The following is an excerpt of Governor Palin’s remarks at Colorado Christian University (CCU) on May 2, 2011, for the Tribute to the Troops benefit in support of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides support to those who suffered the loss of a military loved one.
Last night, thank God, all of us heard the news that the evil leader of Islamic extremists who was responsible for the murders of thousands of innocent Americans had finally met justice at the hands of America’s finest. It is my honor to get to be with those finest today. We get to pay tribute to those finest – our United States military.
I know that we will probably all remember as individuals where we were that September day when the horrific thoughts, ambitions, and plans of this terrorist cut short the thoughts, ambitions, and plans of beloved innocent Americans who were heartlessly murdered on September 11, 2001.
God bless all the brave men and women in our military and our intelligence services who carried out the successful mission to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice and all those who had laid the groundwork over the years to make that victory possible. The historic action that was announced last night was the result of the diligence, hard work, and character of countless American warriors who know that those who spread evil, those with murderous intentions must be contained. Those who would kill in the name of religion must be stopped.
In Denver last May, I was on a panel that was moderated by Colorado Christian University President Armstrong. I was there with radio hosts Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager, and we were asked a question on that panel: what we believed was the greatest threat facing America. Dennis Prager answered first, and he said that he believed the single greatest threat to our country’s future is that we seem to be failing to pass on what it means to be an American to the next generation. And I agreed with his concerns, but I had a caveat when I agreed in my answer to what he said. I offered: If we’re truly so delinquent in teaching the next generation what it means to be free and how important it is to defend freedom, then how do we explain the thousands of young men and women, my own son among them, who, though they have never tasted anything but freedom, choose as patriots to join our United States military and fight for freedom in distant lands far from the comforts of home?
Who are these young American warriors? What is the character represented in those who are sitting up here on this stage? They are volunteer troops. They enlist because they instinctively know that America is worth fighting for and that America’s enemies must be defeated.
The fighting warriors in our armed forces are willing to lay their lives on the line to preserve and protect something greater than self – to defend the American ideal of liberty. They represent the very best among us. They embody our highest ideals, and they represent American Exceptionalism. Yesterday their courage and their determination brought us justice – especially justice for the victims of 9/11. God bless those families who suffered so much on 9/11. Yesterday was a testament to the military’s dedication in relentlessly hunting down an enemy through many years of war, and we thank our President. We thank President Bush for having made the right calls to set up this victory.
Let me give you another example of victory, among thousands of examples that we can think of in our military – an example of the heroism over the years. One of Colorado’s newest residents is Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, and he’s a new resident in Fort Collins. He’s the first living service member from the Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts to receive the Medal of Honor. He was a rifle team leader in Afghanistan; and on October 25, 2007, his unit was ambushed shortly after nightfall. Sgt. Giunta described it: "There were more bullets in the air than stars in the sky. A wall of bullets at everyone at the same time with one crack and then a million cracks… They were close – as close as I’ve ever seen.” But the sergeant kept his cool and relied on his training. He fought off the insurgents and rescued several members of his unit, including an injured soldier who was being carried off by the Taliban. Giunta’s squad leader later praised him saying, "We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier.”
When he was notified that he was being recommended for the Medal of Honor, Sgt. Giunta was humble. He said, “If I’m a hero, every man that stands around with me, every woman who is in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero.”
Why do these American heroes go into the unknown? G. K. Chesteron once wrote that “the true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” They fight because they love America and they love the ideals that America represents. What America stands for is liberty, and justice, and equality, and the empowerment of the individual.
The enemy that we’re fighting loves death, the subjugation of women, and a twisted promotion of the survival of the fittest through fear, and hate, and lies about America and our purpose in the world. Yesterday, when we learned that the public face of Islamic terrorism was killed, there were already voices declaring, well, our war on terrorism is over. It is not over. We are still at war with a brutal enemy that hates America and our allies and all that we stand for. So we must not retreat. We cannot let-up. The war wages on.
Our troops and our intelligence services have proven again and again their courage to defeat the enemy in the face of the same overwhelming odds that Sgt. Giunta faced. Those threats are still real, and in fact, they may be ramped up after the events of yesterday. And that’s why when we continue to send our troops into harm’s way, they deserve the clarity of knowing what their mission is. And the decision to insert American units in areas to hunt down and to kill Bin Laden is an example of the needed, decisive leadership that our troops deserve. It is an example of the proper use of force to protect America.
So, of course, we celebrate that important tactical victory that we found out about yesterday. There’s no military in the world that could have accomplished what that young team of SEALs accomplished…. But there are still many serious questions that demand answers. Osama bin Laden was killed in an affluent city outside Islamabad, not in a dark cave in the mountains. How long had he been there? The town where he was hiding is home to the Pakistani equivalent of West Point. According to some reports, the gun battle took place just about 800 yards from the Pakistani Military Academy. Many retired Pakistani military officers live in the area. How was the most wanted man in the world able to avoid detection living in comfort in a mysterious super compound in plain sight? ….We know that speculation will be that at least some of the Pakistani leaders perhaps were helping him. Consider that just last October, the U.S. offered $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan. That’s on top of $7.5 billion that we provide them in civilian aid. So, we deserve answers to our questions and should demand answers to our questions. We also must demand that anyone who cooperated in hiding Bin Laden be brought to justice. So there are lots of questions, lots of questions about the burial, about photos; and those things will certainly be disclosed, we must trust.
