Past Speakers of the: LANDON LECTURES

Landon Lecture by Gen. Colin Powell,

Commander in Chief at Forces Command
Nov. 8, 1989

by Gen. Colin Powell

President Wefald, students, my military friends who are here, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be with you this morning.

It is always a pleasure to be back in Kansas. In my last job I had the opportunity to visit Fort Riley not too long ago. On that occasion, seeing those great soldiers out at Fort Riley, I had my spirits rejuvenated, and now I am back for more. I was stationed at Fort Leavenworth twice in the course of my career, so I feel like a native Kansan.

In Kansas, I feel close to the heart of America. I have told many foreign leaders, who include recently, Marshal Akhromeyev, who until about a year ago, was head of the Soviet armed forces, that they really would not know America, really would not know what we are all about, until they had driven across Kansas and seen the great sweep of the plains and the vastness of the fields. And met the kind of people who really and truly are the soul of America. I wanted them to gain an appreciation for the spirit of our pioneers. Men and women who opened up this great Midwest, who came up the Missouri River and spread like so much rich loam across the territory, causing towns to spring up, railroads and forts to be built, buffalo soldiers to ride across the prairies, and crops to rise in the fields and the river bottoms.

I wanted them to see where America's values had been tempered and strengthened in the hot cauldron of the summer's sun-drenched fields and in the freezing night of the deep winter's chill.

I wanted them to see and understand the tremendous potential and promise of this bounteous land. In this land without horizon one sees the greatness and goodness that is America.

Kansas was bought from a war-loving emperor by a peace-loving president in a deal known to history as the Louisiana Purchase. Caught up in the demands of war, Napoleon needed money desperately and the young American republic had the money to give him. Thomas Jefferson had a vision about these territories, that they would fit naturally into the vigorous but still young nation, and make a magnificent contribution at some later date. Today, around us, we see the brilliance of that great man's vision.

Kansas is the real America. Even for an eastern, New York Yankee such as I am, to come to Kansas always refreshes the soul.

So ladies and gentleman, students, I am glad to be here with you today, and I am honored to speak to this prestigious forum known as the Landon Lectures.

Let me begin by thanking you all for the splendid support you give to our Armed Forces here in Kansas. The history of Kansas and the Armed Forces of the United States are closely entwined. Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley, McConnell Air Force Base they all flourish because of your commitment to a strong defense. Our military men and women could not ask for better community support.

For example, I know how much the Fort Riley folks appreciate the fine relationship that you have established with them. The "Kansas State-Fort Riley Day" celebration held just over a month ago is symbolic of that outstanding relationship.

In fact, the only kind of complaint I hear from our military folks out here has to do with the small group of sailors working throughout Kansas to prepare and train reserves and to recruit for the sea service. It is a little tough to do here when you do not have a training aid called an ocean to show prospective recruits. But they do a great job, too.

Now this morning I want to talk to you about the future. For many years, some very bright people have been speculating about the future from this podium. Opening the forum in 1966, Governor Landon spoke about new challenges in international relations. Still a very relevant subject today. Ten years later, again at this forum, Senator Henry M. Jackson spoke about America and freedom's future. If he were alive today, he would be amazed and enthused at what is happening around the world. And then, slightly more than a decade later, my good friend, Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum delivered a lecture here entitled, "The Challenge of Change." Today, two years later, the Senator should feel satisfied with her prescience. Her lecture title fits perfectly the events of the current situation in the world.

I want to continue in that tradition. I want to talk about the historic turning point we are at now as we look to the future. The greatest of all American philosophers, Yogi Berra, once said something that accurately describes, believe it or not, the turning point. He said: "The future just ain't what it used to be." Yogi has a way with words that cuts right through to the heart of the matter.

The future is jam-packed with opportunities and challenges that we already know about, and many more coming our way that we are just beginning to sense, but cannot yet quite visualize. Space exploration. Depletion of fossil fuels. The disposition of our nuclear wastes. The protection of our precious environment. The education of our youth. The elimination of drug abuse. The preservation of the family as the basic building block of society. The application of new technologies that will outstrip the wonders of what we have seen so far by orders of magnitude and the flowering of freedom. There have been few times in humanity's life span that have offered so much excitement, such accelerated change, such dramatic promise as the time in which we are living. Indeed, as Yogi said, "The future ain't what it used to be."

