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Gio
09 Feb 04,, 13:00
'As long as the people back home support us'

By Senator Zell Miller

(Excerpts from the January 12 speech to the Annual Meeting Dinner of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce by Senator Zell Miller, who recently returned from visiting U.S. troops in Iraq)

I am pleased to be with all of you again. To see old friends from the General Assembly and state government. To be with members of this chamber I have worked so long and so closely with. I hesitate to think what this state would be without the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the visionary but practical leadership you have provided for so many years.

And thank you to my friend, Judge Griffin Bell – one of the greatest Georgians ever, one of the greatest Americans ever - for that very generous introduction. I am also grateful for the introduction you wrote for my book. When you said you’d do it, my heart swelled and tears literally came to my eyes.

You have had a long, distinguished and very productive career and you amaze us all with how you continue to show us what public service is all about. I particularly refer tonight to your leadership in being named to the review panel to hear appeals of the military tribunal cases involving terrorist suspects. And I refer also to your leadership with Common Good, the bipartisan organization seeking to overhaul America’s lawsuit culture.

Like this Chamber, Common Good wants to do something about our system of justice – once America’s greatest pride, but now practically a tool of extortion.

Doctors … teachers … ministers … even Little League coaches find their daily decisions hamstrung by fear of lawsuits on practically everything. The law is supposed to set the boundaries of legal action, so that people know where they stand. The law should make us feel comfortable doing what’s right – and nervous about doing what’s wrong.

But today, Americans are nervous about doing . . . well, just about anything.

That’s why this organization – Common Good – of which Judge Bell is a leader and I’m a part of wants to draw the line on who can sue and what they can sue for.

Today, because anyone can sue for almost anything, Americans tiptoe timidly through the tulips, fearful every minute of being blindsided by a lawsuit.

Legal threats undermine the teacher’s ability to keep order and discipline in the classroom. Principals can’t remove ineffective teachers. Playgrounds are stripped of swings and see-saws and monkey bars. Many schools don’t even have recess any more.

And when it comes to business . . . well, you business leaders know better than anyone what this lawsuit culture has done to your workplace.

And of course, it has fundamentally altered the practice of medicine, eroding the quality and the availability of health care.
Doctors are afraid to deliver babies. Some are even quitting their practices. Others advise young hopefuls not to even consider that most honorable calling of practicing medicine.

It’s a system that is broke – and it must be fixed. So, I’m going to spend some time on it.

Along this line, one of the pieces of legislation I’m optimistic about is a bill I co-sponsored to reform class-action lawsuits.
It addresses the most flagrant abuses in the class-action system – including lawyers shopping for friendlier courts – but it still protects the rights of Americans to get justice through the courts.

The House passed the bill last fall, but in the Senate, we failed by one vote to break the Democrats’ filibuster against it. Now, three of those Democrats have said they will support the bill, and I expect to see it pass in the next few weeks.

Another piece of legislation that is very important to the nation – and particularly the Southeast – is the Energy Bill. It’s another one that passed in the House but failed by two votes in the Senate.

For months, we worked very hard to put this bill together. We wanted to come up with a comprehensive energy policy for the nation. But also, at the same time, address the specific needs of all the regions in this country.

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) has vowed to bring this bill back to the floor for a vote, and I will continue to do all I can to help him pass it.

I have helped President Bush pass two major tax cuts since I’ve been in the Senate, and if he comes with another one this year, he can count on me again.

But just as important as passing these tax cuts, is making them permanent, as President Bush reiterated on Saturday. You heard me say it two years ago and I’ve said it again and again: No one can make long-range plans for a business or for a family with a here-today, maybe-gone-tomorrow tax cut – a tax policy that has a perishable date on it like a quart of milk.

Also this year, I will continue to work very closely with all of Georgia’s 13 military bases to help them get ready for the next round of base closings in 2005. I’ve been through this before as governor and it’s a tough grind. But Georgia has some of the finest bases in the country and I will be doing everything I can to plead that case in Washington.

In fact, I spent this past week in Iraq meeting with some of those soldiers, not only from Georgia but all over the country, who have fought so brilliantly and so bravely for our country.

