Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Speech to the House of Representatives

Thank heavens I am not a politician, but if I were, I would be motivated to give this speech:

On the floor of this noble body, I heard something disturbing: “How many more lives are going to be lost, how many more hearts will be broken?” It is disturbing not for its sentiment, which is in its own way laudable, but for the fact that it is sentiment. If this were a debate concerning the victims of natural disasters, or the fate of victims of disease, it would be entirely understandable and praiseworthy. This is not the debate we are conducting. We are debating in time of war. And sentiment is not only not appropriate, it is dangerous.

In time of conflict and danger, our survival depends on a clear understanding of the challenges that face us and the responses required. Clear vision is needed to do this, one not fogged by desire, hope, or fear. Decisions taken out of sentiment are decisions doomed to failure. We may hope for victory, we may hope for peace with our enemies, we may hope for a bright future of prosperity and justice. But hope will not accomplish those things. We must face the reality of the situation and recognize it for what it is, and take the hard decisions that will lead us to victory. The leaders in our nations history who defended us most ably were those who could put sentiment aside and plot a course of action.

Abraham Lincoln began his first term in office with a fervent hope for reconciliation, desiring only that the Union be preserved. He closed his first inaugural address thus:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

And yet, when the slave-holding states attempted secession, Lincoln went to war, knowing that to preserve the Union, he must put into harm’s way the flower of manhood of the young nation, he must put at risk the lives of fathers, husbands, and sons. To preserve the nation, he knew that he would have to plunge it into war.

Had sentiment ruled at that point, what would the outcome have been? Would there have been an easy, but false, reconciliation with the Confederacy? How many more years would countless lives remained in chains? Had there not been a sacrifice of blood, how much greater would the inequalities have been that our nation has had to face? “How many more lives must be lost? How many more hearts must be broken?” To this, Mr. Lincoln might have responded, “How many more lives must be enslaved? How many more dreams of freedom must lay shattered?”

Again, in 1941, America wanted peace. A large movement for isolation from the troubles in Europe and the East called on President Roosevelt to save this country from war. Indeed, we negotiated with the Japanese up to December 6, 1941, in an effort to forestall war. And then we were struck in Pearl Harbor. Imagine a sentimental desire for peace overcoming the President in the face of such trials. The Japanese did not desire a prolonged war. They would have gladly negotiated a favorable end to hostilities. Again, we could have had an easy peace. Easy for us. But how long would have the Manchurians remained in chains, subjected to torture and medical experimentation? How long would we tolerate a south-east Asia serving as slave labor for the expanding Imperial government?

Entering the war meant war with Germany. Again, there were those who advocated peace with the Nazis, including the American ambassador to England. Again, Hitler did not directly seek war against the United States, and an easy, and false, peace could have been achieved. But for how long? And how long would we tolerate the millions imprisoned in death camps, punished for the simple fact of their existence? How long would millions more labor in slave camps, feeding the engines of death unleashed on Europe?

Much has been made of the number of deaths in almost 4 years of engagement in Iraq: over 3000. The number is staggering. Three thousand young soldiers who will not return home, who will not raise children, who will not face a bright future. Three thousand who made a sacrifice for liberty.

We can compare these losses with those of another great battle, with another great leader. General Eisenhower was tasked with the hard duty of invading Fortress Europa. On the eve of the battle, Eisenhower had to make a hard decision, whether to send over 100,000 young men into the guns of Normandy, to crack the defenses crafted by Erwin Rommel. He gave the order, and the young men went. In the space of a single day, the Allies suffered 10,000 casualties, including almost 2500 dead. Again, that is 2,500 in a single day. Three thousand is a terrible number. But it is three thousand in almost four years, in countless battles, skirmishes and firefights. D-Day was a single battle, and there were many more to fight. Ultimately, in World War II, over 400,000 Americans would die. A hard number to swallow, indeed, but without the sacrifice of so many lives, what would have been the result?

“How many more lives must be lost? How many more hearts must be broken?” To that, any one of the honored dead from World War II might say “How many more must be enslaved, how many more must face annihilation?”

And now, we face annihilation again, from an enemy that stands before us with a bloody sword, demanding our capitulation or our death. How do you negotiate with those who seek your death? How do you negotiate with those who think that your culture is the focus for corruption and wickedness in the world, and must be cleansed in blood? How can we hope our way out of this?

How many more lives must be lost? How many more hearts must be broken? How much longer can we stand as a nation in the face of this threat, when all we do is hope that it will go away? More lives will be lost if we do not face our enemy, know him for who he is, and take the hard path. We could achieve an easy, false peace, but at what cost? We are caught in a war, not of our choosing, not of our making, and war requires clear thinking. Our survival as a nation requires that we ask our young men to place themselves at risk in order to preserve liberty, in order to assure our survival in the future, and to ensure that our children can live free from the looming specter that rises in the east to engulf us. These young men, the pride of our nation, have taken up the challenge, ready to sacrifice themselves for their countrymen, and it is up to us to honor these young men with our complete support. Their courage and commitment in this struggle is not lacking, it is we, in this august body, who are lacking. The question we must ask ourselves is, do we deserve the honor of their service to us as a nation? Or will we seek the easy way, the false way, and thus reduce to nothing the sacrifices they have made?

Colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives, future generations of Americans will look on this debate, and ask themselves if we deserved to serve our country, we brave men, who shout our plaudits for the military, and seek to undercut their mission. We are moved by sentiment to assuage our fears, to find a way that requires no sacrifice on our part, in a time when sentiment will kill us. The times call for an iron resolve, and a recognition of our duty to our military, to our commander in chief, and to our nation.