And nowhere is the future more exciting than on the international scene as we watch the historic and wrenching changes in the nation that has been our chief adversary for over 40 years, the Soviet Union. In Europe last week, Secretary Cheney, my boss, described the situation as phenomenal and as giving us cause for great optimism.

These changes in the Soviet Union mark the beginning of a historic transition period that hopefully may lead to a fundamental permanent transformation. We know that President Gorbachev is not Thomas Jefferson meditating over a Declaration of Independence. He is not overthrowing a government. He is not ready to dismember the Soviet empire, nor should we expect him to. Yet he has set loose forces and feelings and created expectations that will be difficult to control and hard to reverse. He has let the Genie out of the bottle and I do not believe it will return.

And when the Genie came out it flew by Eastern Europe, and dramatic changes are occurring. We see a non-Communist government elected in Poland. We see the Communist party abolished and a republic declared in Hungary and the hammer and sickle symbolically burned from the Hungarian flag. We see stirrings in East Germany, cries for freedom in the Baltic states, and rumblings in the Ukraine. We see riot police with clubs in hand trying to keep this movement from sweeping through the streets of Prague.

And the reason for all this change, the reason we are seeing this, is that the Soviets have failed. Their system is in disarray and they search for new answers. I believe it is prudent that we ask ourselves this morning why they failed?

I believe there are several reasons. Foremost among them is Communist ideology. It is on its death bed. An ideology without new recruits will die. The ideology attracts no one any longer except economic and political failures such as Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea.

The system structured since 1917 to embody this ideology imposes severe limits on human energy. In fact, limits on human initiative are fundamental to the functioning of that system. Human creativity is curtailed. Human inventiveness and free spirit are replaced with an enforced stupor, a resigned obedience to the party, and the denial of the basic human rights we take for granted.

Similarly, the economic pillar in their system has failed badly. It matches the wits of an entrenched bureaucracy against the tens of thousands of daily decisions and twists and turns of a world market that defies such a centralized system of management. It produces an inevitable inertia for that bureaucracy and long, dismal lines for millions of citizens. It produces thousands of tanks, but store shelves that are empty of butter and sugar. It produces hundreds of the most modern nuclear missiles. A ten-year long waiting list for apartments.

And then when the Soviet system also set about building a world empire, it squandered enormous sums of money with little to show for the investment. Here not only were rubles wasted. Enormous good will was dissipated and a world was made fearful of Soviet expansionism. And now few nations around the world look to the Soviet Union for any political inspiration or for international security.

The Communist system sought to suppress human thought in an increasingly open world. In an age where the power of the mass media and even CNN can penetrate the very walls of the Kremlin, where information seeps between prison bars, and where the ever-present journalist can no longer be totally denied, the Soviets sought against all odds to reinforce their artificial barriers, their walls, and their disinformation machine. And what they have discovered is that it did not work.

The Soviets have given us recent and pervasive examples of the results of that kind of oppression. Today that system is showing us once again that chains can and will be broken. The human body can be oppressed but the human spirit cannot be denied. The oppressed will always revolt. The only question is when and where, and what set of circumstances will allow the spirit to smell freedom again.

These elemental forces are wrenching apart the Soviet empire: An ideology with no answers for today's questions, an economy with no goods, a foreign policy with no security, and the rising expectations of the Soviet people, all combined to produce President Gorbachev, just like rain and sun and hard work produce a field of corn.

And without these tremendous internal forces, we would not have a Gorbachev. He and other Soviet leaders understand, in my view, the nature of these forces and the need for dramatic change if they are to preside over a superpower worthy of the name as we approach the 21st century.

The Soviet Union cannot easily retrace the steps it is now taking. Lenin's "one step forward, two steps back" has become "as many steps forward as possible and try not to look back." We do not know what is possible. It is not yet clear how far the Soviets can go.

