President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point:
Remarks by the President at 2002 Graduation Exercise of the United
States Military Academy
West Point, NY
June 1, 2002
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, General Lennox. Mr. Secretary,
Governor Pataki, members of the United States Congress, Academy
staff and faculty, distinguished guests, proud family members,
and graduates: I want to thank you for your welcome. Laura and
I are especially honored to visit this great institution in your
In every corner of America, the words "West Point" command
immediate respect. This place where the Hudson River bends is
more than a fine institution of learning. The United States Military
Academy is the guardian of values that have shaped the soldiers
who have shaped the history of the world.
A few of you have followed in the path of the perfect West Point
graduate, Robert E. Lee, who never received a single demerit in
four years. Some of you followed in the path of the imperfect
graduate, Ulysses S. Grant, who had his fair share of demerits,
and said the happiest day of his life was "the day I left
West Point." (Laughter.) During my college years I guess
you could say I was -- (laughter.) During my college years I guess
you could say I was a Grant man. (Laughter.)
You walk in the tradition of Eisenhower and MacArthur, Patton
and Bradley - the commanders who saved a civilization. And you
walk in the tradition of second lieutenants who did the same,
by fighting and dying on distant battlefields.
Graduates of this academy have brought creativity and courage
to every field of endeavor. West Point produced the chief engineer
of the Panama Canal, the mind behind the Manhattan Project, the
first American to walk in space. This fine institution gave us
the man they say invented baseball, and other young men over the
years who perfected the game of football.
You know this, but many in America don't -- George C. Marshall,
a VMI graduate, is said to have given this order: "I want
an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point
football player." (Applause.)
As you leave here today, I know there's one thing you'll never
miss about this place: Being a plebe. (Applause.) But even a plebe
at West Point is made to feel he or she has some standing in the
world. (Laughter.) I'm told that plebes, when asked whom they
outrank, are required to answer this: "Sir, the Superintendent's
dog -- (laughter) -- the Commandant's cat, and all the admirals
in the whole damn Navy." (Applause.) I probably won't be
sharing that with the Secretary of the Navy. (Laughter.)
West Point is guided by tradition, and in honor of the "Golden
Children of the Corps," -- (applause) -- I will observe one
of the traditions you cherish most. As the Commander-in-Chief,
I hereby grant amnesty to all cadets who are on restriction for
minor conduct offenses. (Applause.) Those of you in the end zone
might have cheered a little early. (Laughter.) Because, you see,
I'm going to let General Lennox define exactly what "minor"
Every West Point class is commissioned to the Armed Forces. Some
West Point classes are also commissioned by history, to take part
in a great new calling for their country. Speaking here to the
class of 1942 -- six months after Pearl Harbor -- General Marshall
said, "We're determined that before the sun sets on this
terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the
world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand, and of overwhelming
power on the other." (Applause.)
Officers graduating that year helped fulfill that mission, defeating
Japan and Germany, and then reconstructing those nations as allies.
West Point graduates of the 1940s saw the rise of a deadly new
challenge -- the challenge of imperial communism -- and opposed
it from Korea to Berlin, to Vietnam, and in the Cold War, from
beginning to end. And as the sun set on their struggle, many of
those West Point officers lived to see a world transformed.
History has also issued its call to your generation. In your last
year, America was attacked by a ruthless and resourceful enemy.
You graduate from this Academy in a time of war, taking your place
in an American military that is powerful and is honorable. Our
war on terror is only begun, but in Afghanistan it was begun well.
I am proud of the men and women who have fought on my orders.
America is profoundly grateful for all who serve the cause of
freedom, and for all who have given their lives in its defense.
This nation respects and trusts our military, and we are confident
in your victories to come. (Applause.)
This war will take many turns we cannot predict. Yet I am certain
of this: Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not
only for our power, but for freedom. (Applause.) Our nation's
cause has always been larger than our nation's defense. We fight,
as we always fight, for a just peace -- a peace that favors human
liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists
and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations
among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging
free and open societies on every continent.