But despite these lingering questions, we’re not going to question the integrity of our troops. Credit belongs to our troops and our intelligence services for this victory. They were given a clear and a vital mission with defined objectives, and they accomplished the mission.
There’s a lesson here then for the effective use of force, as opposed to sending our troops on missions that are ill-defined. And it can be argued that our involvement elsewhere, say in Libya, is an example of a lack of clarity. See, these are deadly serious questions that we must ask ourselves when we contemplate sending Americans into harm’s way. Our men and women in uniform deserve a clear understanding of U.S. positions on such a crucial decision. I believe our criteria before we send our young men and women—America’s finest—into harm’s way should be spelled out clearly when it comes to the use of our military force. I can tell you what I believe that criteria should be in five points.
First, we should only commit our forces when clear and vital American interests are at stake. Period.
Second, if we have to fight, we fight to win. To do that, we use overwhelming force. We only send our troops into war with the objective to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. We do not stretch out our military with open-ended and ill-defined missions. Nation building is a nice idea in theory, but it is not the main purpose of our armed forces. We use our military to win wars.
Third, we must have clearly defined goals and objectives before sending troops into harm’s way. If you can’t explain the mission to the American people clearly and concisely, then our sons and daughters should not be sent into battle. Period.
Fourth, American soldiers must never be put under foreign command. We will fight side by side with our allies, but American soldiers must remain under the care and the command of American officers.
Fifth, sending in our armed forces should be the last resort. We don’t go looking for dragons to slay. However, we will encourage the forces of freedom around the world who are sincerely fighting for the empowerment of the individual. When it makes sense, when it’s appropriate, we will provide them with material support to help them win their own freedom.
We are not indifferent to the cause of human rights or the desire for freedom. We are always on the side of both. But we can’t fight every war. We can’t undo every injustice around the world. But with strength and clarity in those five points, we’ll make for a safer, more prosperous, more peaceful world because as the U.S. leads by example, as we support freedom across the globe, we’re going to prove that free and healthy countries don’t wage war on other free and healthy countries. The stronger we are, the stronger and more peaceful the world will be under our example.
Some of these principles may sound familiar. A few of them were first expressed back in 1984 in President Reagan’s cabinet. They were designed to help us sharply define when and how we should use force, and they served us well in the Reagan years. Times are much different now, but I believe that by updating these time-tested principles to address the unique and changing circumstances and threats that we face today, they will serve us well now and into the future. Remember, Reagan liked to keep it simple, yet profound. Remember what he would say to the enemy? He’d say, “we win, you lose.”
Some may argue that today in a world where we are dealing with terrorist organizations rather than Cold War adversaries, these principles are outdated. On the contrary, these principles are timeless. They will allow us to effectively and forcefully defend our vital national interests and those of our key allies in the age of terrorism. We must vigorously defend ourselves, but at the same time we must not wear down our armed forces with never-ending and ever-increasing commitments.
I believe that America must never retreat into isolation. The world would be less safe and less free without our leadership. And we must never forget that America has a responsibility to lead. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” We cannot be the world’s policeman granted, or the world’s ATM. But we can lead by example. By our words and, when necessary, by our actions, we must and we will remain the world’s abiding beacon of freedom.
Now, we may hear from pundits, from some of the elite in the Beltway, from the politicos (in fact, I often hear from them on a daily basis) that some of these commonsense ideas are passé and that America is in decline. That is what some of them would articulate and want you to believe. But a nation that can produce and support the men and women that we have up here on stage, and a man like Sgt. Giunta, a nation that can produce these volunteer patriots and the brave warriors who defeated an enemy yesterday is not in decline. We are not a nation in decline if we can look to these young people and realize that they still want to protect America and fight for America. That is proof that we are not in decline.
We have America’s finest willing to sacrifice for the country. They are willing to sacrifice all for all of us. We have in America gifted private sector entrepreneurs who create wealth, and they provide jobs. We attract the best and brightest minds in the world wanting to come to America. Do you notice that not a lot of people are wanting to leave America? They’re wanting to come to America because we believe in American Exceptionalism, and we believe in the pioneering spirit that can be found in places like Colorado. No, America is not in decline – because America believes in itself and in leaders who believe in America and who believe in the providential hand that can guide us.
We need leaders who embody the same standards to which our men and women in uniform hold themselves.
Remember, the true soldier fights because he loves what is behind him. Behind him here is tradition; it’s patriotism. It’s not a need for a fundamental transformation of America; it’s for a renewal of all that is good about America! It’s a renewal of what CCU stands for.
Our fighting men and women love America’s values, they love their families, they love this providential land which God has shed His grace upon.
They love their fellow Americans. They’ve fought for us; they’ve protected us; they’ve given us the justice that America deserves. They know that freedom isn’t free. It’s a God-given right. It’s worth fighting for.
They have made us proud. Now let’s make them proud!
Thank you for loving the United States of America, for supporting TAPS, for assisting the survivors. May you be blessed in the mission, Colorado. Thank you for being part of the solution. God bless you, Colorado; and God bless America.