I am not here to be either a cold war warrior or to declare the cold war over. These and similar shorthand terms no longer reflect the complex relationship that exists between the superpowers: the West and the East. We are not going to eliminate or expunge superpower competition from the world. We must also understand that.

It is important to recall where the Soviets were just a few years ago, how far they have come as witnessed by the cascade of changes we see in our news every day and how much further they still have to go.

It is also important to ask ourselves another question: In all this seething change, why are we the ones who appear to be winning? Why is it that our system appears to be prevalent?

I believe that foremost among the reasons for our success is our system of values. The free world's values of freedom, human rights, democratic governments, free market economies, and the rule of law have stood in stark counterpoint to the dying Communist ideology.

In the West, we have proven for all the world to see that people can work together to guarantee political liberty, economic prosperity, and human rights. Our Western values are the values the rest of the world is yearning for. In Leipzig and East Berlin, where over a half million East Germans demonstrated a few days ago, the demands they shouted to their national leaders sound very familiar right here in Kansas: the right to have free elections, as we did yesterday around the country, the right to form opposition political parties, the right to assemble freely, and the democratic right to participate in the navigation, the upkeep, and the servicing of the political process. One of the speakers in Berlin earlier this week said: "We have regained our voice."

The difference in Kansas, and all across the great land of America, is that these are our inalienable rights, not something to regained. These are our birthrights. Glasnost was given to us by our creators, not authorized by a ruling elite, however newly enlightened.

For us the human spirit is unchecked except by the constraints of law freely agreed to in a democratic process.

Our political philosophy is sound and needs neither resurrection nor restructuring. No political perestroika is necessary for us. Government of, by, and for the people is its own renewal. Built into the political process is a constant refurbishment, an almost daily housecleaning.

Some people in the world mistake our sometimes noisy, contentious democratic process for weakness and disharmony. But it is not that at all. That noise you hear is democracy at work. Our democracy is like a life raft it has always got water in it, and your feet are always wet, but it never sinks. It absolutely refuses to sink.

And once you have coupled this powerful political process with an economic system of free trade, private enterprise, and entrepreneurial spirit, the horizons are limitless.

Moreover, our friends and allies around the world are the Fortune 500 of the economic community and of the international world. When you put England, France, West Germany, Japan, Canada, Korea, and all the rest of our friends and allies up against the Vietnams, North Koreas, and Cubas of the world, you begin to see what I mean.

You also begin to see what has caused the Soviets to recognize their failure. Can you imagine what it must feel like to be ever mindful of the fact that Japan is off your east coast and West Germany near your western border? If you were a Soviet leader, while you stare transfixed at two of the most vibrant economic miracles in the world that rose from the ashes of World War II, you cannot explain why there are no potatoes in Vladivostok nor any soap in the Ukraine.

Our strong alliances presented the Soviets with an impenetrable barrier to their dream of foreign empire, and at the same time gave them an incredible example of what they were missing. Is it any wonder that they finally saw the light? I think not. The wonder is that it took so long.

And maybe there is a reason hidden in that wonder. Because the Soviets seem finally to have come to their new thinking after years of witnessing not only the tremendous cohesiveness of the free world's alliances, and the power of our economies, but also the determined will of our people. A will demonstrated by our dedication to the rebuilding of our defenses by our fundamental commitment to the bedrock of our national security: our military might and its deterrent effect.

No matter how sound your system, how powerful your politics, how dynamic your economy, how strong your values, without the Armed Forces to back them up, a democratic nation can still be at risk. America's resurgent military strength sent a powerful signal to the Soviets. A signal that we would match them step by step, that when it came to armed might no one could be allowed ever to threaten America or its alliances.

The rebuilding of our military strength for the past ten years helped bring the Soviets to the point where they are today. Just as surely as did all the other elements of our national power.

So, with Communism dying and the Soviets grasping for ways to revive it, and with our systemic strength restored, what do we do?

Do we engage? Do we sit back and watch? Do we focus on helping Eastern Europe? Do we stay strong in our military? What do we do?