Let me give you a just a few facts that you may not have seen in the media for some reason.

General Paul Eaton, who not long ago was the commanding general at Fort Benning in Columbus, is in charge of training and organizing the new Iraqi Army. He told me that he had graduated his first group, more are on the way, and that he is optimistic.

There are over 60,000 Iraqi policemen already providing security to their fellow citizens. I went up one afternoon and visited a sparse but brand-new training academy in northern Iraq. It reminded me of the early days in the 1970s when we started ours at Forsyth. Saddam’s old police were corrupt but there’s a lot of new young Iraqis who seem to want to learn the profession the right way.

Also, this old educator was interested that all 22 universities are open and some of them are unbelievably huge. The agricultural college in Mosul has over 30,000 students.

Also, 43 technical institutions are open. And nearly all the primary and secondary schools are up and running. Many are being renovated and teachers already earn 20 times their former salaries, but they are still very low.

All 240 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics are open. Pharmaceutical distribution has gone from zero to over 12,000 tons. And more than 22 million children have been vaccinated.

Business seems to be flourishing, and commerce is humming. There is a single unified currency for the first time in 15 years. And the central bank is fully independent. Loans are being made to finance businesses. And many who were distrustful of banks are opening new accounts daily. It’s called capitalism.

A constitution will soon be written. And workshops are already being conducted on how to hold elections. It’s called representative government.

Religious festivals are no longer banned. Huge numbers of people move freely to places of worship and celebration. It’s called freedom of religion.

Millions of long-suffering Iraqis no longer live in perpetual fear. Children are no longer murdered – nor young girls raped – when their parents disagree with the government.

Critics of the government are not fed to the lions at the local zoo or buried by the thousands in mass graves.

Because, you see, Saddam is gone.

Uday and Qusay are dead. I saw where they were killed. And I saw their ill-gotten gains in warehouses. The gold-plated AK-47s and the $8,000 bottles of wine they enjoyed while their people starved and suffered.

And yet we have the anti-military crowd – not just anti-war but anti-military crowd – wringing their hands and fretting, What good can come of this?

What good can come of this?

We’ve just given 26 million people the greatest gift of all: their freedom. That is the good that has come from this.

Iraq has come further in seven months than Germany did after World War II in seven years. And don’t forget: Our occupying soldiers back then were often killed by fanatical Nazis.

When will that greatest lesson of history ever be learned? That there is always the ongoing struggle between tyranny and freedom, between good and evil. And one must make a choice between the two.

It always exacts a terrible toll, but thankfully, it also often results in the most glorious of payoffs when freedom wins.

It was as true as far back as 490 B.C. The citizen soldiers of Athens, Greece, turned back on the plains of Marathon a Persian army three times as big and much better equipped. And a man named Phidippides ran the 26 miles back to Athens with the news of the great victory.

Marathoners still run that distance, but a far greater significance of this battle was that free men defeated the hired soldiers and slaves of a king.

And this victory led the way to Athenian democracy and all the good things that came with it: equality among citizens, individual rights, trial by jury, freedom of speech.

The glorious payoff also was true that April day in 1775, when the local militia of the American colonists stood up to the British Redcoats at Lexington and Concord and fired that shot heard 'round the world.

Two weeks later, George Washington took command of the Constitutional Army against the tyranny of George III.

And then still later, our Founding Fathers made that statement, “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

The payoff was gloriously true in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln made his famous address at that Gettysburg ceremony where 7,000 men had died and their bodies lay rotting for months after the battle.

President Lincoln's few words explained better than anyone else ever has what the Civil War was all about. “A test,” he said, “of whether a new nation conceived in liberty,” – conceived in liberty – “can long endure.”

It was true in 1917, when within just a few months more than 9 million Americans volunteered to fight the Germans in World War I and turned the tide from possible defeat into an allied victory on the Western front.

My father was among them. He died when I was 2 weeks old. I never knew him, but I can remember wearing his coat with those sergeant stripes on it when I was so young; it dragged on the floor, and my arms did not extend more than halfway down its sleeves.

