The Choice for Peace
April 1, 2002
In a speech before ROTC cadets and invited guests at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, President Bush once again showed his firm grasp of what the war on terrorism will take to win: military superiority and a moral purpose. As commander-in-chief, he took to the bully pulpit like a man with a mission.
Speaking before recipients of the George C. Marshall ROTC Award, Bush called to mind military heroes, like George Marshall, Winston Churchill, and Colin Powell, to inspire the cadets for the task before them. Victory, in the words of General Marshall, requires “steadfastness and courage and hope.” And Bush explained how these would be indispensable in the post-9/11 world.
“Today,” the president declared, “we are called to defend freedom against ruthless enemies.” We all want freedom: the question is, Are we willing to fight for it? Bush emphasized that the war against terror “will be long.” It will test our resolve to go the distance against a foe that is supported in various ways and under many guises.
So we fight this war, as Bush said, “on many fronts.” This not only indicates the nature of the threat, but also the nature of the American regime. The U.S. is not militaristic per se, but one devoted to the securing of freedom. According to the Declaration of Independence, human beings are born free, but lack the security to enjoy that freedom. To this end, they form governments to protect what they possess in common—a protection against enemies both domestic and foreign.
Which is why the president focused so much on Afghanistan, what he called “the first phase of our military operation.” To know why the fight continues, we need to remember why the fight began.
America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan illustrates how we fight and how we act as victors in war. Churchill once said, “In war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity. In peace, good will.” One could not find a better summation of Bush’s approach to the war on terrorism. As he described the troops fighting against the Taliban, “they weren’t sent in to conquer; they were sent in to liberate.”
With liberty as the goal, Bush could declare, “Around the world, the nations must choose. They are with us, or they’re with the terrorists.” In Lincolnian fashion, the president stated that “no nation can be neutral” on the evil of terrorism. In short, the geographical extent and immoral nature of the danger dictates the world’s responsibility for global peace.
Most people remember Churchill’s warning against the global Communist threat as the “Iron Curtain” speech. But he titled it “The Sinews of Peace,” mindful of the security of peace that would be the fruit of defending against its enemies. Similarly, the press is already highlighting Bush’s prediction of additional terrorism, instead of “the vision of peace” he announced as his aim as a world leader.
Hearkening back to the Allied victory in World War II, Bush said, “Marshall knew that our military victory against enemies in World War II had to be followed by a moral victory that resulted in better lives for individual human beings.” By rebuilding Europe and Japan, we now live in a world where “our former enemies are our friends.” This is American foreign policy in a nutshell, inviting peace through prosperity, with a willingness to defend that prosperity from unjust aggressors.
“The time is now for all to make the choice for peace.” Bush repeated his call for the world to confront “an axis of evil” that could soon provoke war through “weapons of mass destruction.” And while “outlaw regimes” continue to aid and abet terrorists, America will work with all peace-loving nations “to defend freedom.”
Bush linked freedom and its defense to a benchmark of American political practice: “the dignity and value of every individual.” By noting that “the demands of human dignity are written in every heart,” he pointed out the hope the world could have in its prolonged fight against global terrorism. If the people of Germany, Japan, and Russia could make advances in “the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, equal justice, and religious tolerance,” Bush held out hope for today’s rogue states and the eventual victory of their oppressed people.
This fight will be long, and so the effort to inform the public of its nobility must be sustained. It will require statesmanship that calls forth the best in the American people and her friends around the world. President Bush will go down in history as a worthy successor to Washington, Lincoln, Marshall, and Churchill, who all fought so that they and their descendants might be free.
Lucas Morel is assistant professor of politics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and is an adjunct fellow at the Ashbrook Center.