Remarks at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony in West Point, New York
Thank you very much. Please be seated.
General Graves, thank you for that fine introduction and for your outstanding leadership here. General Sullivan and the distinguished platform guests, distinguished guests, all the families and guests of this graduating class, and most of all, to the young men and women of the Corps of Cadets, it is a great privilege for me today to join in this celebration of accomplishment.
To the class of 1993, I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations. You've worked hard, and you've well earned the honor bestowed upon you today.
To your parents and your relatives, let me assure you that however often you've wondered about it, you really aren't dreaming. Your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters really made it. And you can take pride in their graduation and in the strong values that you must have helped to instill in them that made this day possible for them.
To the faculty and staff of this wonderful Academy, let me offer my gratitude for your dedication as this historic institution graduates its 50,000th cadet. It is said here at West Point that much of the history you teach was made by the people you taught. That's true and very much to your credit. The work you and your predecessors have carried forward since 1802 is truly that of nation-building, and today your Nation thanks you once again.
For the class of 1993, today marks the completion of an arduous process. I look out at you and think you endured Beast Barracks. You passed countless PT tests, none of which I could pass anymore. [Laughter] You have met high standards for discipline, for physical fitness, for academics, and I must say, I am impressed by your haircuts. [Laughter]
No one is perfect, of course, as even the President demonstrates from time to time. I'm reminded that one of your greatest graduates and one of my predecessors as Commander in Chief, General Dwight Eisenhower, was punished as a cadet for such terrible offenses as, I quote, "apparently making no reasonable effort to have his room properly cleaned at a.m. inspection," and—I wonder what a "reasonable effort" is—and second, "being late for breakfast." In the unlikely event that there have been any such breaches of discipline on your part, let me announce today that in keeping with customary practice, I exercise my prerogative as Commander in Chief to grant amnesty to the Corps of Cadets. [Applause] I hope the assembled crowd is not too troubled that so many seem to be celebrating. [Laughter]
Two centuries ago at this bend in the Hudson River, America's first defenders stretched a chain across the river to prevent British ships from dividing and conquering our new Nation. Today we add 1,003 new links to that unbroken chain of America's defenders, 1,003 new and solid segments in the Long Gray Line, a line that stretches back 191 years through your ranks and as far into the future as the Lord lets the United States of America exist. The Long Gray Line has never failed us, and I believe it never will.
Like the great chain itself, you have emerged from the forge, tested and tempered, composed of a stronger metal than you brought here. Forty-eight months ago, you came here as young adults. Today when you leave this stadium, you will be officers of the United States Army.
West Point has prepared you for a life of service. And as you well know, West Point's graduates have served America in many, many ways, not only by leading troops into combat but also by exploring frontiers, founding universities, laying out the railroads, building the Panama Canal, running corporations, serving in the Congress and in The White House, and walking on the Moon.
Yet, no service is more important or admirable than your simple decision to put on the uniform of this great Nation and to serve wherever America calls you in defense of freedom. The willingness to serve and sacrifice for the greater good is the ultimate tribute to your character and your efforts. For those services and sacrifices, those that brought you here and those that will take you and our great Nation into the future, you have the appreciation of all the American people.
You have stepped forward not only to serve but to lead. For the hallmark of West Point has been its tradition of growing leaders of character. Whenever the Nation called, members of the Long Gray Line have led the way. Your predecessors led tight-lipped troops into the smoke and flame of battle at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. They were first out of the muddy trenches into the attack at the Meuse-Argonne. They led the first wave of assaults from Normandy. They held the line at Pusan and were first off the helicopters in the Ia Drang Valley and the Iron Triangle. More recent graduates were among those who jumped into Panama and led the charge into Iraq. And the corps was there as well when the call came from the victims of hunger, when the call came from the victims of Hurricane Andrew. From Florida to Somalia, you have been there.
