of the reasons why the nation may be lagging behind in these war memorials is because it's been so difficult for these veterans to come forward and actually talk about their experiences. My father-in-law, for example, was on the beaches of Normandy but never spoke about the experience in his entire lifetime.

Secretary Cohen: You know that's actually one of the most poignant characteristics of the men and women who fought during that war -- their modesty, their humbleness, their unwillingness to talk about what they went through. Perhaps for some it's just too horrible, for others, they felt that just doing their job, just defending the American people's interest. For whatever it is, they are now starting to speak out, and this museum and this gathering of these heroes, I think will unleash a torrent of more stories, and that can only benefit all of us.

Carol Lin, CNN: It certainly is. We understand that there are thousands of these veterans who are dying every day. Now once you are done with the dedication today, I understand you are going overseas, meeting with the NATO ministers and also meeting with your Russian counterpart. In light of how President Clinton left things with President Putin, a bit of a stalemate you might say, where do you start with the Russian defense minister when it comes to missile defense strategy in the future?

Secretary Cohen: Well, there has been quite a transition on the part of the Russian leader in the last month. Just a few weeks ago the Russian spokesperson for the president was saying there is no missile threat, that this is being exaggerated and somehow artificially concocted in order to allow the United States to develop a system to defend us against an imaginary threat. Today President Putin has said there is a threat, and so I think a great deal of progress has already been made. Now the question is how do we meet that threat and what sort of proposal does President Putin really have in mind. Is it a matter of tactics on his part to try to diffuse the momentum of supporting a national missile defense system or is it something that will potentially work on a universal basis. These are the kinds of discussions I will have with my counterpart while I'm over in Moscow.

Carol Lin, CNN: All right, and it is a good day to remember how we can prevent war. Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

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