The glorious payoff was true that late spring of 1940, because of a single strong voice, a magnificent and eloquent voice that would not let up in his opposition to Adolf Hitler, as evil a man as ever lived.

As the clouds of war threatened, Winston Churchill repeatedly warned against the dangers of appeasement and pleaded that the evildoer be toppled and destroyed. But nobody would listen.

Then, finally, when only Britain was left, in desperation, they turned to Churchill as their prime minister. And with stirring oratory and unflinching courage, he led them out from under the heel of Hitler during Britain's finest hour.

I had come to believe that unless America found its own version of Winston Churchill, that the same spirit of appeasement, the same kind of softness and self-indulgence was turning my country into a land cowering before the world's mad bullies.

I remember with disgust when we did nothing after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six and injuring more than 1,000 Americans.

I was amazed in 1996 when 16 U.S. servicemen were killed in the bombing of the Khobar Towers, and still, we did nothing.

When our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were attacked in 1998, killing 263 people, our only response was to fire a few missiles into an empty tent.

And then came September 11, 2001, “the worst day in our history," David McCullough has called it.

Nineteen men armed only with box cutters, the skill to pilot a jet aircraft, and a fanatical zeal changed forever the meaning of keeping our citizens safe. In two hours, thousands of Americans were killed on our own soil and before our very eyes as we watched in horror.

I went to the floor of the United States Senate and said our response should not only be swift; it must be sustained.

That our will as a country was being tested. And that too often in the past, terrorist attacks have not been answered as forcefully as they should have.

My exact words were, “Bomb the hell out of them.”

Later, I was the only Democrat in the Senate who supported President Bush on Homeland Security and still later gave him my full support for the regime change in Iraq. And I told this true story to my colleagues: I was doing some work on my back porch in Young Harris, Georgia, tearing out a section of old stacked rocks, when all of a sudden, I uncovered a nest of copperhead snakes.

Now, a copperhead is poisonous; it will kill you. It could kill one of my grandchildren. It could kill one of my four great-grandchildren who play around there all the time.

And, you know, when I discovered those copperheads, I didn't call Shirley, like I do about nearly everything else. I didn't ask the city council to pass a resolution. I didn't even call any of my neighbors.

I just took a hoe and knocked them in the head and killed them dead as a doorknob. Now, I guess you could call it a unilateral action. Or maybe a pre-emptive strike.

I took their poisonous heads off because they were a threat to me, and they were a threat to my home and to my family. They were a threat to all I hold dear. And isn't what this is all about?

By the way, have you noticed that suddenly Muammar Kadhafi, the Libyan dictator who has supported some of the worst acts of terror in recent memory, suddenly “got religion” after we captured Saddam? And he announced that he wanted to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction?

One of our goals in invading Iraq was to demonstrate to rogue dictators everywhere what their fate might be if they pursued such a policy. Kadhafi got the message. And I have no doubt others will, also.

Few of freedom's soldiers have understood the lessons of history as well as Churchill, who not only was a brave and daring soldier and not only a great political leader; he also won the Nobel Prize for writing history.

Perhaps then in these times, we should remember the question that Churchill framed to the world when he made his famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946.

He first reminded his audience that war and tyranny remained the great enemies of mankind. And then he asked these questions. “Do we not understand what war means to the ordinary person? Can you not grasp its horror?”

The bluntness with which Churchill spoke about the threat at that time did not go over well in many quarters. The American media did not want to hear this kind of talk. They called Churchill a warmonger. Even the usually gutsy Harry Truman denied knowing in advance what was in that speech and even suggested that Churchill probably should not have made it.

But you know, Abraham Lincoln was just as blunt and just as realistic. He once said, “You don't fight a war by blowing rosewater through cornstalks.”

These two men, each the greatest man of his century, knew the horrors of war. But they also knew that war is sometimes necessary, that there is more to civilization than just comfortable self-preservation.

There are some of our citizens who believe war is politically pointless and that foreign policy is just some kind of fuzzy-feeling social work. I reject that.

Sometimes, a short war must be fought to prevent a longer war. Sometimes, hundreds must die in order to save thousands. Sometimes, the long view of history must be taken.

