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Sobering Words
Last uploaded : Sunday 25th May 2003 at 21:55
Contributed by : Bethany Hunt



23 May 2003
I watched American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld?s commencement address to the US Naval Academy twice. It was eloquent, inspiring, powerful, yet...vaguely disturbing, which is why I watched it a second time. I wanted to see why it touched me very deeply but also made me a little uneasy.

Rumsfeld is always energetic and forceful, but today I noticed a particular intensity. At times I felt as if he were reaching through my television, looking me in the eye, and speaking to me personally! It was as if, for a fleeting moment, he conveyed a barely discernable note of warning and a view of possible horrors to come in the future -- not in a prophetic or pessimistic way, but with the insight of a very experienced man who knows more about the world than most people, even among leaders of nations.

He set the tone for this by emphasizing the future will be unlike anything we imagine today. He gave many examples of good changes over the past quarter-century, but also said "one day the war on terror will end," which made it sound pretty far off and hard-won (in fact, he did not say ?won?). He spoke of "possibly double the number of nuclear nations, many of them terrorist states...and more ungoverned areas inhabited by terrorists or hostage-takers" in addition to "other new threats."

I was hoping that winning the war on terror would include getting rid of rogue nations with nukes, but Rumsfeld seemed to say that they could be a permanent fixture of the world to come. With the technology easier to implement, and materials for nukes becoming more available, are we forewarned of a planet where the United States will be merely one of many nations able to ?push the button? -- but also the one least likely to?

Rumsfeld also made an important point which some Americans do not realize, especially those who don't remember, nor have family who fought in World War II (and seemingly are not taught about it in school either): "Freedom is not destined to prevail over tyranny. Liberty and our way of life are fragile gifts." This is a call to responsibility and awareness for all Americans, not only those in uniform. Rumsfeld?s carefully chosen words, "the future must not simply unfold?the decisions you make...your courage and creativity? will determine the course of liberty. It sounded to me like a wake-up call!

Rumsfeld's quote of Adlai Stevenson, "If America stumbles, the world will fall," struck me as ominous in view of the opposition and outright hatred heaped on the USA not just from without, but virtually institutionalized in our communities of education, media and the arts. I had the feeling that we are at a crossroads in history, and a crucial one. In fact, it called to mind Reagan's famous words of almost four decades ago, "a rendezvous with destiny," but with the stakes higher now.

It was an impressive testament to Rumsfeld's true patriotic character that Stevenson's words had been close to his thoughts "throughout my long life." That phrase gave me chills, lending an eerie quality of denouement to this address. It seemed like a speech someone might leave as a final legacy.

He was emphatic that each individual "not underestimate the power you have to change the world." He spoke true words when he said that our people in uniform "make everything else possible.? There is ?no advancement in science or medicine or the arts?indeed no prosperity, without peace and security." When Rumsfeld concluded "the future of our country, and to a great extent the future of the world, is in your hands," I felt that burden should be upon everyone privileged to be a citizen.

This speech seemed to resonate as a spiritual call to arms. It reminded me of the import of September 11, and the disturbing complacency or hostility of many that take freedom for granted. It made clear that to be an American means to make a personal commitment not to let this "fragile gift" be destroyed (even if just by gradual erosion, for that is how the enemy eventually takes hold).

Rumsfeld spoke with profound seriousness. Perhaps it was because he looked a little pale, and seemed to speak a little more deliberately than usual, but something prescient in his manner implied a passing of the baton to a younger generation that had better be prepared to carry it well and far. Even his opening joke about being a "broken down old pilot" could be the words of someone a bit weary of fighting the good fight. Rumsfeld and the military he leads, I feel certain, will continue to fight with intelligence and courage. Maybe it?s time for the rest of us to do our part.


Bethany Hunt is a freelance writer with a background in psychology,
business, politics and the arts. She lives on the Oregon coast and can be
reached at



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