Building this just peace is America's opportunity, and America's
duty. From this day forward, it is your challenge, as well, and
we will meet this challenge together. (Applause.) You will wear
the uniform of a great and unique country. America has no empire
to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what
we wish for ourselves -- safety from violence, the rewards of
liberty, and the hope for a better life.
In defending the peace, we face a threat with no precedent. Enemies
in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities
to endanger the American people and our nation. The attacks of
September the 11th required a few hundred thousand dollars in
the hands of a few dozen evil and deluded men. All of the chaos
and suffering they caused came at much less than the cost of a
single tank. The dangers have not passed. This government and
the American people are on watch, we are ready, because we know
the terrorists have more money and more men and more plans.
The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads
of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and
biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology
-- when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain
a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have
declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these
terrible weapons. They want the capability to blackmail us, or
to harm us, or to harm our friends -- and we will oppose them
with all our power. (Applause.)
For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the
Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases,
those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new
thinking. Deterrence -- the promise of massive retaliation against
nations -- means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with
no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when
unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver
those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist
We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best.
We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign
non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them.
If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited
too long. (Applause.)
Homeland defense and missile defense are part of stronger security,
and they're essential priorities for America. Yet the war on terror
will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the
enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before
they emerge. (Applause.) In the world we have entered, the only
path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.
Our security will require the best intelligence, to reveal threats
hidden in caves and growing in laboratories. Our security will
require modernizing domestic agencies such as the FBI, so they're
prepared to act, and act quickly, against danger. Our security
will require transforming the military you will lead -- a military
that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark
corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans
to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive
action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our
The work ahead is difficult. The choices we will face are complex.
We must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries, using every
tool of finance, intelligence and law enforcement. Along with
our friends and allies, we must oppose proliferation and confront
regimes that sponsor terror, as each case requires. Some nations
need military training to fight terror, and we'll provide it.
Other nations oppose terror, but tolerate the hatred that leads
to terror -- and that must change. (Applause.) We will send diplomats
where they are needed, and we will send you, our soldiers, where
you're needed. (Applause.)
All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price.
We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet
at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants. (Applause.)
We will lift this dark threat from our country and from the world.
Because the war on terror will require resolve and patience, it
will also require firm moral purpose. In this way our struggle
is similar to the Cold War. Now, as then, our enemies are totalitarians,
holding a creed of power with no place for human dignity. Now,
as then, they seek to impose a joyless conformity, to control
every life and all of life.
America confronted imperial communism in many different ways --
diplomatic, economic, and military. Yet moral clarity was essential
to our victory in the Cold War. When leaders like John F. Kennedy
and Ronald Reagan refused to gloss over the brutality of tyrants,
they gave hope to prisoners and dissidents and exiles, and rallied
free nations to a great cause.
Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak
the language of right and wrong. I disagree. (Applause.) Different
circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities.
(Applause.) Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every
time, and in every place. Targeting innocent civilians for murder
is always and everywhere wrong. (Applause.) Brutality against
women is always and everywhere wrong. (Applause.) There can be
no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent
and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil, and
America will call evil by its name. (Applause.) By confronting
evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal
a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it. (Applause.)
As we defend the peace, we also have an historic opportunity to
preserve the peace. We have our best chance since the rise of
the nation state in the 17th century to build a world where the
great powers compete in peace instead of prepare for war. The
history of the last century, in particular, was dominated by a
series of destructive national rivalries that left battlefields
and graveyards across the Earth. Germany fought France, the Axis
fought the Allies, and then the East fought the West, in proxy
wars and tense standoffs, against a backdrop of nuclear Armageddon.
Competition between great nations is inevitable, but armed conflict
in our world is not. More and more, civilized nations find ourselves
on the same side -- united by common dangers of terrorist violence
and chaos. America has, and intends to keep, military strengths
beyond challenge -- (applause) -- thereby, making the destabilizing
arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to
trade and other pursuits of peace.