We do what our President has suggested. We engage. We give due credit to the Soviets for what they have done. And we encourage them to do more for themselves, for us, for the benefit of all mankind. We acknowledge what we see happening in the Soviet empire. And we seek ways to work with the Soviets to go beyond containment.

I believe one of the most fundamental aspects of our approach to the future should be a resolute determination to reshape history and to work for a permanent peace. To work with our friends and allies and with our still potential adversaries.

The period ahead is uncertain, unstable, and we are understandably anxious about the future. But we should not be afraid. We are the people in the world who are winning. We are the ones whose spirits should be soaring. We are the ones who caused this movement that you see around the world. This movement toward peace, freedom, and democracy.

We must take mutual advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. We must engage the Soviets at every point where our mutual interests are advanced. We must open the way for them to enter the world community.

We must guide them down an irreversible road with international agreements, openness, exposure to basic values, arms reduction and, ultimately, irreversible entry into the inextricably binding world community.

And as they go down this road to full and productive membership in the world community, we must ensure they earn it. The rule of law must take over as a pillar of Soviet policy. The Helsinki accords on basic human rights must become not rhetoric but reality for the Soviets, and market forces must be acknowledged and at work in the Soviet economy.

The Soviets must make unilateral defense cuts as well as mutual cuts that result from signed agreements. They are the ones with the massive military machine out of all proportion to legitimate defense needs. They could cut unilaterally for years before we arrive at even rough parity in numbers.

And as we do execute arms control agreements, we must remember that trust but verify that it has lost none of its meaning in the days since Mr. Gorbachev's magic became so spell-binding around the world.

We must remember how we got to this historic turning point in history: our systemic strength and the strength of our allies have gotten us here. And a crucial dimension of that strength is our well-trained, proud, and ready military force.

In a system of strong and robust alliances that spans horizons from the Atlantic to the Pacific we must provide the leadership. Without us, there can be no substantive movement toward a permanent peace. With us, the free world writes its own destiny.

We cannot afford to be infatuated by what we see. We are beyond containment but not beyond danger not with the Soviets still devoting 15 to 17 percent of their gross national product to the military and not while they are continuing to make and modernize strategic systems that can destroy the United States in 30 minutes.

We should go with caution into the sunlight that the Soviets have found so devastatingly bright. We are accustomed to this kind of sunlight; they have never seen it before in their history. While they attempt to regain a perspective, to put together an effective economic structure and to repair their floundering bureaucracy, we must pay heed to all the elements of our systemic strength, including our Armed Forces.

Our resources are scarce, and there are many demands on them. But we must have, for example, strategic forces, and they must be modern so that we can deal from a position of strength and sufficiency. B-l and B-2 bombers, trident submarines, and MX and midget man and D-5 missiles are very, very expensive systems, but they will sustain us for decades and they will ensure that we are never at a disadvantage. And these strategic forces and their upkeep are critical if we want to achieve a sound and verifiable strategic arms agreement. And if we want to keep the peace afterwards.

We must have conventional forces that remain strong, ready, and proud even if they have to be smaller due to conventional force agreements or because of constrained dollars.

We need an Army with forward-deployed units in critical regions and home-based strategically deployable units ready for any contingency in the world that threatens our interests. We need a Navy whose maritime presence around the world is unmistakable: to friend and adversary alike. And a Marine Corps that is ready for any call.

We need an Air Force that can clear the skies the moment such a task is called for. In short, we must continue to protect ourselves while at the same time taking advantage of all the opportunities opened up to us by historic changes we are seeing in the world.

We must not allow ourselves to be confused about our security. In that respect, the future has not changed. The world is still dangerous, still possessed of threats to our republic, and still demanding of ready armed forces to deter war and, God forbid, to win at war if that is what is ordained.

The Soviets have come far. I give President Gorbachev credit. I have met with him five times. I know he is moving in directions that should bring stability and greater peace to the world. We, too, have come far, and I must give credit to the American people and to all the free peoples of the world who have been with us in this effort.

In our analysis of current events, we must remember where the Soviets were. We must keep in mind where they have come from. It was not long ago that they were invading Afghanistan, fully supportive of Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, and airlifting Cubans to Angola.

