Lieutenant General John Kelly, USMC (soon to receive his fourth star as Commander, US Southern Command) addressed the American Legion convention yesterday in Indianapolis, and it is a speech well worth the time and effort to hear in its entirety.
Here are some segments to acquaint you with his remarks:
We didn’t start this fight. It came to us motivated by a visceral loathing of everything we are. It will not end until our adversaries and their allies around the world – state and non-state alike – understand that we will never lose our faith and our courage as a people. Our enemy is savage, offers absolutely no quarter, has a single focus: that is kill every one of us here at home or enslave us with a sick... extremism that serves no god and no purpose that any decent man or woman could ever understand.
I don’t know why they hate us, and I don’t care. But we are America, and we must prevail because we remain mankind’s best hope for the future. Not them. . . . It’s about us and our freedoms as a people. About the way we worship our god. It’s about the value and dignity we place on human life, and our intense belief in the inherent value of every man, every woman and every child and their equality in the eyes of God and under the law. . . . We cherish what our ancestors worked for, fought for and sometimes died for to give us. (The enemy) loathes who we are. These are irreconcilable positions. There is no compromise.
They were as good, our service people, as any who came before them in our history – as good as what their fathers and grandfathers did in the wars they had to fight for America. But like those who came before them, they were not born killers. Rather, they are overwhelmingly good and decent kids without thought of self who perform remarkable and most often unsung acts of bravery to a cause they decided is bigger and more important than they are themselves. Any one of them could have done something more self-serving. But they didn’t. They chose to serve, knowing full well a vicious war was in their future. They welcome the most basic and esteemed responsibility of a citizen: the defense of country. Men and women of their spirit know no other way. They’re the best of the best of their generation. . . .
The real strength of America does not come from making a religion of diversity or emphasizing the differences among us. On the contrary, they have come to a profound understanding of what our founders, our forefathers and foremothers, understood as they built a nation that was once proudly referred to as a melting pot. In our armed forces, the ultimate, most successful institution of American diversity, servicemembers have come to understand the simple fact that America’s strength was and should be again a people stitched together by a shared sense of history, values, customs, hopes and dreams that unite us. That there is great power in us as individuals, but even greater power in individuals who work together and support each other. They also know that the opposite is true, that we are weakened and can lose what we have if we continue down a path of identifying as hyphenated Americans or closed cultural groups focusing on what is in it for me.
That in spite of the efforts of those who make their living and often fill their pockets by driving wedges between Americans based on race or religion or ethnicity, our servicemen and women discover early, and on their own, while looking at their comrades standing with them in the ranks, that it is not about the color on the outside, but about the character on the inside. That it’s not about where on earth you were born, but only why you came to America and what you did once you got here. That it’s not about the god you worship – if you worship any god at all – but you will respect the right of your neighbor to honor any god he or she damn well pleases. That it’s not about what you, as an individual, can achieve, but all about achieving together as a people, as friends and neighbors. . . . There is an exceptionalism about America, and we should treasure who we are and why we are extraordinary. We should not be embarrassed about who we are or give excuses about what we have. . . .
I’ve seen them literally turn the intangibles of commitment, bravery and selfless devotion into real and meaningful action. In my three tours in this war, I never saw one hesitate or do anything other than lean into the fire and, with no apparent fear of death or injury, take the fight to those who would do you harm. . . . When no one would call them 'coward' for cowering behind a wall or shivering in panic in a bunker, slave to the most basic of all instincts – survival – none of them do. When the calls for the corpsman or medic are shouted from the mouths of young kids who know they will soon be with their God, when seconds seem like hours and it all becomes slow motion and fast-forward at the same time … and the only sensible act is to stop, get down, save yourself, they never did. . . .Yes, this is in many ways essentially the same speech as the one I cited above though with some additions, and it bears repeating, including the part toward the end when he speaks of the request of the young Marine in 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines in Sangin: "Sir, don't let them forget what we did here."