Today the great powers are also increasingly united by common
values, instead of divided by conflicting ideologies. The United
States, Japan and our Pacific friends, and now all of Europe,
share a deep commitment to human freedom, embodied in strong alliances
such as NATO. And the tide of liberty is rising in many other
Generations of West Point officers planned and practiced for battles
with Soviet Russia. I've just returned from a new Russia, now
a country reaching toward democracy, and our partner in the war
against terror. (Applause.) Even in China, leaders are discovering
that economic freedom is the only lasting source of national wealth.
In time, they will find that social and political freedom is the
only true source of national greatness. (Applause.)
When the great powers share common values, we are better able
to confront serious regional conflicts together, better able to
cooperate in preventing the spread of violence or economic chaos.
In the past, great power rivals took sides in difficult regional
problems, making divisions deeper and more complicated. Today,
from the Middle East to South Asia, we are gathering broad international
coalitions to increase the pressure for peace. We must build strong
and great power relations when times are good; to help manage
crisis when times are bad. America needs partners to preserve
the peace, and we will work with every nation that shares this
noble goal. (Applause.)
And finally, America stands for more than the absence of war.
We have a great opportunity to extend a just peace, by replacing
poverty, repression, and resentment around the world with hope
of a better day. Through most of history, poverty was persistent,
inescapable, and almost universal. In the last few decades, we've
seen nations from Chile to South Korea build modern economies
and freer societies, lifting millions of people out of despair
and want. And there's no mystery to this achievement.
The 20th century ended with a single surviving model of human
progress, based on non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the
rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women
and private property and free speech and equal justice and religious
tolerance. America cannot impose this vision -- yet we can support
and reward governments that make the right choices for their own
people. In our development aid, in our diplomatic efforts, in
our international broadcasting, and in our educational assistance,
the United States will promote moderation and tolerance and human
rights. And we will defend the peace that makes all progress possible.
When it comes to the common rights and needs of men and women,
there is no clash of civilizations. The requirements of freedom
apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic
world. The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the
same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation. And
their governments should listen to their hopes. (Applause.)
A truly strong nation will permit legal avenues of dissent for
all groups that pursue their aspirations without violence. An
advancing nation will pursue economic reform, to unleash the great
entrepreneurial energy of its people. A thriving nation will respect
the rights of women, because no society can prosper while denying
opportunity to half its citizens. Mothers and fathers and children
across the Islamic world, and all the world, share the same fears
and aspirations. In poverty, they struggle. In tyranny, they suffer.
And as we saw in Afghanistan, in liberation they celebrate. (Applause.)
America has a greater objective than controlling threats and containing
resentment. We will work for a just and peaceful world beyond
the war on terror.
The bicentennial class of West Point now enters this drama. With
all in the United States Army, you will stand between your fellow
citizens and grave danger. You will help establish a peace that
allows millions around the world to live in liberty and to grow
in prosperity. You will face times of calm, and times of crisis.
And every test will find you prepared -- because you're the men
and women of West Point. (Applause.) You leave here marked by
the character of this Academy, carrying with you the highest ideals
of our nation.
Toward the end of his life, Dwight Eisenhower recalled the first
day he stood on the plain at West Point. "The feeling came
over me," he said, "that the expression 'the United
States of America' would now and henceforth mean something different
than it had ever before. From here on, it would be the nation
I would be serving, not myself."
Today, your last day at West Point, you begin a life of service
in a career unlike any other. You've answered a calling to hardship
and purpose, to risk and honor. At the end of every day you will
know that you have faithfully done your duty. May you always bring
to that duty the high standards of this great American institution.
May you always be worthy of the long gray line that stretches
two centuries behind you.
On behalf of the nation, I congratulate each one of you for the
commission you've earned and for the credit you bring to the United
States of America. May God bless you all. (Applause.)