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Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
785-532-2535
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William Cohen, Secretary of Defense
110th Landon Lecture
September 12, 1997

 

Mr. President, thank you very much for the generous introduction. I am in Kansas today on a military mission, but I've been hearing an awful lot about the Wildcat football coach, Bill Snyder; four straight wins, nine wins, four Bowl appearances. I've been getting the statistics fed to me as I came up here on the platform, and my understanding is that tomorrow you're going to have military appreciation day and we're expecting a great outpouring of support from Fort Riley that's going to help generate an extra spirit necessary to beat Ohio. So that's one of the messages I want to bring today.

And, of course, Pat Roberts told me I had to change my tie before I came up here. I was wearing a red and gold tie and he said purple's the color, so I went out and changed it quickly.

But I'd like to express to you what a great honor it is for me to have you invite me. Senator Kassebaum-Baker invited me to this lecture, I wanted her to know what a great deal of pride I take in being here today to see this enormous turnout. It is not mandatory attendance, I'm told, but to count my name among the Landon lecturers, former presidents, world leaders, great orators, and also to note what a pleasure it is for me to be in the presence of some really fine, outstanding Kansas public servants.

I mentioned Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, I'll have more to say about her in a moment. Senator Pat Roberts, a former Marine, who has made a very significant mark in the United States Senate on the Senate Armed Services Committee in just a very few months. You've been introduced to Congressman Jim Ryan, who has run for glory, is a great athlete and also now as a great congressman, who serves on the National Security Committee in the House of Representatives. And I spoke yesterday to Senator Bob Dole, who is a hero of mine, whose military experience in the service is well known to all of you and who remains a very close friend of mine. He asked me if I might try to get a check cashed while I was in Kansas, and I told him I'd see what I could do. And I spent the morning with your very talented Governor Bill Graves, and in view of this distinguished company, I must tell you I feel like that traditional Missouri mule that was entered in the Kentucky Derby. No one expected him to win, but they all knew he'd benefit from the association. And I hope to benefit from the association of being here with you today.

Now, it's traditional for one to begin with a tribute to Alf Landon, but I'm hard-pressed to improve upon that of my predecessors, and I know that having been in Washington for more than two decades that the words recede while the actions endure. And the greatest tribute to Governor Landon I know is the enduring legacy of his daughter, my friend and former Senate colleague, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker. Her service to Kansas and to America has always been about the public good, about telling people what they have to know and not just what they want to hear, courage, conviction, independence, intelligence and integrity.

Those are the unique combinations of qualities I think that were obvious to everyone from the first moment that she walked through the United States Senate chamber doors, and I just want to say what a pleasure it is for me to be here, to pay a special tribute to her, and to recognize what she said from this podium last year. She said "I believe that we possess the humility to know that God gave none of us a monopoly on truth or wisdom, and to work together in respect for one another."

And so earlier this year when issues of gender-integrated training suddenly erupted and caught the public's attention, the very first call I made was to none other than to Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, saying, "Nancy, I've got a problem, and I need your help." And she didn't hesitate one moment. She said yes without any hesitation, and her panel's work is underway and they will be recommending to me some recommendations for me to present to the Congress by the end of the year.

Now, I heard when President Wefald first arrived at Kansas State in 1986 he went to meet Alf Landon, and he asked Governor Landon who he thought the greatest American president of the

.0th Century was thus far, and without missing a single beat the governor said, 'No doubt about it, it was FDR," the same FDR who defeated Alf Landon for the presidency. And so this legacy of modesty and candor and selflessness that Governor Landon had has been passed on to his daughter, Nancy.

And the very first Landon lecture, of course, was none other than Alf Landon himself, and the very first line in this lecture remains remarkably true today. He said, "We must face the challenges of new realities of international life." And I think I should etch that statement in stone and mount it right on my desk over in the Pentagon, because it describes my job as Secretary of Defense.

The realities may be different but the challenges are quite the same. They still require the United States to be engaged in the world with strong diplomacy backed by strong defense. And I'd like to devote my Landon Lecture to a central aspect of the challenge of maintaining that strong defense at a time of great expectation but uneasy peace.

