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Remarks by Secretary Cohen at the Memorial to African Embassy Bombing Victims

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
September 11, 1998

President and Mrs. Clinton, Vice President and Mrs. Gore, Secretary Albright, Members of the Cabinet, members of Congress, Ambassador Bushnell, Ambassadors of Kenya and Tanzania, members of the diplomatic corps, leaders of the Armed Forces, Janet, distinguished guests, and most importantly, the families and friends of those who we celebrate today.

Just over a month ago, the tranquility of our lives was shattered by two powerful explosions. Two hundred and sixty-three lives were snuffed out before we had time to express our love, to say goodbye or promise a reunion in another life. Much has transpired since that day of unspeakable horror and that transfixing and melancholy moment when we received the remains of the American soldiers and diplomats who perished in the service of their country.

As the world spins relentlessly on its axis and events rush at us with terrifying velocity, we are forced to pause and to reflect how thin is the membrane that separates this life from the next, how quickly our hearts can be stopped and our voices silenced. Death forces us to stand mute momentarily in its long shadow.

There are no words that I can offer today that will cauterize the wound inflicted by those who cynically wrap themselves in the rhetoric of holiness and then wantonly kill the innocent. The grief will always remain as deep as the distance between the hole in our hearts and the nearest star. But in our moments of quiet reflection, we can seek solace and inspiration from the memory of who they were, for what they gave and for what we, and everyone they touched, have received.

In any cosmic sense, it really matters little that we live to be forty or fifty or one hundred years. Our lives are measured not by how long we live, but how we live. Those whose lives we commemorate today, and the thousands who were wounded, were promoting or enjoying the fruits of freedom. Freedom to exchange ideals and ideas as well as material goods. Freedom to express their thoughts and hopes and dreams. Freedom to practice their religion. Freedom to help others reach their full potential that has otherwise been denied them by a lack of economic or educational opportunity. All took great joy in their service. They were bold, courageous and unafraid to risk all for others.

Freedom, of course, is what terrorists have always abhorred. They are convinced that they can show us fear in a bomb and a handful of dust. But all who cherish freedom and have been its beneficiaries cannot be intimidated by cowards who rejoice in committing murder and mayhem and then retreat into villages so they can hide behind the shield of women and the laughter of children. We paid too high a price for a goal too worthy to be given up to those who traffic in terror. We can remain free only as long as we remain as strong and brave and dedicated as those to whom we pay tribute to today.

Those of you who passed through the main portal as you arrived may have noticed an engraving with words by Winston Churchill. What is inscribed there might also be said of those we celebrate today. Their lives were "that gleaming flash which lifts the hearts of men and nations, and springs from the spiritual foundations of human life itself."

Those who knew these sons and daughters of America and Kenya and Tanzania were privileged to share in the warmth of their lives. May their light, by the grace of God, lift your hearts. And may He lift the hearts of all our nations with their legacy, which shall shine brightly, here and in the heavens, now and forever.

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