The 172 battle streamers on the Army flag commemorate the skill and courage of those who have gone before you. Marked and unmarked graves around the world testify to the corps' selfless devotion to country. Your steadfast commitment to duty, honor, country is our national strength.
My commitment and that of the Congress and the American people is to stand by you. That means before we ask you to put your life and the lives of those whom you command in harm's way, it is our solemn responsibility to take your advice, to give you the tools you need, and then to give you our complete support. That is our pledge to you as you enter this career.
You are pinning on your gold bars at a time of remarkable challenge and change for the United States. On this Memorial Day weekend, we all pray that we have sent America's sons and daughters to war for the last time. Yet, history suggests that during your years of service, we will again need to call upon America's weapons and warriors to defend our national interests.
The changes of recent years allow us to be hopeful. But common sense reminds us to be prepared. One way we must be prepared is by ensuring that our forces have what they need to get the job done, the equipment and the quality people needed to ensure that we can achieve decisive victory should we be called to battle once again. As our forces must change to meet the challenges and dangers of a new world, one need will remain constant, the requirement for leaders of character.
You will be called upon in many ways in this era: to keep the peace, to relieve suffering, to help teach officers from new democracies in the ways of a democratic army, and still to fulfill the fundamental mission which General MacArthur reminded us of, which is always to be ready to win our wars.
But whatever the challenge, I know you will accomplish your mission, not only because of your training but because of your values and character. I will do my part by doing whatever is necessary to keep our forces ready—and to keep our microphones up. [Laughter] I will do my part—and I think the Congress will, too-to make sure that our forces are always ready to fight and win on a moment's notice. We ought, really, to meet the standard of one of your classmates, Pat Malcolm, who came in the clutch and delivered the goods for you. If we can do that, you will be able to serve.
If you have the character and will to win, we owe it to you to make you the best trained, the best prepared, the best equipped, and the best supported fighting force on the face of the Earth.
The budget cuts that have come at the end of the cold war were necessary, even welcome, appropriate in light of the collapse of the Soviet Union and other changes. But we must be mindful, even as we try so hard to reduce this terrible national deficit, that there is a limit beyond which we must not go. We have to ensure that the United States is ready, ready to win and superior to all other military forces in the world.
In doing that, we can ensure that the values you learned here and the values you brought here from your families and your communities back home will be able to spread throughout this country and throughout the world and give other people the opportunity to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given capacities.
We must also stay prepared by understanding the threats of this new era. We can't predict the future. We cannot tell precisely when the next challenge will come or exactly what form it will take. Yet, we do know that the threats we face are fundamentally different from those of the recent past. The end of the bipolar superpower cold war leaves us with unfamiliar threats, not the absence of danger.
Consider what we witness today in the world you will move into: ethnic and religious conflict, the violent turmoil of dissolving or newly created states, the random violence of the assassin and the terrorist. These are forces that plagued the world in the early days of this century. As we scan today's bloodiest conflicts, from the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia to Armenia to Sudan, the dynamics of the cold war have been replaced by many of the dynamics of old war. A particularly troubling new element in the world you face, however, is the proliferation around the globe of weapons of mass destruction and the means for their delivery. Today, ambitious and violent regimes seek to acquire arsenals of nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare.
As we discovered in Iraq, surging stocks of ballistic missiles and other advanced arms have enabled outlaw nations to extend the threat of mass destruction a long way beyond their own borders. And meeting these new threats will require a new approach and a new determination shared by all peace-loving nations to oppose the spread of these dread weapons. In the coming months, our administration will address the dangers from growing stockpiles of nuclear materials that could be used in these weapons and the risk of nuclear smuggling and terrorism.
We will soon begin negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty which will increase our political leverage to combat this proliferation. We will reform our export controls to keep weapons-related technologies out of the wrong hands, while cutting red tape for legitimate American export activities. And we must make further changes in how we organize the Government to reflect the priority that we place on nonproliferation. For, if we must contemplate the possibility of sending America's men and women once again into harm's way, then we owe it to you to do our best to prevent the proliferation of weapons that could vastly multiply the dangers and the casualties of any conflict.