And I should tell you I spoke yesterday at Fort Leavenworth and I told a story about my son's experience. He went to school where I went to school, Bowdoin College, many years ago. And he was a senior when he was about to graduate, and there was a very popular - the most popular professor on the Bowdoin College campus happened to be a professor of religion, and he was the most popular not because he taught religion, but because he always asked the same question every year on the final exams.

And the students, of course, loved him for it. They would wait until the final night and they would sit up and they would cram all night long, and they would go in and they would ace that final exam. Because the question always was, discuss the wanderings of St. Paul.

Except my son's senior year, and he walked into the classroom with his classmates, they looked down at the exam, within 30 seconds they had tremors, most were nauseous. Within a minute or two all but one student left the room, because when they looked down it said, "Discuss the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount." And so with the one student who sat there, he wrote and he wrote and he wrote for the full three hours to the astonishment of his professor, and he finally at the end of that three-year period closed his blue books up and he walked over and he passed the exam in to his professor, and he turned around and he walked out with what Mark Twain would call the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces.

And the professor looked down at that exam and it said, "To the experts I leave the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. As for me I should like to discuss the wanderings of St. Paul."

So I'd like to wander a little bit with you today and talk about some military issues. This morning I toured Fort Riley and I watched an Army platoon train for field combat. They were trying to make the training exercises more realistic and each soldier and tank and troop carrier was fitted with a laser device that rings an alarm bell if somebody aims and fires at them and - kind of similar to that arcade game, lasertag. But this wasn't a game, this was real business, this was serious business.

If, for example, North Korea should suddenly attack South, these soldiers would have to leave Kansas, fly across the Pacific and charge into combat, braving a hail of hot steel and the flash of bursting mortars. This training is going to help these soldiers return to Kansas alive, whole in mind and body, with mission accomplished. And I went to visit the soldiers in training for a very good reason.

As Secretary of Defense it's important for me to go out and meet the soldiers, to look at them in the eyes, to the men and women in uniform, because every week I can change, and I do change their lives in a moment's notice. Every week I have to sign deployment orders, and they're brought to my desk on a regular basis. They may involve a few people, they may involve several thousand, but they're people your age, and I send them into sometimes very dangerous and often deadly situations. Some of them may never return alive. They risk their all to protect our national security, which for some remains quite an abstract concept, and yet they go willingly.

Why? Well, some go for duty, some for honor, some for country, some for esprit de corps, for the team, for the friends beside them, but all of them have committed their lives to something important and precious, and their lives are important and precious to me.

And when I served on the Senate Armed Senate Committee I always tried to take into account these troops in everything that I did. And when I became Secretary of Defense last January I pledged to protect and defend the members of the armed forces who protect and defend our country. And my heaviest duty is to care for the troops and to employ them wisely. And my highest privilege, I must tell you. is to engage with them every day, which I do. When I walk into the Pentagon I walk in a building that is filled with 23,000 people, and I am inspired by them day in and day out, of the kind of selfless dedication and hard work and intelligence and competence that they bring and sacrifice for the public good.

But I must tell you it's a privilege that few Americans today enjoy. And it raises some important questions. How many Americans today have a family member or a good friend in the military? How many have come into close contact with a soldier, sailor, airman or marine in the past of month or so, and what were their impressions? How many know that on any given day we have troops in more than 100 countries and sailors on every ocean in the world, and how many know exactly what they're doing?

Fewer and fewer Americans are following what we're doing. Fewer know that we spend approximately $250 billion on an annual basis to maintain a strong ready deployable force, a standing force. And this trend is somewhat understandable. The U.S. military is smaller. In the past 10 years we've cut approximately 800,000 troops out of our force structure, giving us the smallest force we've had since 1950. The military is less dispersed across America today, so we have closed hundreds of military facilities. The military creates fewer civilian jobs today. We've cut spending on new planes, ships, tanks, arms, and we have eliminated nearly 2 million civilian defense workers.

The military has grown from a smaller pool, we no longer, of course, have a draft, and our volunteers tend to be people who are already interested in serving the military, and we're at peace.

