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Video: Gen. Lance L. Smith delivers the 2009 Spring Commencement address

Transcript

Graduates, family, friends, faculty, Dr Steger and everyone else that is out there; I can’t tell you how honored I am to be here tonight - and I mean that sincerely, if any of you ever saw my transcripts you would understand why!

Because of this institution, I had an opportunity to spend 38 years in the military pursuing an incredibly exciting and rewarding career. We lived in faraway places like Osan, Korea; Doha, Qatar; Oberammergau, Germany; and the most remote of all, Clovis, New Mexico -- my wife’s “favorite” place. No offense to anyone from Clovis. We got a chance to travel to every corner of the globe and dine with Kings and Queens, Presidents, Emirs, Prime Ministers, movie stars, industrial giants and most importantly soldiers from almost every country in the world.

So as you prepare to step into the great chaotic unknown of todays world with all of its challenges and mystery, I thought I would share several observations I’ve made over the years viewing our country from both at home and abroad - mostly from abroad.

Let me begin by saying how proud I am to be an American - that seems to be harder and harder for some to say today. But this is a great country and a unique force for good in the world

I have no idea why we continue to beat ourselves up and apologize for our every action

We have done more to free people from tyranny and poverty than any other nation on earth and refuse to be proud of that, yet are happy to kick ourselves in the rear for every mistake we make, big or small.

Because of our efforts, millions of young girls are in school in Afghanistan today; Iraq is rid of a vicious dictator and his sons; Kuwait is a sovereign nation again; millions are surviving the scourge of aids and malaria in Africa; numerous agencies, including the UN, are able to provide services to their constituents thanks to our massive contributions; and the list could go on ad infinitum

It is media and political hype that the US is hated around the world. IT IS JUST NOT TRUE!

Some do dislike us, of course - the western way of life is a powerful threat to many, particularly religious leaders, who don’t share our liberal views. These leaders influence many but they won’t like us no matter what we do.

We are aggressive actors on the world stage and not all action we take is going to be lauded by everyone in the international community or even within our own country. Some will no doubt be impacted negatively by our actions and they won’t like us much, but most aren’t the kind of friends we want anyway - we don’t need to be loved by everyone!

In the Middle East, most understand and appreciated our efforts to rid Iraq of Saddam and restrain Iran

It would have been very difficult for any nation or group of nations in and around the Gulf to do it themselves - not just militarily but morally. There are strong ties both religious and tribal between all of the families of the Gulf making it nearly impossible to reach consensus on any kind of military action against one another.

One of your fellow graduates’, Adnan Barqawi’s, family flew in from Kuwait for this ceremony. They can tell you. The Kuwaitis are no doubt ready to have us depart and get back to normal life but they have been great allies in this fight at no small cost to themselves. Behind closed doors, it is not just the Kuwaitis who appreciate the sacrifice in blood and money that our Nation has made.

In Asia we have been the foundation of peace and stability for 60 years. Our presence has allowed Japan and Korea to build economies that are dynamic, innovative, and productive. They don’t hate us - they respect us as tough competitors and good allies.

Even China doesn’t hate us. When I visited Beijing they were far more interested in sharing and building cooperation than conflict with us.

Europeans don’t hate us, though its seems they are ready to critique us at the drop of a hat; but they have their reasons as well. I read a great article by Robert Kagan in the Washington Post last month called “Disturber of the Peace.”

Basically he says that Europe’s reluctance to act is understandable. After two world wars, the Holocaust, the rampant inflations and depressions of the 1920‘s and 1930‘s, wild political swings from nationalism to fascism to socialism to flirtations with communism to democracy, and the Cold War that divided the continent along the Iron Curtain and between and within the countries of Western Europe; they just want to be left alone in peace and quiet.

Unfortunately for them, there is the great “Disturber of the Peace” out there. To quote Kagan: “Americans are creators of turmoil. Europeans see them the way the ancient Greeks saw the Athenians, as ‘incapable of either living a quiet life themselves or of allowing anyone else to do so.” That is probably true, for all the right reasons.

