Rudy Giuliani: commencement address 2007
Listen to the audio.
Thank you very, very much, General Rosa. And thank you very much for the degree. It wasn’t as hard as what you had to go through to get it. And I should correct you, I was Cum Laude at New York University Law School, not Magna. But it’s an honor to stand before you and a great honor to be able to say congratulations to the 438 graduating cadets from The Citadel Class of 2007. And particularly congratulations to all of the people, who really made this day possible. Your parents—who I saw you all got up and very warmly applauded—they deserve that applause because I think all of you know that you wouldn’t be here without their love, their support, and their helping you through what, I understand, is a pretty difficult education. Is that correct? Wasn’t easy, right?
Without their love and support and the love and support of your family and your friends, you know you wouldn’t be here or be able to do this, and without the education that you received from this terrific, outstanding faculty that I understand that are 90 or 95 percent, I think it was described as they have terminal education—is it terminal degree? Someone said that to me before that the faculty, 90 or 95 percent have terminal degrees… Are you okay?
It means they have a doctorate and that is very, very impressive, and I think that’s another reason why this class has succeeded so well. But then ultimately, ultimately it was the love of your families and the care of your families and the teaching of your faculty and the support of all the staff here, but ultimately, you know this, and it’s got to be in your heart and you’re taking it forward from here, and you’re going to build on it. Ultimately, you had to do this yourself. And you did, and because you’ve been able to do this yourself, you’re going to be able to achieve much, much more.
You all now wear the ring. You’ve traveled a long and challenging road to arrive at this day. Your family and friends are sure proud of you. You can feel that in this room here. But our nation is very, very proud of you also. And we’re grateful as well because we look to you and others like you to stand on the front lines of freedom in the challenging years ahead. You began this journey that I’m going to talk about this morning. You began it five years ago in your first weeks as high school seniors, I suspect. Your aspirations were limited only by your imagination. Our nation was at peace, or so we thought. And then on a beautiful clear September morning, your innocence was shattered, and the life of your generation, and the life of our nation were changed forever. You are the 9-11 generation of national service.
All of you—all of us—I’m sure remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. Just as prior generations remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked or when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. You will remember where you were on September 11 forever, and so will I. Let’s make a pledge to each other: never to forget it and to make sure we do everything we can to prevent it from happening again. In the wake of the attack of September 11, a record 2,113 applications were received for admission to your class of cadets. The largest number, I understand. You chose and you were chosen to become a leader of the 9-11 generation. That’s evident in your selection to be a member of that class. It’s even more evident in what you’ve gone through to graduate from The Citadel. And you’re being called upon to face head on the conflict that we face which is one not of our making but one that we are not going to shrink from.
This is a time for leaders. Before September 11, there were some people who questioned whether this generation of Americans had the strength of our forbearers. In America’s pioneering past, courage and honor were understood to be the true measures of an individual but in recent decades outside of institutions like The Citadel, faith in these common sense values has been diminished. The virtue of courage, especially physical courage, was cast aside and replaced by a moral relativism which claims that there are no causes or principals worth defending, worth dying for, that comfort and convenience take precedence over honor, courage and sacrifice. But on the morning of September 11, we saw the firefighters, the police officers, the rescue workers and civilians running into the flames as other people were running away. They were motivated by the same thing that motivates you. They were motivated by a sense of duty, love for their fellow citizens, and a determination to defend our liberty. Confronted with an unexpected act of war, our national character revealed itself in an instant as strong as ever.
In the days and weeks after those attacks, our nation was united in grief, anger and resolve. We put patriotism ahead of partisan politics. Two-thirds of Americans gave money for the benefit of the families of the victims. Public approval for government service and the military soared. Citadel graduates as the leaders of the 9-11 generation, you have now acquired the insight, the training, the skills, the courage, and the dedication to prevail over the terrorists and create a more peaceful world. You are facing head on a major threat to our world that exists. Some don’t see it. Some are in denial. Some just hope it will go away by itself. It won’t. You get it. You see it clearly, and I know that you’ll face it.
It’s hard. It’s hard to face the kind of thing that we’re looking at. America is a good country. We’re a country of wonderful motivations—not perfect—we’re human, we make mistakes, but we’re a country that has a good heart. We hate war. We love peace. It’s difficult for us to believe that there are people in this world with totally evil intentions. But it’s important that our leaders recognize it, and although it’s difficult, face it because if we don’t, we’re going to be in even greater danger. The reality is, and we just have to say it, the reality is that in this world today, there are people, terrorists, Islamic radical terrorists, who are planning as we sit here at this graduation, who are planning to come here and kill us. Here, overseas, they’ve succeeded in the past in killing Americans. And they’ve even done the unthinkable here at home. Not only once, but twice, come here and killed us. Your leadership provides a lesson to us about the way to fight and to win this war that they are making on us. We need to be on offense. Never again, never again should America be on defense. We need to be on offense.
You know that the only good defense is a strong offense. Those who counsel defeat, those who advocate that we share with our enemy a timetable of our troop withdrawal don’t lack patriotism or love of this country. What they lack is a clear vision of what we’re facing to keep us safe. And you need that clear vision in order to guide us safely through the risks that exist in this world. That’s why you’re the leaders of the 9-11 generation.
