General Knowlion, honored guests, gentlemen of the Cadet Corps:
I am honored to be with you here today on my first visit as President of the United States. And feeling the spirit of this Corps of Cadets, I recall with deep gratitude and pride General MacArthur's tribute: "The Long Gray Line has never failed us"--I am certain you never will.
It has been 9 years now since a President last came to West Point, and on that commencement day in 1962, President Kennedy told the Corps that the decade ahead would challenge our professional soldiers as no period in our history has ever done. And now looking back we can see how right he was. Through a long and bitter struggle in Vietnam, American fighting men have served the cause of freedom magnificently. American military leadership, much of it from here at West Point, has been superb, and the American people have stood behind our commitment to the people of South Vietnam in the face of great temptations to turn aside.
But now at last, we have the end of the American role in this war clearly in sight. And we are ending our involvement with honor, in a way that will discourage new aggression and contribute to a lasting peace in the Pacific and in the world.
I am grateful that only a small number of this Class of 1971 has orders for Vietnam, that only a few of the more than 3,700 cadets here today will ever be called to serve there. And beyond this, it is my highest hope that the great majority of you standing before me today will never be called on to serve in any war at all.
More and more, we have good grounds to believe that this hope for a new era of world peace will come true. America and the Soviet Union, the two super powers, are committed more seriously than ever before to working out an agreement that will limit strategic arms. America and Mainland China, after more than 20 years of hostility and isolation, are beginning to move toward a new and more normal relationship. The nations of Europe are taking important steps toward greater unity. The truce in the Mideast will soon be a year old.
Now, none of this is a cause for euphoria. The harvesttime of peace is not yet. What we can say, though, is that the seeds of peace are planted, that they are germinating in a way that seems to hold great promise, and certainly that chances for a full generation of peace in America and the world are stronger today than at any period in our lifetime, or your lifetime.
We stand at what could well be a turning point in modern history. But this momentous opportunity will slip away if America is lulled into wishful thinking and passive policies. Events offer us not a gift of ease, but a summons to action. We must be more resourceful than ever in the pursuit of peace, and at the same time more determined than ever in the maintenance of our defenses.
For even as many things are changing in the world of the seventies, one fact remains: American strength is the keystone in the structure of peace. There still are those in the world who would strike out at freedom because freedom makes them afraid. There are still those who would resort to violence to work their will because they have not learned that to live by the sword is to die by it as well. As long as these threats persist, peace cannot be self-sustaining. It will continue to depend heavily on the vigilance and power of those who love it.
We all pray for a time when military strength will be unnecessary, but as long as strength is essential, we shall maintain the preparedness which is essential to protect the peace.
The record speaks plainly. The United States has fought four wars in this century--none of them at our own instigation, none of them for conquest, territory, or selfish aims, all of them in defense of freedom and self-determination for other people. The United States, for all its power, is not feared, but trusted among the nations of the world. I have visited more than 70 countries, large and small, of all political philosophies, and I have never, in all of those countries, encountered a leader who felt that American military strength was a threat to peace or to his nation's independence.
You can be proud of your country's power. You can be proud of your uniform, because your uniform, which helps to make that power, is wholly committed to the service of peace. That power is without exception the instrument of principle, of high respect for the basic rights of men and nations. And to those who speak of American might as something arrogant, something ominous, you need only ask one question: In the world today, a world which permits no vacuum of power, what other nation would you trust more with that power than America?
At the same time, we know that the very existence of huge arsenals of destruction tends to heighten the danger of war. Thus we will continue actively to seek opportunities for safe limitation of armaments. The best assurance of such safety is balanced mutual action. You have heard the arguments of those who urge steps of unilateral disarmament as a sign of our good faith, so as to ease international tensions. But we must remember that limitation of arms, however desirable, is not an end of itself, but a means of contributing to a more peaceful world. When one side reduces its forces unilaterally and thus creates an imbalance, this increases the danger of war. Only when both sides reduce their forces together do we truly serve the cause of peace. That is the cause we mean to serve, and that is the path we intend to pursue.
