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 Home > News & Policies > August 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 29, 2002

Vice President Honors Veterans of Korean War
Marriott River Front Hotel
San Antonio, Texas

2:35 P.M. EDT

After being introduced by the president of The Chosin Few, Col. John Gray, right, Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to the organization of Korean War veterans in San Antonio, TX Aug. 29, 2002. White House photo by David Bohrer. THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, and thank you, Colonel. It's a very special privilege to be here this afternoon, and I appreciate that warm welcome. Just last month, I had the opportunity in Washington to be part of the presentation ceremony for veterans and family members receiving the Republic of Korea Service Medal. And I appreciate this opportunity once again to join with so many distinguished veterans of the Korean War. And I bring good wishes to all of you from the seat of power -- Crawford, Texas. (Laughter and applause.)

I know you all feel especially welcome here in President Bush's home state, and in this great city of San Antonio -- as the Colonel pointed out, the site of the Alamo. The armed forces have a tremendous presence in this community, at Brooks, Lackland, and Randolph Air Forces bases -- and of course at Fort Sam Houston, the place where military aviation was born, and where Dwight Eisenhower was first posted as a second lieutenant. San Antonio is a proud military town, and I know the residents of this community are honored by your presence.

I, too, am honored to be with you. Colonel Gray was very thoughtful to send me an invitation some months ago, and I couldn't have been more pleased to accept. And in this room I see more than a few friends, and many personal heroes. You share the experience of serving in America in an hour of need -- of showing incredible strength, endurance, and character in the worst imaginable conditions. And you gained that experience in what has been called "the war that America forgot to remember."

I was struck by an item that appeared in the corrections column of a major newspaper several months ago. It seems that the obituary of Colonel William Barber -- a Medal of Honor recipient known to all of you -- the paper described Chosin Reservoir as "one of the worst defeats in Marine Corps history." Well, they may not have checked with many Marines before they printed that. But something tells me they heard from Marines after they printed it. In any event, the editors had to run a correction to point out that the American action was a "series of tactical victories in the course of a fighting withdrawal."

The paper did right by correcting that record. But it does tell us something when, even fifty years after the fact, there's still a lot of misinformation out there. At the first reunion of the Chosin Few, I'm told, one member of your group said that he asked his children what they teach in the schools about the Korean War. The kids replied, "What war?"

Vice President Dick Cheney Vice stands at attention with Vice Admiral John Totushek, left, and General Donald Cook, center, during the National Anthem moments before addressing veterans of the Korean War in San Antonio, TX Aug. 29, 2002. White House photo by David Bohrer. Fortunately, that was a long time ago, and Americans already familiar, now, with the tremendous accomplishments of America's armed forces not only in World War Two and Vietnam have been reminded once again of the tremendous contribution that all of you made in Korea. Visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington now see the names of more than 58,000 Americans lost in that conflict, over a period of more than a decade. Nearby, of course, at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, a lot of people are surprised to learn that in Korea we lost almost that many in just three years' time, the length of the Korean conflict. A good number of you, I'm sure, have seen that memorial -- with the figures of 19 troops, fitted for battle, moving toward the American flag. One visitor asked a Korean veteran if he liked the statues. He did. But, he said, "If you want to know what Korea was like," come back and "look at them when it's 10 degrees below zero, snowing and sleeting."

The Korean War Memorial, together with the 50th anniversary observances, has done a great deal to reacquaint the nation with the history of that conflict. When the conflict began, our military was greatly weakened by years of demobilization, and was scarcely prepared for what lay ahead. It was, said one soldier, "a war of fists and rifle butts" -- where weapons rusted in the monsoons of summer, and froze solid during the coldest Korean winter in a hundred years; where many who fell into enemy hands were treated with almost unimaginable brutality. Yet in Korea were written some of the most notable chapters in military history -- among them General MacArthur's brilliantly conceived landing at Inchon, the intense struggle for Pork Chop Hill, the Eighth Army's phenomenal defense of the Pusan Perimeter, and, of course, the successful fighting withdrawal from the death trap of the Chosin Reservoir.

Military historians have properly termed Chosin Reservoir "the most violent small unit fighting in the history of warfare" and "one of those military masterpieces that occur when skill and bravery fuse to defy rational expectation." This is not the audience for a recitation of those facts; you all know firsthand what happened there. I will say that I hope and pray that greater and greater numbers of Americans will, over time, learn and understand what the Chosin Few did for our nation.

Americans must know names like Lieutenant Colonel, later General, Ray Davis, who led the First Battalion against a numerically superior and ferocious enemy force, pressing on through deep snow into the face of withering fire, carrying all his wounded with him, taking and holding vital terrain and saving a rifle company from annihilation. We all should know, of course, about how Colonel Barber, felled by gunfire, maintained personal control of Company F, commanding his troops from a stretcher.

We need to know about men who fought for weeks on end, having as their only shelter the holes they scooped in the snow. About how General Smith, exhausted and overburdened, gained new strength simply by hearing the sound coming from a warming tent: It was a group of enlisted men singing the Marine Corps Hymn.