And I believe that you and I can extract lessons from the 20th century when America—those who came before you here at The Citadel, those who came before you in this country—we can extract lessons from their confrontation with Nazism and Fascism and Communism. And the same lessons that we have apply to this war over the terrorists against us.
Never ever retreat in the face of terrorists, dictators and bullies. Never retreat. Never ever wave the white flag of defeat in front of those who want to come here and kill you and take away your way of life. Never! America doesn’t retreat. America advances. America is not about defeat, America is about victory.
Your service is based on the idea that you are men and women that see victory in a world that gains realistic peace through the strength of the best prepared, the best trained, the most inspired, and the most talented military, not just in the world, but in the history of the world. You’ve channeled your emotions into constructive action. And there are few causes more noble, in fact, none or more enduring than the defense of liberty for the United States of America. But you, you can’t do it alone. We need to all do this. You need our support, and we need your support. It will take more troops and more training to meet the great challenges of our time to win this war of the terrorists on us.
As I said before, America loves peace, and we hate war. That honorable instinct has meant that sometimes in our history, we wait too long to mobilize our armed forces to face the world’s dangers. Sometimes we often demobilize too rapidly once we think we’ve achieved victory and the danger is gone. After the First World War, the size of the Army after we had won the war to end wars—the size of our Army was cut by 90 percent. It meant we weren’t able to face Nazism in an early enough stage, and then we had to play catch up in the first years of the Second World War to our disadvantage. After we won the Second World War, we did it again. An Army of 7,000,000 soldiers was reduced to 500,000 by 1948. But when the Cold War turned out hot with the invasion of South Korea, Harry Truman, a democratic president, and a republican Congress working together for the good of our country had to commit our country to maintain the largest peacetime military for the first time in our history.
They had to rebuild what had been deconstructed. And then at the end of the Cold War—after we won the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Union, the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, freedom for Eastern Europe—the pattern repeated itself again. Washington was full of talk about a peace dividend, the peace dividend then became government policy. I opposed the peace dividend then; I oppose it now. The damage that it’s done to our military and intelligent services has yet to be completely undone. History has already shown that the peace dividend was one of our country’s worse mistakes. We were slashing our military and intelligence budgets as the Islamic radical terrorists were committing acts of war against us, but we didn’t see it.
The first World Trade Center bombing or attack was not on September 11, 2001. The first World Trade Center bombing was in 1993. Then there was Tovar Towers in 1996. The bombing of our Embassies and Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 of our sailors. Bin Laden even declared war on us in 1996. We didn’t hear it. And all through this time of acts of war against America—of coming here and killing Americans, of killing Americans overseas, all through this time—we ignored the wise advice of Ronald Reagan who reminded us that the surest way to achieve peace is by maintaining strength. And what did we do? We cut, and we cut, and we cut, and we cut some more.
An Army of 18 divisions were slashed to 10 as the terrorists were declaring war on us and attacking us. Total manpower was reduced from 775,000 in the early 1980s to 470,000 on the eve of September 11. Refueling tankers—so crucial to long-range operations that are vital to dealing with the terrorists who make war on us—these are now modified 707s, a plane that last flew commercially in the United States in 1983 before most of you were born, and I think probably any of you were born. And Marine Corps pilots today still fly many of the same planes, or helicopters rather, that their fathers were flying in Vietnam. The idea of a peace dividend was always intellectually flawed. It was also strategically flawed. In fact, the pace of our armed forces operations have only quickened since the Cold War. You’re asked to do much more in many different places and in much more complex situations. If we’re going to ask our military to do more, we need to give them the resources and the support to get the job done—that’s our responsibility.
At one time, there was a romantic thought that America could be isolated. Isolation is no longer an option in the age of globalization. Isolation is no longer an option when there are people in various parts of the world planning to harm you. Conditions for our fighting men and women have improved in recent years. President Bush has increased our military strength and further increases are planned. But we need to do more, much more. We need a force that can both deter aggression and meet many challenges that might come our way. America must increase the size of our armed forces. In particular we have to start with the Army which has been cut the most and is under the greatest stress. I believe America needs at least 10 new combat brigades above the additions that are already proposed by President Bush and are already in the budget. This commitment would offer reinforcements where they’re needed most—deter others from calculation that America may be stretched too thin. It would be a terrible mistake for anyone to calculate that, but let’s make sure they don’t by increasing the size of our force and allow the United States greater flexibility to win the wider war of the terrorists against us.
In the past when America’s population was ten of millions smaller than we are now, we easily maintained a larger Army and a larger armed forces than we have right now. A volunteer professional army of citizens is our greatest source of strength. And I believe that the 9-11 generation just like you have will step forward to meet this challenge. We must also look at the level of expansion that’s necessary for our Navy, for our Marines, for our Coast Guard, and for our Air Force. They have to have the support, and they have to be at the levels necessary to deal with the challenges that we have today, and they need to be modernized, and they need training to accept our new responsibilities while we increase the size of our armed forces.