And we must remember where we were hungover from the traumatic experience of the Vietnam conflict and on the verge of dismantling our military establishment through a sustained form of benign neglect.

Now, after we have rediscovered our position of leadership in the free world and rebuilt our armed forces into the best we have ever had in time of peace, we find a happy coincidence. The Soviets have discovered their system is a failure and want to change. We know it is more than a happy coincidence. It is a world of new opportunities that we helped produce.

And to push the opportunities to the maximum extent possible, we must maintain America's systemic strength, a strength we have rebuilt in all its dimensions over the past decade political, economic, and military. And we must keep trained, ready, and proud the men and women who make up that vital dimension of our systemic strength, the Armed Forces of the United States.

You might ask how can people standing in democracy's life raft with wet feet, personal problems, car payments to make, tuition bills to pay, families to nurture, dogs and cats to look after, parents to worry about, and for many in this room, exams to worry about beginning on the 18th of December: how can people like us contribute?

I want to tell you that not only can we contribute. I must tell you that we are the crew as well as the passengers in the raft. You are the very essence of what I am referring to. The essence of the American dream. You are what makes Kansas Kansas and America America for all the world to see. Without you, there would be no dream. The future I speak of, with all of its excitement and hope, will continue to demand the service of Americans such as you who love your country and are willing to serve your country in one form or another.

There is a grave marker in Arlington National Cemetery that has a very special meaning to me. The marker has just a last name on it "Murphy" and beneath the name are engraved these words: Patriot. An honest man who served his country for 42 years: Corporal United States Marine Corps, Special Agent Federal Bureau of Investigation, Staff Director U.S. House of Representatives.

This man had given at least half and perhaps as much as two-thirds of his life serving his country in one way or another. He had been born, grown to manhood, been educated, and then spent the rest of his life in the service of his country. And as I looked on that humble gravesite, I thought, what more can a man or woman have said about them that matters?

The man was honest. And he was a patriot. And he served his nation for almost half a century. I can think of no finer epitaph.

Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that the strength of America lay in her people her people who are free to think, to speak, to act and to serve as their conscience and the law dictates. And he knew full well that the strength of America's government lay in the quality of those who chose to serve her in whatever capacity.

I want to express my gratitude to all of you in this audience who have rendered public service. You have laid up treasure in heaven. For example, I commend those of you involved in the Kansas "Margin of Excellence" program, now in its third year. Your service is of the most invaluable kind. As President Bush has said on a number of occasions, it is at the local level that the problems of education are best solved, and with this program you have taken that guidance to heart and done something about it.

There is an old adage that fits our situation and frame of reference perfectly. Children, the saying goes, do not inherit the future world from their parents. Parents borrow the future world from their children. Kansas is taking care of that very, very precious loan.

I also want to challenge each of the young people in this audience. I firmly believe that to serve America in these challenging and rapidly changing times promises to be the most exciting and rewarding adventure in the journal of history. And we should not ask for glory for what we have done or what we are about to do; we should find that our service is its own reward.

So become good parents. Make a good family. Serve on the town council. Fight for the environment. Fight drugs. Produce the best farm products. Vote in every election. Be interested in politics. And if it should happen that you think about entering one of the Armed Services, I request you recall what I have said here today. In that essential and crucial dimension of America's systemic strength, you will be a most vital part. For you are America's future.

And that future really ain't what it used to be but America is. America still holds out the torch to all who will be enlightened by its glow. America still beckons to the world's oppressed, to the teeming millions who yearn to be free, to throw off the chains that bind them. So long as her values are upheld, America will not change. So long as her men and women still seek to grasp every opportunity to make the world a better place, America will not fail. So long as we are constantly in a process of renewal, and rededication, there is no human limit to the world we can create, to the peace and prosperity we can enjoy. So long as in Kansas and in Maine, in California and in Texas, as in all of this great land, so long as Americans are Americans, and we remain true to our values and principles, people around the world will follow our example, cast off the chains of oppression even ultimately in the darkest corners of the earth.

Thank you very much.

The transcription of this Landon Lecture was accomplished through the cooperation of the Kansas State University Libraries and the Office of Mediated Education.

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