We need to remember, as well, that in addition to those who died, more than ninety thousand others came home wounded from that war. And even at this hour several thousand remain missing: brave men last seen doing their duty, honored and remembered by their country, which will persist in our effort to account for every last one of them.

The cause America stood for in Korea -- joined by forces from many countries -- was noble and just. It was the cause of human freedom. It was a struggle to determine, as General Ridgway put it, "Whether the rule of men who shoot their prisoners, enslave their citizens, and deride the dignity of man shall displace the rule of those to whom the individual and individual rights are sacred."

Because so many sacrificed in that cause, South Korea is today a land that enjoys progress and prosperity, its people free from repression, scarcity, and starvation -- the daily conditions of life in North Korea. President Bush has observed that satellite photos of the Korean Peninsula at night show the North in almost complete darkness. South Korea, on the other hand, is bathed in light -- a vibrant, enterprising society; a prosperous democracy sharing ties of commerce and cooperation with many nations all over the globe; a peaceful and talented people who have built the third-largest economy in Asia.

We look to the day when the light of freedom and progress covers all of Korea, and stability on the Peninsula rests on a foundation of peaceful reconciliation. Until then, stability will be maintained by our great military alliance. Thirty-seven thousand American troops proudly serve in Korea today. We will maintain our presence there. America's commitment to peace in the region, and to security for our friends, is unshakable.

Our people stationed in South Korea today follow in the finest of traditions, going back to all of you -- and to the millions of others who have honored this country by their military service. In these last ten months, the people of the United States have been inspired once again by the bravery and selflessness of our armed forces. And I can say, as a former Secretary of Defense, I have never been more proud of the America's military.

Our military will carry out many critical missions as we fight the global war against terror. As Secretary Rumsfeld recently put it, we are still closer to the beginning of this war than we are to the end of it. We have entered a struggle of years -- a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy. The terrorists who struck America are ruthless, they are resourceful, and they hide in many countries. They came into our country to murder thousands of innocent men, women, and children. And there is no doubt but that they wish to strike again, and that they are working to acquire the very deadliest weapons.

Against such enemies, America and the civilized world have only one option: wherever terrorists operate, we must stop them, stop them in their planning, and one by one bring them to justice.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime and al Qaeda terrorists have met the fate that they chose for themselves. And they saw, up close and personal, the new methods and capabilities of America's armed forces.

For whatever lies ahead, our men and women in uniform deserve the very best weapons, the very best equipment, the best support, and the best training we can possibly provide them. And under President Bush they will have them all. The President has asked Congress for a one-year increase of more than $48 billion for national defense, the largest increase since Ronald Reagan lived in the White House. And for the good of the nation's military families, he has also asked Congress to provide every man and woman in uniform with a pay raise. We think they've earned it.

In this war, we have assembled a broad coalition of civilized nations that recognize the danger and that are working with us on all fronts. The President has made very clear that there is no neutral ground in the fight against terror. Those who harbor terrorists share guilt for the acts they commit. And under the Bush Doctrine, a regime that harbors or supports terrorists will be regarded as an enemy of the United States.

The Taliban has already learned that lesson, but Afghanistan was only the beginning of a lengthy campaign. Were we to stop now, any sense of security we have would be only temporary. There is a terrorist underworld out there around the globe, spread to more than 60 countries. The job we have will require every tool of diplomacy, finance, intelligence, law enforcement, and military power. But we will, over time, find and defeat the enemies of the United States. In the case of Osama bin Laden -- as President Bush said recently -- "If he's alive, we'll get him. If he's not alive, we already got him." (Laughter.) A Texas saying, I think. (Laughter and applause.)

But the challenges to our country involve more than just tracking down a single person or one small group. 9/11 and its aftermath awakened this nation to danger, to the true ambitions of the global terror network, and to the reality that weapons of mass destruction are being sought by determined enemies who would not hesitate to use them against us.

It is a certainty that the al Qaeda network is pursuing such weapons, and has succeeded in acquiring at least a crude capability to use them. We found evidence of their efforts in the caves and tunnels of al Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan. And we've seen in recent days additional confirmation in tapes played on CNN -- pictures of al Qaeda members training to commit acts of terror, and testing chemical weapons on dogs. Those terrorists who remain at large are determined to use these capabilities against the United States and against our friends and allies around the world.

As we face this prospect, old doctrines of security do not apply. In the days of the Cold War, we were able to manage the threat with strategies of deterrence and containment. But it's a lot tougher to deter enemies who have no country to defend. And containment is not possible when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction and are prepared to share them with terrorists who intend to inflict catastrophic losses on the United States.

In the case of Saddam Hussein, we have a dictator who was defeated in the Persian Gulf War, and who agreed at the time to the destruction of all of his weapons of mass destruction. In the past decade, however, Saddam has systematically broken all of these agreements. His regime is busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue an aggressive nuclear weapons program. These are not weapons designed for the purpose of defending Iraq; these are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale, developed so that Saddam Hussein can hold the threat over the head of anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.