We also have to think about the constructive role that America plays in combat zones when the fighting is over. The reality is that America is sometimes faced with a difficult choice. After defeating the enemy as we did in Iraq, after a stunning victory in deposing Saddam Hussein, we have a choice, and this has happened to us before, and I suspect it’s going to happen to us again. We win the classic traditional military victory faster and better than it’s ever been done before, and then we have to decide: Do we leave the combat zone? Do we leave it in anarchy? Do we leave it in chaos? Do we leave it so, after we’ve done the work of deposing the dictator, the tyrant or the terrorist, it’ll just be recaptured by our enemy? Or do we stay behind and help people build a functioning civil society with accountable governments that meet their needs and serve as bulwarks against terrorism?
The choice is clear. In the modern world we live in with the enemy that we face, we need to not only win the war, we have to win the peace as well.
So it means that we have to reorganize the military and related aspects of government to provide a great deal more support and focus and education on post-conflict operations such as stabilization, policing and rebuilding. It can be difficult. It’s going to require a new orientation. It’s going to require some reorganization of our military and our civilian components that are needed to do this—some kind of hybrid that we’re going to have to create. That’s difficult, that’s hard, but here’s the good news: Our American military, of which many of you are a part now, our American military is by far in its history, the best educated, the best motivated, the best trained, the best it’s ever been and the best in the world, and I believe it can do anything that it’s asked to do.
When the history of the 9-11 generation is written, and it’s going to be written by you, it will say that you built a better America by strengthening the sense of dignity and deep purpose attached to national service. You have received an uncommon education at The Citadel. It has emphasized integrity and honor amid a culture that can sometimes celebrate the opposite. As a recent graduate, Cadet Colonel Brett Strand, said at the 1998 Baccalaureate, “The world needs more men who do not have a price at which they can be bought, who do not borrow from integrity to pay for expediency, whose handshake is an ironclad contract, who are not afraid of risks. In short, the world needs leaders, and the nation needs The Citadel.”
Already more than 1,100 of your alumni have served their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are on their second and third tour of duty. Some of you in the Class of 2007 have already interrupted your education to serve, including First Battalion Commander Scott McCullough. Scott’s got a big family. And 12 Citadel graduates have paid the greatest sacrifice and lost their lives in this effort to protect us against terrorism. We honor their memory, are inspired by their service, and hold their families close in our prayers. I’ve lost many friends to the terrorist war as well. And I believe that we honor their memory best by fighting for what we believe in and refusing to live in fear. I believe that the 9-11 generation will see an end to the terrorist war against us. I have no doubt that we’ll prevail. It’ll be difficult at times. It’ll require sacrifice. There’ll be mistakes made and we’re going to have pick ourselves up from those mistakes and figure out how to do it better. That happens in all wars. You studied them. You know that. Final victory is going to take time. It doesn’t get achieved like that, never has.
The Cold War took years, but we prevailed, and it will happen. And on that day, because you’re going to achieve it, your generation will take its place beside the greatest generations in our nation’s history. Our ideas of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, respect for human life, and the rule of law—these are the principles that the human heart and the human soul yearns for. These are gifts that are given to us, not by government, not by men or women. These are gifts that are given to us by God. They’re the principles along with the strength and skill and valor of the men and women like The Citadel graduates of 2007 that make me completely confident that we’ll win the terrorist war on us. We will win. We will prevail. The terrorists who attacked us on September 11 misjudged the character of the United States of America.
They thought that freedom makes us weak. They thought that democracy makes us decadent. They thought that our diversity made us easy to divide and conquer. It’s a mistake that tyrants have made in the past about America. All of these principles, all of these principles make us stronger. You are the leaders of the 9-11 generation and I believe that you and I have learned the same lessons from our history and from our past. Never retreat. Never wave the white flag of defeat. America doesn’t retreat. America advances.
I’d like to leave you with a memory from the September 11th day. It was captured in the now famous photograph showing three firefighters covered in ash, raising the American flag over the rubble of Ground Zero. There were fires below their feet of 2000 degrees or more. Their actions echoed the photograph of the flag being raised over Iwo Jima a half century before. It looked very similar. In America, the heroic example of past generations are carried on and built upon by the next generation. When I saw those firefighters, I saw in their eyes, and I saw in their action the same thing that their fathers would have done or their grandfathers would have done in the same situation, and they did the same thing. In the face of being attacked, in the face of having their lives in jeopardy, in the face of watching their brothers and comrades die in front of them, what they said was, we don’t retreat. We don’t put our heads down. We don’t back up. We stand for something bigger than us. We stand for democracy. We stand for liberty. We stand for freedom. We stand for peace. And we’re going to put up our flag, and hold it there, and it is going to prevail, and it is going to wave as a symbol of freedom and democracy for us. And we don’t want to impose it on anyone else. We want to give it to them. Share it with them as a gift that isn’t ours alone, but a gift that comes from God. No one knows that better, no one understands that better than the graduates of this class. You’ve learned it. You’ve put it in your hearts. It’s been taught to you, and now we’re counting on you. We’re counting on you to be the leaders of the 9-11 generation, and if we’re going to count on you to be the leaders, I am very, very confident that we are going to prevail.
God bless you, and God bless America.