Public Papers

Remarks to Officers and Troops at Hickam Air Force Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii


The President. Thank you, Admiral Hardisty. Please be seated. And thank each and every one of you for joining us here today -- and for joining in the defense of freedom every day. You know, I'm proud to be back here at Pearl and proud to be back as your Commander in Chief and proud to be back standing up for fighting men and women like you that serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. We have never had a finer group of people. Governor Waihee, the Governor of the State -- proud to be in your State, sir. To my dear friend Pat Saiki, the Congresswoman from this district, thank you for joining me and thank you for being at my side coming out here. To Colonel Lyon, my respects, sir. And again, Admiral Hardisty, thank you, sir, for this unforgettable welcome back here to this marvelous Hickam Air Force Base. This is quite a crowd. But I can't help but think of the warning that one soldier gave to comedian Steve Martin last week when Steve Martin began a talk in Saudi Arabia. This is a true story. He said, ``You'd better be funny. We've got bullets.''

Well, you may recall, there was a slight confusion a couple years ago when I said that Pearl Harbor Day was September 7th. But now I've put an end to all that confusion -- and I just want to say I'm very happy to be back here in at Clark Air Force Base. [Laughter] The truth is, I will always remember the first time that I saw Pearl Harbor in the early spring of 1944. Our ship and my squadron were en route to Wake Island and out to the rest of the Pacific. Then, as now, it was an impressive sight. The fleet, having been pounded, had recovered -- the naval shipyard here having set the world record for the fastest repair work completed on battle-damaged ships. No member of that generation can ever forget the clarion call that Pearl Harbor represented. Things changed instantly. The country came together and, like you here today, we each knew our duty.

There was a movie a few years back where the actor John Houseman, Paper Chase's Professor Kingsfield, played a World War II veteran now deskbound in Washington. Seizing on a passing reference to the war, a snide young colleague asks, ``Do you miss the action of those days, sir?'' And Houseman's response was classic. He yanked off his glasses and calmly fired back, ``No, I miss the clarity.'' Well, today in the Persian Gulf, the world is once again faced with the challenge of perfect clarity. Saddam Hussein has given us a whole plateful of clarity, because today, in the Persian Gulf, what we are looking at is good and evil, right and wrong. And day after day, shocking new horrors reveal the true nature of the reign of terror in Kuwait. In one hospital, dialysis patients were ripped from their machines and the machines shipped from Kuwait to Baghdad. Iraq soldiers pulled the plug on incubators supporting 22 premature babies. All 22 died. The hospital employees were shot and the plundered machines were shipped off to Baghdad. But you cannot pull the plug on a nation. The invasion of Kuwait was without provocation. The invasion of Kuwait was without excuse. And the invasion of Kuwait will not stand.

Iraq's invasion marks an outrageous breach of the peace, a broad-faced violation of the United Nations Charter. And by its actions, the Iraqi regime has shown its contempt for the very principles on which the United Nations was founded. Saddam Hussein will be held accountable. Iraq has waged a war of aggression, plundered a peaceful neighbor, held innocents hostage, and gassed its own people. And all four of those crimes are punishable under the principles adopted by the allies in 1945 and unanimously reaffirmed by the United Nations in 1950. Two weeks ago I made mention of the Nuremberg trials. Saddam Hussein must know the stakes are high, the cause is just and, today more than ever, the determination is real.

You know, if you look into history, America never went looking for a war. But in World War II, the world paid dearly for appeasing an aggressor who could have been stopped. Appeasement leads only to further aggression and, ultimately, to war. And we are not going to make the mistake of appeasement again. And one of the other mistakes -- one of the other lessons, rather -- that America, like it or not, was part of the whole -- that was the lesson. And Hitler rejoiced at the news -- if you remember your history books -- rejoiced at the news from Pearl Harbor. And Adolf Hitler called the attack on Pearl Harbor the turning point of the war. And he was right. But not in the way he thought. Pearl Harbor changed the world and America's role in it for all time.

And you here know that. During the past 3 months, men and women like you from all 50 States have helped to launch what history will judge as one of the most important deployments of allied military power since 1945. But make no mistake: The decision for this deployment was not made in Washington; the decision for this deployment was made by the men in Baghdad. And we are the ones that are standing up for civilized values, standing up for a principle that's almost as old as our Republic.

Franklin Roosevelt put it clearly in a fireside chat, just after Pearl Harbor. He said: ``Together with other free people we are now fighting to maintain our right to live among our world neighbors in freedom and in common decency without the fear of assault.'' And Harry Truman understood this lesson. Almost 10 years after Pearl Harbor he, too, spoke to the Nation, and he could almost have been talking about Kuwait. ``Korea is a small country,'' he said, ``thousands of miles away. But what is happening there,'' said Truman, ``is important to every American.'' And he called the unprovoked invasion a ``direct challenge to the efforts of the free nations to build the kind of world in which men can live in freedom and peace.''

And since that time, allied strength and resolve have been tested many, many times. But when we look back on that history of valor and sacrifice, it is clear that the strength of our arms and the strength of our will is up to the challenge that we all face today in the Persian Gulf. And we are not alone -- remember this: we are not alone. The United Nations Security Council has passed eight major resolutions setting the terms for solving this crisis. A majority of the Arab League is with us. The Soviet Union and China are with us. And NATO's resolve has never been more firm. And today it is not Iraq against Kuwait, but it is Iraq against the rest of the civilized world. And that message -- we must say it over and over again.

And so, this unprecedented unity is a result of hard work and favorable winds -- not the winds of war, but the winds of change. And from these magnificent Pacific islands it's easy to see how, with skillful hands at the helm, these winds can carry us towards a future of vast horizons -- a dynamic new Asia and a new partnership of nations where free peoples and free markets look to our shore for partnership and security and leadership. The world is still a dangerous place. And those in uniform will always bear the heaviest burden. Perhaps I know something of what you endure -- the waiting, the uncertainty, the demands of family and professional life. We want every single American home. No American will be kept in the Gulf a single day longer than necessary, but we will not walk away until our mission is done.

As we meet, it is midday in Hawaii. And soon the Sun will be setting across much of America. An hour of prayer, a day of rest, a nation at peace. And soon many of those prayers will follow the Sun westward across the Pacific and Asia. And soon, like the rays of the Sun itself, those prayers will reach down to carry the light of a new day to the brave men and women standing watch over the sands and shores of the Gulf. Not an hour passes that they are not on my mind. And so, we've come here to thank you for the important work that you -- all of you -- do in defending our nation's freedom, in keeping our nation strong, and holding high the banner of freedom.

Thank you very much for coming. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. on the tarmac at Hickam Air Force Base. In his opening remarks, he referred to Adm. Huntington Hardisty, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Col. Don A. Lyon, 15th Airbase Wing commander. Following his remarks, the President traveled to San Francisco, CA.