On the nuclear question, many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire such weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really judge. Intelligence is at best an uncertain business, even under the best circumstances. This is especially the case when you are dealing with a totalitarian government that has made a science out of deceiving the international community. One must keep in mind the history of U.N. inspection teams in Iraq. Even as they were conducting the most intrusive system of arms control in history, the inspectors often missed a great deal. Before being barred from the country, the inspectors found and destroyed thousands of chemical weapons, and hundreds of tons of mustard gas and other nerve agents.

Yet Saddam Hussein had sought to frustrate and deceive them at every turn, and was often successful in doing so. At one point in 1995, the inspectors were actually on the verge of declaring that Saddam's programs to develop chemical weapons and ballistic missiles had been fully accounted for and shut down. In time, aided by information from defectors and other sources, they discovered that Saddam Hussein had kept them largely in the dark about the extent of his program to mass-produce VX, one of the deadliest chemicals known to man. And far from having shut down Iraq's prohibited missile programs, the inspectors found that Saddam had continued to test such missiles, almost literally under the noses of U.N. inspectors.

Many have suggested that the problem can be dealt with simply by returning inspectors to Iraq. But we must remember that inspections are not an end in themselves. The objective has to be disarmament; to compel Iraqi compliance with the U.N. Security Council Resolutions that call for the complete destruction of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and an end to all efforts to develop or produce more chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

With Saddam's record of thwarting inspections, one has to be concerned that he would continue to plot, using the available time to husband his resources, to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons programs, and to gain the possession of nuclear weapons.

Should all his ambitions be realized, the implications would be enormous for the Middle East, for the United States, and for the peace of the world. The whole range of weapons of mass destruction then would rest in the hands of a dictator who has already shown his willingness to use such weapons, and has done so, both in his war with Iran and against his own people. Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and sitting atop ten percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, to take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, and to directly threaten America's friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors -- confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth.

We are, after all, dealing with the same dictator who shoots at American and British pilots in the no-fly zone on a regular basis; the same dictator who dispatched a team of assassins to murder former President Bush as he traveled abroad; the same dictator who invaded Iran and Kuwait, and has fired ballistic missiles at Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel; the same dictator who has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for nearly two decades.

In the face of such a threat, we must proceed with care, deliberation, and in consultation with our allies. I know our President very well. I've worked alongside him as he directed our response to the events of last September 11th. I know that he will proceed cautiously and deliberately to consider all possible options to deal with the threat that Iraq, ruled by Saddam Hussein, represents. And I am confident that he will, as he has said he would, consult widely with our Congress, with our friends and allies around the world, before deciding upon a course of action. He welcomes the debate that has been joined here at home, and he has made it clear to his national security team that he wants us to participate fully in the hearings that will be held in Congress next month on this vitally important issue.

The elected leaders of the country have a responsibility to consider all available options, and we are doing so. What we must not do in the face of a mortal threat is give in to wishful thinking or to willful blindness. We must not simply look away, hope for the best, and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve. As President Bush has said, time is not on our side. Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.

Now and in the future, the United States will work closely with the global coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. And the entire world must know that we will take whatever action is necessary to defend our freedom and our security.

As former Secretary of State Kissinger recently stated: "The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, and the demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an imperative for preemptive action." If the United States could have preempted 9/11, we would have, no question. Should we be able to prevent another, much more devastating attack, we will, no question. This nation will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terror regimes.

Some have argued that to oppose Saddam Hussein would cause even greater troubles in that part of the world, and interfere with the larger war against terror. I believe the opposite is true. Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the entire region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace. As for the reaction of the Arab "street," the Middle East expert, Professor Fouad Ajami, predicts that after liberation, in Basra and Baghdad the streets are "sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans." Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.

The reality is that these times bring not only dangers but also opportunities. In the Middle East, where so many have known only poverty and oppression, terror and tyranny, we look to the day when people can live in freedom and dignity, and the young can grow up free of the conditions that breed despair, hatred, and violence.

In other times the world saw how the United States defeated fierce enemies, then helped rebuild their countries, forming strong bonds between our peoples and our governments. Today in Afghanistan, the world is seeing that America acts not to conquer but to liberate, and remains in friendship to help the people build a future of stability, self-determination, and peace.

We would act in that same spirit after a regime change in Iraq. With our help, a liberated Iraq can be a great nation once again. Iraq is rich in natural resources and human talent, and has unlimited potential for a peaceful and a prosperous future. Our goal would be an Iraq that has territorial integrity, a government that is democratic and pluralistic, a nation where the human rights of every ethnic and religious group are recognized and respected. In that troubled land, all who seek justice and dignity and the chance to live their own lives can know they have a friend and ally in the United States of America.

Great decisions and challenges lie ahead of us. Yet we can and will build a safer and better world beyond the war on terror. I have shared these thoughts with you today because war veterans with your experience often have a superior perspective on matters involving the nation's security. From experience you understand the overriding importance of clear thinking, careful preparation, and above all honesty, when we think about any future course of action. You understand as well the purposes of this nation -- peace, freedom, self-determination -- because you defended those very purposes in the defining hours of your lives.

Once again, I am grateful for this chance to join you today. And on behalf of the President and the nation, I thank you for your service to the United States. Those who seek the true meaning of duty, honor, service, and sacrifice, will find it in the Chosin Few.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 3:00 P.M. EDT