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National Archives

Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Department of War

1989-08-07

Thank you, Mr. Secretary; Deputy Secretary Atwood; and our service chiefs, Chairman Crowe and members of the Joint Chiefs; distinguished Members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Dick, first let me just thank you for the splendid job you're doing at the Defense Department. I don't know if you've found the barber shop, but I hope you're finding how to get from the E Ring to your car without getting lost. [Laughter] You all remember the Secretary's dilemma, and now they've made a movie about the Pentagon called ``No Way Out.'' [Laughter]

Secretary Marsh -- Jack, this is an appropriate time to thank you for your splendid performance in service to the United States Army and service to your country. And I just can't tell you how much respect I have for the job you have done. And I also want to congratulate your successor, Mike Stone, who will lead the Army into the 1990's as Secretary of the Army.

I'm pleased to join with all of you in celebrating the 200th anniversary of this historic Department, now part of the Department of Defense. And in honoring the bicentennial of this Department, we're also honoring the heroes of America, past and present. The Department of War -- the very name sounds antiquated, even bellicose; and certainly today, the title Department of Defense is more appropriate since the purpose of our Armed Forces is to deter war, not to seek it.

And yet the title was undeniably forthright, for the War Department fought and won six wars in its 158-year history. It was the War Department that waged the most tragic conflict in American history, a Civil War in which one Secretary, Edwin Stanton, was pitted against one of his predecessors, Jefferson Davis. And it was also the War Department that trained and dispatched vast armies of Doughboys over to France. And it was the War Department that served as America's nerve center in the struggle against the Axis powers, leading to the greatest military and moral victory in our history.

Winston Churchill gave much of the credit for this to the Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall, calling him the true organizer of victory. Everyone remembers George Marshall as a great Secretary of State. He deserves no less credit for his service to the Army and later as Secretary of Defense.

And none of us who served in the Second World War will ever forget the great leaders of the War Department, nor will we forget the great lesson of those years: Only the strong can keep the peace. It is no discredit to the War Department that at the outbreak of the Second World War our Armed Forces were still drilling with wooden rifles and hauling massive but useless radios and planning to wage land warfare with the horse cavalry.

And today, of course, it is not a shortage of rifles that threatens to undermine America's ability to keep the peace. To preserve the peace today, we must be strong in other ways, and this means that we must rely on advanced technology, not the strategic equivalent of the horse cavalry.

The United States today requires a closely integrated strategic program designed to enhance our strength, bolster deterrence, and facilitate arms control. It demands that we modernize our ICBM force, redeploying the Peacekeeper missile and rail garrison; and it means completing and development of the new small ICBM and its deployment when ready. And these mobile systems will bring improved survivability and stability to the land-based leg of our strategic triad. A strong defense also means something else: sufficient funding for the B - 2 bomber. And it means one thing more: support for the Strategic Defense Initiative -- SDI. It offers the promise of a stable nuclear balance that relies increasingly on defense. It provides an incentive for the Soviets to return to the negotiating table, and it will make any START treaty more effective. It represents a firm step towards stability, the same goal we seek through modernization of our nuclear arsenal and arms control. This is the program that our country needs, and I will work to see that this is the program that our country gets.

Just as critical to our nation's defense are the men and women of this Department of Defense. You are called upon to do a difficult, often dangerous job, and you perform your duty with great distinction. The history of this Department is nothing less than the history of American bravery. Whether we call it the Department of War or the Department of Defense, this tradition of service to country lives on in each and every one of you.

And so, today, in commemorating the Department of War, we also salute you and every brave American who ever served in the original War Department, in the U.S. Army, in your Air Force and Navy compatriots and now, with you in the Department of Defense. We also salute those who served in the two great conflicts of this century, and those who served in Korea and in Vietnam. And we cannot leave here today without pausing to salute one who stands as a symbol of the courage that burns in the breast of every American in uniform, one marine who has been very much in our thoughts, Lieutenant Colonel Higgins, William Richard Higgins.

It is an inspiration to be here today among America's finest and to honor a great Department and its great traditions. God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 9:32 a.m. on Sommerall Field at Fort Myer in Arlington, VA. In his opening remarks, the President referred to Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney; Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald J. Atwood; and Adm. William J. Crowe, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, USMC, chief of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, was kidnaped on February 17, 1988, and executed by pro-Iranian terrorists on July 31, 1989.

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