French journalist commented when speaking to Kagan about President Obama’s plans for the economy, his new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and his ideas about Iran: “We have all been surprised. He is so....American!”

My second observation is that our media has lost its compass. It has become difficult at best to determine where the news starts and opinion ends and getting both sides of an issue is all but impossible from a single outlet. It is tragic that we often have to go to foreign sources to get facts that you will not see or hear in the US because of media bias.

I dealt regularly with both the US and Arab press when working as Gen Abizaid’s deputy in the Middle East and frankly Al Jazeera was often more even in reporting our interviews and press conferences than the US press

When I asked Eason Jordan, CNN’s Chief News Executive, why we couldn’t get any of the good things we were doing in Iraq on CNN, he simply said “If it bleeds, it leads” and shrugged his shoulders. New schools don’t bleed.

The 24 hour news cycle is killing us. News organizations used to have a rule of thumb that they had 4 hours to validate a story, today its 4 minutes if that long. Is it any wonder they get the facts wrong so often and are unable to put events into context. Unfortunately, once its out it becomes fact whether true or not.

If we don’t start holding our media to a higher standard we will pay a terrible price because it is really our only check on the excesses of government. We can’t afford to have partisan politics or personality conflicts destroy our ability to get the facts on key issues and today it is pretty easy to pick up a newspaper and determine their view on gay marriage, global warming, the war on terror or any other hot button issue - without ever reading the editorial page!

My third and final point is a concern, not an observation. There was a recent Rasmussen poll that found 37 percent of Americans under age 30 prefer capitalism, 33 percent prefer socialism and 30 percent are undecided.

Can these numbers possibly be accurate? This is you out there getting ready to graduate and enter the workplace. Tell me its not true that 63 percent of you either prefer socialism or are ambivalent about it!

Those of you that think that way, must be looking at socialism idealogically rather than in practice. You can’t possibly see what it does to the human spirit, much less economic well-being, and prefer it to capitalism. If Europe is your model, notwithstanding the fact that conservatives regularly refer to “Socialist Europe”; it is not socialist - though some are closer than others. They are free capitalists in pretty much every sense of the word but with an equally strong desire for stability, for reasons I described earlier; hence some have more government control than we are comfortable with and higher levels of welfare spending to maintain peace and quiet in the lower classes - to quote Kagan again, “better to be less rich than less secure.” By the way, those East Europeans who have experienced it have a significantly different view of the benefits of socialism than those who haven’t - and it is not positive.

Let me tell you about my experiences with real socialism.

Socialism is East Germany prior to 1989; North Korea today; Cuba; and some of the poorest countries in Latin and South America. You can argue the semantics of what to call these regimes but they always start out with taking power in the name of enabling and helping the poor and disenfranchised. The outcome in the long run is pretty much the same every time - the only ones that end up with wealth are the bureaucrats and the poor are left to pick up the scraps at the back door. I can think of no truly socialist country where those that we define as “in poverty” in the capitalist west wouldn’t be solidly middle class there.

My wife, Linda, and I drove from Munich to Berlin shortly after the wall came down and the first day the autobahn between those two great cities was opened. It was like entering another world when we crossed the border. The impeccably kept bleached white teutonic homes in the west with beautiful red geraniums hanging from the flower boxes on the balconies turned into gray deteriorating buildings with no flowers, no landscaping, and no people visible. All the cars on the autobahn were from the west. When we stopped in a village for lunch the people walked around with their eyes to the ground and you heard very little laughter in the cafe’s. Everyone wore gray or black and every suit was the same. The most well to do villages were where the Russian bases were. Old factories spewed pollution and we saw virtually no new factories or any other construction before reaching Berlin. 45 years earlier these were the same people, with the same values, and the same work ethic. By 1989 the East Germans had been beaten down by a system that rewarded political orientation more than hard work and independent thought. To this day, 19 years later, they have not fully recovered.