Ultimately, preparedness lies in strength. And if our Nation is to be strong abroad, it must also be strong at home. It was President Eisenhower who once said, "A strong economy is the physical basis, the physical basis of all our military power."
One of the most potent weapons behind our victory in World War II was the industrial might of the United States. What ultimately enabled us to prevail in the cold war was the simple fact that our free political and economic institutions had produced more prosperity and more personal human happiness than did the confining institutions of communism. In the same way our global era leadership must, must depend on our ability to create jobs and growth and opportunity for Americans here at home who, in turn, will have the finances to make sure we can maintain the world's strongest military.
Unfortunately, for too many years in this new global economy, we have had difficulty maintaining opportunity at home. In the face of intense competition around the world and the now-familiar problems we have in the United States, our debt has grown from $1 trillion to $4 trillion, even as we have reduced military spending and investments in areas that are crucial to our future in new technologies, in education and training, and in converting defense cutbacks into domestic economic opportunities.
Today we face an especially troubling phenomenon that the United States has never faced before at home: slow economic growth which does not create new jobs. We must refuse to accept this as a pattern that will be repeated in the future. Just as our security cannot rest upon a hollow army, neither can it rest upon a hollow economy.
If we are to sustain the American way of life that you have been trained so well to defend, we must do more and do better. We must cultivate the teacher who can hold her class' attention, encourage the entrepreneur who bets his savings on his own ideas. We must do right by the middle class families of this country who work hard and play by the rules. We must pay down the deficit and make down payments on the future, both at the same time, honoring work, rewarding investment, and sharpening our competitive edge. If you can win on the battlefield, surely America can win in every field of competition we must face as we march toward the 21st century.
That is the great challenge facing our country. And the Congress today is facing that challenge in dealing with the economic plan I have presented. The House of Representatives, led by concerned Americans like Congressman Jack Reed, who is the only West Point graduate in the United States Congress, has sent a plan to the Senate which now must be produced from the Senate in the form of an economic plan to bring this country back.
In this new era, those of us in political life need a new strategy, need sound tactics, need the kind of discipline in implementing it that all of you have learned to provide for our Nation's defense here at West Point. In short, we must approach the job of rebuilding our Nation with the same kind of single-minded determination that you have brought your skills, your dedication, and leadership ability to in these 4 years and that you will bring to the defense of our Nation in the years ahead. We can do no less for you.
Finally, let me say this. Someday, some of you out here will be sitting in the Situation Room at the White House or with the President or with the Secretary of Defense in some other circumstance. At that moment you will be called to give your advice on an issue which may be small but also may be large and of incredible significance to the future of this country. I ask you in all the years ahead to keep preparing for that day throughout your careers by continuing study and continuous listening and continuous absorption of every experience you have. The word is changing rapidly, and if you do not work to make change our friend, then it can become our enemy. You represent the very best of the American people. It will be your understanding of our Nation's challenges and your embodiment of our Nation's values, enriched by what you have learned here, leavened by the experiences to come, bound by your commitment to "Duty, Honor, Country" which will permit you to make our greatest contribution to the Nation: continuing service. You have earned your turn to lead, to follow in the footsteps of those who have been on the Plain before you.
Over the past 4 years, your Nation has invested heavily in you. The skills and dedication you now bring to the defense of our Nation are more than ample repayment. I am proud of the work you do, honored to serve as your Commander in Chief, confident that all Americans join me in saluting your achievement, and very, very optimistic about the future of our Nation in your hands.
Good luck. God bless you, and God bless America.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:20 a.m. in Michie Stadium. In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gen. Howard D. Graves, USA, Superintendent, U.S. Military Academy; Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army; and Pat Malcolm, who kicked the winning field goal in the 1992 Army-Navy football game.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony in West Point, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220018