You hear people say that we must win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people in order to achieve our objective. Frankly I’m not so sure we can ever win their hearts and minds. That culture has run too deep for too long.

But I do think that we can win the trust and confidence of most of them. It will not be easy, but if we can do that, along with having removed Saddam, we will more than have achieved our objective. We will have made the world – especially that part of the world – a safer and better place.

In my Senate office in the Dirksen Building in Washington, I have a three-by-five-foot painting of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. I had it behind my desk at the State Capitol in Atlanta when I was governor.

To me, that image of six men raising an American flag on Mt. Suribachi in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought is one of the world’s most vivid symbols of the price of freedom.

Those flag-raisers were very, very young men. They were just boys, really, from all corners of our country. There was a coal miner's son from Pennsylvania; a tobacco farmer's son from Kentucky; a mill worker's son from New England; a dairy farmer's son from Wisconsin; one came out of the oil fields of Texas, and one was a Pima Indian at an Indian Reservation in Arizona.

Three of those boys would never leave that island and would be buried in that black volcanic ash; one would leave on a stretcher; and two would come home to live miserable lives of drunkenness and despair.

As one looks at this image of courage and sacrifice, it is easy to miss what I consider to be one of the most important things about it.

There are six boys in it, but unless you look very, very closely, you see only five. Only a single helping hand of one is visible.

Most significantly, they are all virtually faceless. If you are like most Americans who have looked at this famous scene time and time again over the past six decades, you may have missed that: You cannot really identify a single face.

But isn't that really the way it has always been with most of freedom's soldiers – unknown and all-too-often unappreciated, faceless, nameless grunts who fight our wars to keep us free?

I cannot help but marvel – and especially have this past week – where do we keep getting these young men and women? Where do they come from? Four out of 10 come from the South.

It's amazing that our country produces them when we consider how many do not have this kind of love of country nor a willingness to die for it. I’m telling you, I’m fed up with those Hollywood weenies like Martin Sheen and Sean Penn who make millions of dollars playing soldiers in films, and then in real life give the finger to those who really wear the uniform and make the sacrifice.

In the Marines, we had a name for folks like that. We called them, among other things, “all gurgle and no guts.”

Someone once said that in the long course of world history, freedom has died in many ways. Freedom has died on the battlefield, freedom has died because of ignorance and greed. But the most ignoble death of all is when freedom dies in its sleep.

As Americans, as lovers of freedom, we must not allow that to happen. We owe it to those who bore the burden and paid the price before us, and to those who are doing it now and to those who will come after us.

Over and over again, as I had a chance to talk with our troops, look them in the eye, put my arm around them or shake their hand, I told them how proud we are of them and how honored I was to be in their presence. And I told them that they are loved and appreciated back home.

Their morale is unbelievably good. I wish you could see it. I wish you could look into their faces. Even among those who have been wounded and who were in the hospital I visited.

One day when I was meeting with General Dempsey of the 1st Armored Division, a unit with a proud history known as Old Ironsides, we were discussing the morale, which he had just said was top notch.

By the way, he also said two things that have caused the morale to soar were President Bush’s visit and Saddam’s capture.

I turned to the Division’s Sergeant Major, the top enlisted man in the division, a big, burly, 6-foot-3, about 240-pound African American with a shaved head, and I said, “That’s good, but how do you sustain it?”

Without hesitation he narrowed his eyes, and said “The morale will stay high just as long as these troops know the people back home support us.” . . . As long as the people back home support us.

I believe that the next five years will determine the kind of country that my four grandchildren and four great grandchildren are going to live in. And I don’t know about you, but I want a commander-in-chief who is strong and relentless, a leader who will make a decision and not suffer from analysis paralysis.

Nothing has pleased me more than seeing President Bush boldly making the central theme of his presidency the idealism of American foreign policy in areas where, as he put it, “Freedom does not flourish.”

I think it shows the same kind of boldness that Ronald Reagan showed toward Communism in the Cold War. And we all know what the results were with that.

God bless our President. God Bless America. And thank you.

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