And so, the stage is set for your generation to inherit the American future. You have grown up in stormy times. You have not come gently to maturity. And yet there is bright promise in your spirit, your energy, and your moral vision. I believe you can be the leaders of a great generation. Surely those of you who will soon be the young leaders of the United States Army have an opportunity to serve mankind which is almost unparalleled in history.
The stakes could hardly be higher. Never before have the needs for peace been so strong and never have the potential consequences of war been so catastrophic. As the keystone of peace in the years ahead will be the strength of the United States of America, so in turn the keystone of American strength will be your service.
It is not megatonnage; it is not hardware; it is not the mere masses of men under arms. It is the caliber and the purpose of the men who serve. This is what will really determine our ability to lead the world into a new era of lasting peace. It will fall to you to be America's peacetime soldiers. This is a difficult and demanding assignment, but one for which I am sure West Point is preparing you well.
As you set the course of your career, let the great motto of the Military Academy be the star you steer by: "Duty... honor...country."
Duty: Your duty quite simply will be to keep America so ready to defend herself that she is never challenged to do so. General Eisenhower, a man who spoke from 50 years of service to the Nation, once told me that it was far more difficult for the professional military man to serve in time of peace than in war. You will find this to be true. In combat a man risks his life, but at least the issues are clearly drawn and the outcome is decisive. But the challenge of patient readiness, the challenge to be strong when you want to use your strength for peace, not war-this takes a special kind of courage, of stamina, and of statesmanship. And I know you have it.
Honor: You must retain your own high sense of honor, knowing that you will not receive civilian recognition to the measure you deserve, and knowing that the emotional antimilitarism and moral upheaval of our times will test you severely. It is no secret that the discipline, integrity, patriotism, self-sacrifice, which are the very lifeblood of an effective armed force and which the Corps represents, can no longer be taken for granted in the Army in which you will serve. The symptoms of trouble are plain enough, from drug abuse to insubordination.
I believe, in perspective, that the military ethic remains strong in the hearts of America's fighting men, and particularly strong in your hearts. Your special task will be to reaffirm it, to give it new life and meaning for the difficult times ahead. And as you succeed in this task, your success can set an example of moral rebirth for all the people and institutions of this land, civilian as well as military.
Country: Each of you is sworn to place the security of your country, the freedom of your countrymen, above all your own desires and even above life itself. You pay a price for this. Your duty, though supremely important, may often be thankless. Your honor, though high and true, may meet with the scorn of some. But you will have this great reward: Your country, the United States and all its people, will be deeply in your debt. Day by day, through all your years in uniform, you will be rendering your country the very highest service: the protection of our liberties, the preservation of our peace. People you will never know, people you will never meet, children yet unborn will have better and safer lives because you took your stand for America and the world. You can always be proud of that.
In choosing the profession of arms, you have chosen wisely and well; for a career of service to your fellow man is the highest career of all.
Recently, I received a letter from a young man who enlisted in the Army 6 months ago. His statement of pride in wearing the uniform of the United States of America moved me deeply. I would like to share it with you.
He wrote, "One year ago I wouldn't have given two cents to be a soldier in the Army. Today I wouldn't take a million to leave it .... As the days go by I become more and more proud to be a soldier....The reason I'm in the Army is because I didn't feel right by having the country protecting me and I wasn't doing anything for the country."
To the simple but eloquent words of that private in the United States Army there is little I can add except that to his devotion I know you will add your own. And my part, the part of the Nation's leaders, will be to do our best to fashion a just and lasting peace for America and for the world.
Your part, the role of the soldier, will be to help to keep the peace that we make. If we fail, then you will have to pay the price of risking your lives. If you fail, then we cannot succeed. But, true to your duty, firm in your honor, loyal to your country, I know that you will not fail; that those who know the blessings of peace will be forever in your debt.