When night flying in South Korea up near the Demilitarized Zone we were always struck by the fact that with night vision goggles you were blinded looking south into the lights of Seoul but there were no lights up north, none; many of you have seen the night satellite shot of the Korean Peninsula that has a black hole where North Korea is. When I met the American team negotiating the nuclear arms pact with the North Koreans on their return from Pyongyang in 2005, they described the surprising lack of traffic on extraordinarily wide streets in Pyongyang, the small number of people in the city, and the fact that half of the upper floors of the hotel they stayed at, supposedly the best in the capitol, had never been finished though the hotel was several years old. I saw the same thing in Central Asia - huge apartment buildings with virtually no people in them and wide city streets with few cars; and not surprisingly citizens in squalor just outside the city limits. That’s socialism in practice.

The North and South Korea example is even more striking than the East and West German example because prior to the Korean War the north was the industrial power base of Korea with almost all of the natural resources. South Korea was primarily agrarian with no natural resources. In spite of that; a strong work ethic, dedication to capitalism and commitment to education has turned it into an industrial power and the 11th largest economy in the world while North Korea ranks at or near the bottom. SOCIALISM DOESN’T WORK - OVER TIME, IT DESTROYS WORK ETHIC AND IN TURN THE HUMAN SPIRIT!

Okay, so what’s the point? What can you do?

You need to get out of this country and see for yourself how the rest of the world lives, and I don’t mean the French Riviera or Rome - except perhaps in transit. Go to Africa or South America or China or India. If you have a chance to live and work or study abroad, take it. You will broaden your horizons and see your country from a different perspective. I think you’ll find our system is not perfect but has much to admire.

Please don’t apologize for being an American, be proud but respectful - contrition is OK when appropriate but use it sparingly. At least we’re out there trying to make a difference, many are not.

Hold the media accountable for what they print and say.

Write to their publishers or general managers when they get it wrong or are intentionally trying to influence you when purportedly reporting the news.

Make them keep their opinions on the editorial page or with the pundits on the news channels. We know Shaun Hannity and Alan Colmes are going to come down on different sides of the issue and that’s healthy - for newscasters, on the other hand, to take one side or the other, is not. We should not even know their political persuasion, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. When we do that’s a foul and its up to us to correct it.

Know what you are talking about when you discuss the wisdom of one economic model or another. Your education does not stop when you drive off this campus tomorrow. Read Das Kapital by Karl Marx, Democracy in America by Alexis de Toucqueville, and since its been #1 on the NYT best seller list for the last seven weeks, Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin. These three books should give you a pretty well rounded perspective; with one from the left, one from the middle, and one from the right. Democracy is a very fragile animal that needs constant care and it is too important to leave to others. Socialism destroys true democracy and individual liberty.

As George Will noted in his Washington Post column last week; Tocqueville was concerned with the future of democracy in the United States and wrote of possible threats to democracy and possible dangers of democracy. He believed that democracy has a tendency to degenerate into "soft despotism" as well as the risk of developing a “tyranny of the majority.” He feared that an “immense tutelary power” could take charge and envelop society with a “network of petty regulations -- complicated, minute and uniform.” But softly: “it does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them” until people resemble “a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” This was written in 1835.

We need to stay vigilant lest we become a “herd of timid and industrious animals” shepherded by our government.

Finally, our democracy only works if we get involved in the process. It doesn’t really matter what level or what issue but what matters is that you engage.

You will no doubt be focussing on your new jobs for the next couple of years and you should, but you will also have the opportunity to get involved in the community, take it.

It is through grassroots efforts that real change is made. However small your contribution on whatever the issue, it will make a difference. The worst thing you can do is be indifferent.

When you do get involved, don’t be squelched by political correctness

We recently saw a very brave young woman in Miss California, Carrie Prejean, stand up for her beliefs in the midst of withering attacks from the press, blogs, and myriad special interest groups. She didn’t ask to be put in that position but we can all learn from her. Whether you agree with her or not, she has the right to express her opinion without being held up to ridicule and humiliation - as she said “ that’s not supposed to happen in America,” its not.

Stand up for your principals and when you see something that isn’t right, put it right. You’ll be surprised at what happens and how many people come to your support.

Conclusion

While there are many challenges in the world you are about to enter, there are many more opportunities. You will find them and make your family and this institution proud. We wish you all nothing but success.

Congratulations Graduates; now go out and “Disturb the Peace”