WW II, the largest war in history, with military forces from over seventy nations, resulted in the deaths of over sixty million people, ending in 1945 with an Allied victory. Throughout this struggle, the objective remained clearly fixed in the national consciousness – unconditional surrender and total victory.
Our country was unified in our commitment to defeat tyranny, a tyranny of hatred which would seek to extinguish from existence a scapegoat of national trouble – the Jewish nation. A tyranny of hegemony, which would claim as a national right the territory of neighbors. A tyranny of hubris which would proclaim the superiority of one race over another, and thereby relegate the other to sub-human form.
Today we face a similar enemy, likewise filled with hatred, hopes of hegemony, and misplaced pride in the moral righteousness of their apocalyptic vision. To meet this enemy, we must likewise be unified in our understanding of the scope of the challenge and the commitment required to prevail.
We are again engaged in a great struggle. It is a struggle, not of mased formations, or heroic assaults picturesque in the resolution of some final last charge, but rather of resolute minds convinced of the rationality and the rightness of their beliefs. These beliefs are unchanging and everlasting.
We hold these truths to be self evident. That all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator wih certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments ae instituted among men. These are the rights which we fight for, because these are the rights of man.
In this war, we seek to spread these truths beyond our shores to the community of man because we have found that the consequences of the despotic denial of these rights cannot be prevented from reaching our shores.
These truths are also the truths which our enemies seek to abolish, replacing them with their own version of truth – a truth which is imposed by a government which cannot be questioned because it is assumed to be divinely inspired. A government in which the divine and the secular are inextricably combined, leaving no room to question the latter. A government in which individual liberty of conscience and freedom to follow ones own inner light is replaced with an off with your head response to those who hold opposing views.
But as repugnant as our enemies tactics are, our fight cannot be and must not be through force alone or even primarily. For the fight is not about conquering men's territory, but rather about reaching their souls and lighting them aflame with the torch of reason, and the light of liberty.
These goals cannot be accomplished with fire and steel alone, but must rely upon the substance and evidence of our hope, being shown through our actions to free others from the chains of poverty, disease, despotism, and despair. The treasure expensed in maintaining and transforming our armed forces must be matched by an equal, or even greater commitment to maintaining and transforming our diplomatic, economic, and informational elements of national power.
Democracy does not take root, grow, and thrive from the barrel of a gun. Rather, such means give only temporary space for the roots of Democracy to shoot upward, unencumbered, if only for a moment, from the tares of turmoil, the pessimism of poverty, and the despotism of despair.
Likewise, this struggle is not, and cannot be, ours alone, nor should we expect to win it alone. America has indeed been set as a light upon a hill, but that light cannot illuminate unless it is fed by the fire of the countless souls whose longing for and commitment to the freedom of man transcends their own small sphere of self interest. America must continue to shine as a beacon of hope, but the radiance of that hope is enhanced or diminished inasmuch as others share this same commitment.
We alone cannot bring freedom to the world. We alone cannot end the suffering in Darfur. We alone cannot bring peace to the Middle East. We alone cannot solve the ecological, economic, and energy problems of the world, but we, along with the community of nations, nations committed to the same ideals and shared goals, can and must do these things.
We must also speak plainly and trust in the common sense of our fellow citizens to know the truth when it is put before them and to arrive at this truth through open debate and honest discourse. This is indeed a different kind of war, and we must address these differences clearly and openly.
What are the new rules which should govern its conduct? Who are its combatants? What are their rights? How should we treat them, both those who are lawful as well as those who are unlawful combatants? What are those things which we must do? What are those things which we cannot and must not do? How do we prosecute this most collective of pursuits, this war, while at the same time preserving that which is most dear – our individual liberties and our way of life?
Where is the honest debate without politics? Where are the statesmen who ask not what the polls say but rather what their conscience and their reason says? Must we truly become what we despise, or loose what we hold most dear, our freedom, our values, and our honor, in order to be victorious? If so, it will be a phyric victory indeed – security without liberty, and safety without the solace of a clean conscience.
Let us be clear. We are at war, and as such sacrifice is required. But sacrifice does not entail blind obedience. Above all, we are a nation of laws, our Constitution providing us with the framework upon which this house is built. As we prosecute this war, we must do so within the constraints of our Constitution and our laws in regards to which no office can claim immunity. To question authority is not unpatriotic. Rather it is the height of patriotism to question authority at some personal sacrifice when such authority is over or mis-used.
This is not to accuse or to frame as simplistic the questions we face. What are the limts of executive authority in war? What are the responsibilities of our elected representatives to oversight and authorization? What are the roles of our judiciary in protecting the rights of citizens, even if these citizens are allied with those who wish to do us harm? How active of a domestic role should our military have in this war? These are questions which reman unanswered. Where is the national debate? Where is the local debate among citizens? Do most of us even realize our agree that we are in a war of global and generational scope?
Wake up! Get involved! Enter the debate! If not now then when? If not you then who? Our President has been tellng us that we are in a worldwide, multigeneraional war since 9/11. This is the first world war since the 40's. Where is the national debate? Where is the local debate? Where is the realization and understanding that Iraq and Afghanistan are only the most visible fronts in this war? But don't take my word for it. Listen to the enemy's words.
"Those who study Jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers…" (Ayatollah Khomeini) "If their economy is destroyed, they will be busy with their own affairs rather than enslaving the weak peoples. It is very important to concentrate on hitting the US economy by all possible means." (Usama bin Laden) "The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam – and how they ran and left their agents – is noteworthy." "Oh Allah, strike the apostate rulers. Oh Allah, kill them one after the other sparing none." (Al Zarqawi)
What we instead hear are the political grandstandings on CSPAN of those hoping to score political points in the elections rather than hard, honest, and sensible debate about issues which are vital to our nation. Do our elected officials think we are too simpleminded to understand the complexities of this war? To the degree we as a people remain uninvolved, they are right.
Some here are part of the greatest generation. You know first hand about sacrifice. You know first hand about the price of freedom. I guess the question is, is the current generation up to the task? Has it been so coddled by comfort that sacrifice and moral courage are forgotten concepts? Has it been socially promoted so much that intellectual curiosity and rigour have been extinguished? Has it become so inundated with information that it can no longer find understanding? Has it become so confounded by political confabulations that it can no longer recognize the truth?
At this celebration of our history, let us pause to reflect what we have learned, what we have tried to teach each other and our youth, and where we have failed and must re-attack.
First, we must understand the situation we are in. We are at war. It is a multigenerational war waged against an unconventional threat, yet the rules governing this war are not yet written. It's time to re-write the rules.
Second, if we are to be victorious in this war, such a state cannot come about without also protecting and preserving our laws, our Constitution, and our way of life. We must weigh the new character of war and its emergng rules carefully in the balance of these enduring principles.
Lastly, we must be careful that in fighting what is anathema to us we do not become that which we fight against by accepting evil in trying to achieve good.
We are indeed in a new kind of war. How we choose to go about it will define, in large degree, who we are and what we become. May we be careful to choose the right path.