And it's this very existence of peace that tends to obscure the need to protect and nurture those who secure it, for peace is often said to be like oxygen, when you have it you don't think about it, and when you don't have it it's all you think about. Because we have peace today we tend not to think about the sacrifice that the men and women who serve us are making or the successes that they are achieving in order to ensure that we have peace today and tomorrow.

So when the military, like any large diverse organization experiences problems, the problems tend to be magnified out of proportion and they distort the true picture of the military itself. It's a picture which can change rather quickly. Not long ago there were several prominent journalists, students of military studies, who were wondering if the armed forces were too good for America, whether their standards were too high or too rigid or out of touch with the new age and the new morality, and there was speculation that perhaps the military is becoming too elitist, and they might look with contempt or disdain upon the rest of society. Because, in general, military personnel are better educated, more disciplined. They have higher standards than most of their civilian counterparts.

More recently the media fixation on the social issues that are facing the military, the critics in the face of this now are asking different types of questions. They are now asking are the armed forces good enough for America? And it's important that we answer this question with a resounding yes. The military's social issues are America's social issues, issues that are gripping corporations and communities across the nation.

Social issues are easier to grasp than security issues and they're more sensational. One TV reporter was quite candid when admitting that if he can produce a story that has the word sex and the word military in the same sentence, he's almost guaranteed of making it on the evening news. Which is not to say that the military is pure or perfect.

In an organization this large, this diverse, there are always going to be problems. There are 1.4 million members of the military on active duty, and if it were a city, the military would be the sixth largest city in the America, just behind Philadelphia. Would we define Philadelphia by the actions of a few law breakers? Would you allow a few problem students, if you have them, to define Kansas State University? Being human members of the military sometimes are going to fall short of the military standards.

As Adlai Stevenson once said , "It's often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them." But while harassment and abuse and misconduct have occurred in the ranks, those breaches of faith are the exceptions and not the rule. And as most service men and women are going to tell you, these incidents really don't paint a true picture of service in our armed forces, or the service that our armed forces are providing to people the world over.

Yes, we need to fight abuse and harassment in the ranks, and we are. And yes, we need to treat the ranks with dignity and respect, as General Reimer and Secretary West reiterated yesterday, and we're going to demand that we measure up to our stated ideals. And yes, we have to hold the military to higher standards of conduct and values. The military holds itself to higher standards, and the reason that our military is the best in the world is because they refuse to accept the least.

And so our challenge it seems to me in peace time is to prevent any chasm from developing between the military and the civilian worlds, where the civilian world doesn't fully grasp the mission of the military and the military doesn't understand why the memories of our citizens and civilian policy makers are so short or why the criticism is so quick and unrelenting.

First I think it's important that Americans see the military very clearly, because it's serving all of America. Second, the military has to continue to attract the best and the brightest people in our country because people need to operate very highly complex and difficult technology, to conduct dangerous missions we need the best and brightest in our military in order to carry out these missions.

I have the honor of helping to lead a capable military in a secure nation and my first obligation is to keep them that way. So if there's a gap in understanding let me try to close it by giving you an accurate picture of the military today, what they do and why. And I'm not directing this so much at this audience, because most of you, if not all of you, know the contribution that our military makes, but it's something that has to be said over and over again to a much wider audience.

One recent article noted that military service is often a story of personal sacrifice, of families uprooted, of births missed, of holidays spent far from home, and these hardships are all endured in the spirit of service. We are also encouraging our people to expand their minds well beyond the military. Almost half of our officers have earned their Master's Degrees or Doctorates. And when you reenlist in the Army, you're given six months off to earn college credits.

I'll give you a more personal example. There's a master sergeant named Marshall Williams who helps to run my Pentagon office with the same smooth rhythm that he runs eight miles every morning before dawn. By night - and by night, I mean he comes in by 6 o'clock in the morning, he starts running at 4 o'clock in the morning, he leaves by 9 o'clock in the evening, and so when I say "by night," he's studying for his fourth Master's Degree. He's only a dissertation away from becoming Dr. Williams, although his six-year-old son is still going to call him dad. He's one of the many remarkable unsung heroes who make up our military.

And today the military looks very much like America, with men and women from every region, race and religion. We have more women at every rank from privates to generals, who are shattering the glass ceilings and taking charge. We have more people of all races breaking barriers, seizing the opportunity that the military affords to excel, the opportunity that every American deserves. And as President Clinton said in his landmark speech on race relations, "The best example of successful affirmative action is our military." And so today's forces they also give back to the communities that host them a great many contributions on their own time, just as many of you in this auditorium today do as well.

I'll give you a few examples. A sailor just received an NAACP service award for reaching out through his church to a South African community that needed help. A marine is raising money to help abused children by running a string of marathons from North Carolina to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s grave site in Atlanta every day for three weeks. An Air Force sergeant in North Carolina operates an emergency shelter for homeless men, and when a soldier returned to North Dakota from Bosnia this summer, he waded through flood waters to rescue stranded neighbors.

These stories are not rare exceptions. They're the rule. Volunteerism is an American military tradition. And military officials, they also contribute to our society in another way. Like a business executive, many have run an office, they've met a budget and they cut costs, and like a teacher, many have shaped others by sharing their ideas and their ideals. And the fact is that people leave the military better citizens than when they arrived. And at a time when were worrying whether society is giving young people a strong beginning and solid values, the military is doing precisely this every day.

And I have witnessed the tears of joy in the eyes of parents when their son or daughter finishes their basic training and they ask, "How did you do this? How did you transform my son or my daughter in a period of eight or nine or 10 weeks, how did you do it so fast and so well? I don't recognize my son or daughter any longer." And they are amazed at the transformation that takes place in the short period of time. And that's why the United States remains the best armed forces in the world. This is not rhetoric, it's a simple fact.

But there are many who might question this, maybe on this campus, I doubt it, but some. Why do we have to maintain such a vigorous or vital expensive military at a time when there's peace? Ultimately the answer to that question is we have to be ready to fight and win wars or conflicts that we can't prevent through diplomacy, and we have to be ready to maintain the peace by projecting stability and assuring our friends and deterring foes, in which still can be a very dangerous and hostile world. And so today's military provides for stability.

The soldiers in South Korea who sleep in their uniforms and they're ready to jump out of their bunks at an hour and arrive at the front line at moment's notice; the peace keepers in Bosnia who face mobs of stone throwers, who are incited by desperate local thugs; the sailors who are manning destroyers, keeping the life blood of the world economy flowing freely; the fighter pilots who live in tents in the searing Arabian desert, who are patrolling the skies to keep Saddam Hussein's war planes on the ground; and the tank soldiers at Ft. Riley on a two-week training exercise, pulling all-nighters and catching an hour's sleep next to their turret, preparing for the real thing if that call should ever come.

Today's military is also serving to shape the world for the better, to silence the drums of war before they begin to roll, in actions that are both sensible and selfless they bring more stability to more regions, more democracy to more nations, and thus fewer threats to our interests.

Now, why are these military actions so important today? Just a few short years ago we saw the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet empire, and there was an academician named Frances Fukiama, and he wrote a thesis called "The End of History," and that prompted an academician from South Africa, Peter Vale, to say, "Rejoice my friends weep with sorrow, what California is today, the world will be tomorrow."

And, of course, Fukiama's thesis ran into some opposition right away, "Wait a minute, it's a bit overstated," and perhaps it was, but the fact is that we stand at a pivot point in history. On the one side we have momentous opportunity with flourishing markets and breathtaking technologies and brave new democracies, and on the other side we see these startling new dangers of rising ethnic conflicts, or regional aggressors, the threat of international terrorism, the threat of the use of biological and chemical warfare, not overseas, but right here at home.

And so it is our challenge, the American challenge, to move beyond this post Cold War mind-set and to somehow reorient ourselves for a new century, to really take advantage of the new opportunities and avoid the new dangers, but underpinning all of this is the essential requirement that we remain engaged in world affairs, to influence the actions of others, friends and foes, all of whom can affect our national well-being. But there are some of us in this society who say, "Look, time to pull back. We've done enough. Now, what does it mean to be a global power? Let's just take care of America."

Of course, we have learned the lessons of this century that when America neglects the problems of the world, the world simply brings those problems to the doorstep of America. We can't walk away from the world because the world won't walk away from us. And so the road of isolation and apathy leads to instability and war. And no one understood the dangers of isolation better than Alf Landon, who devoted his lecture here some 31 years ago to a call for American leadership in the world. He said, "We should respond to the new nationalism and other new challenges and international relations in our continuing search for world peace."

Well, today the United States has greater opportunity and greater ability to influence world peace than perhaps any time in recent history. And that great task is made more imperative by the fact that technology today has miniaturized the globe. You think about it. Technology has miniaturized the globe to the point where the world is not much bigger than a ball spinning on the finger of science. Those vast oceans have been reduced to mere ponds. Countries that were once distant are almost as close as nearby counties. We can't afford to zip ourselves into a continental cocoon and watch the world unfold on CNN or maybe even C-Span, who might be here today.

Centuries ago Archimedes discovered the secret behind the lever and he declared, "Give me a place to stand and I will move the world." Well, today we have earned the power of Archimedes. The place where we stand is the sole global power in the world, a beacon of hope to free people around the world, and from this position of strength and influence we can move the world in a better direction.

How will we move it? What is our lever? It's the persuasiveness of our ideals which are being embraced the world over; it's the creativity of the private sector which is integrating the world in a way the government could never do; it's the persistence of our diplomats who reinforce our ideals in the cause of peace; it is the power of our military to shape the world to respond to threats, not simply for the betterment of ourselves, but for the betterment of others, and it's this military that's made up of people who are willing to give life and limb for the benefit of all of us that makes us the most powerful, and I would add, the most envied nation on the face of the earth.

I recall reading a book many years ago before I got into public service, it was called The Recovery of Confidence, and it was written by John Gardner, former Secretary of what was then called HEW, and there was a segment of the book - a portion of the book that has stayed with me for a lifetime. He said, "The problem in this country is that our institutions have become caught in a savage crossfire between unloving critics and uncritical lovers."

And you have to pause and think about what he was saying at that time, that at one end of the spectrum we have people who are so critical of our institutions, who see no redeeming features in them, they're simply willing to tear them down, with no recommendations of what to replace them with. At the other end of the spectrum there are uncritical lovers, people who are so enamored with the status quo that they will do everything in their power to nullify and blunt any hope for change. And that the call was for all of us to become loving critics, willing to stand by those ideals, principles, standards which have served us well over the centuries, but also open-minded enough to invoke change, embrace change, take in new ideas when we need new ideas, to constantly replenish ourselves, so that we don't have a situation where you have a stagnant pond and you know that stagnant pond is death and decay.

But if you have a moving stream that is open at both ends, that you have life and regeneration. Open at one end to take in new ideas and the other end to slough off the old ones.

And so each of us when we look at the problems that befuddle us, that confront us on a daily basis, we have to look at them with this loving critic spirit in mind.

Let me close - I think it was George Jessel who said, "If you don't strike oil within 3 minutes, stop boring." I prefer Lord Mancroft, who said, "A speech is like a love affair, any fool can start one, but it takes considerable expertise to end it." And I would prefer to end it with someone else's words, those of Winston Churchill.

And I found those words not in Churchill's biographies, and not in the books that were written about him, William Manchester's Lion series, but rather in a book written by Stewart Alsop, a noted journalist who died some years ago. He talked about a chance encounter he had with Winston Churchill and they sat around back in the '60s, and during the course of dinner they had some wine, and after dinner they had some champagne and perhaps even a touch of brandy. At the end of this session Churchill looked over to Alsop and he said, "America, America, a great and strong country, but one that's willing like a work horse to pull the rest of the world up out of the slough of despair and despond," and then he looked directly at Alsop and he said, "but will it stay the course? Will it stay the course?"

And I can tell you that 50 years of history has answered that. We have stayed the course, because that is our legacy, and we will stay the course because that is our destiny. Thank you very much.