THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Base Theatre/Fest Tent
I want to thank all of you for making us feel so welcome. I want to introduce the people who came with me: our Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. (Applause.) Our NATO Commander, General Wes Clark. (Applause.) My Chief of Staff, John Podesta. (Applause.) National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. (Applause.) And four members of the United States Congress: Representative Jack Kingston from Georgia. (Applause.) Representative Peter Deutsch from Florida. (Applause.) Representative Carolyn Maloney from New York City. (Applause.) And Representative Eliot Engel from New York City. (Applause.) And Chelsea. (Applause.)
Let me say that we are honored to be with you. We thank you for your service. We're looking forward to eating a big, early Thanksgiving dinner with the men and women of Task Force Falcon. (Applause.)
I want to salute some of the troops for what they have done at Camp Bondsteel and Camp Monteith. And also I want to thank those from other nations in our multinational Brigade East. I want to visit you now, at this season of Thanksgiving, not only because you're doing a hard job, a long way from home -- but because here we've got a lot to be thankful for.
Thanks to you we have reversed ethnic cleansing. We have a successful military mission which was brilliantly executed, with no combat casualties. And now, we have a chance -- not a guarantee, but a chance -- to work with these folks to build a lasting peace in the Balkans.
Now that Operation Allied Force is over, there is a new struggle underway, and Camp Bondsteel is on the front lines. Operation Joint Guardian will protect and deepen the peace we are working so hard to make permanent.
You certainly haven't wasted any time. The story of Bondsteel reads like something out of the settling of the Old West. Not long ago, this was a hay field. Soon after NATO came into Kosovo, it became a beehive of activity. Between the Army engineers and the Navy Seabees -- (laughter and applause) --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, anyway, somewhere -- (laughter) -- somewhere between the Army Engineers and the Navy Seabees, you move over a half a million cubic yards of Earth. You brought enough gravel to lay a two-lane road all across the state of Missouri. (Applause.) In less than five months, you built 160 sea huts, a chapel, a gym, a hospital, mess halls, a PX, a barber shop and an aviation area. (Applause.)
I want to salute a few of the responsible units. Don't be shy. The Headhunters of the Engineer Brigade First Infantry Division. (Applause.) The Blue Devils of the 3504 Parachute -- (applause) -- I just want to note for the press that the Blue Devils of the 3504 Parachute Infantry Regiment are also known as "devils in baggy pants." (Applause.) The Steel Tigers of the 177 Armor Battalion. The Bone Crushers of the 2nd Platoon Bravo Company. The Blue Spaders of the 126 Infantry Regiment. The Hellcats of the 299th Forward Support Battalion. (Applause.) The Eagles of Task Force 21 Aviation Regiment. (Applause.) The Spartans of the 793rd Military Police Battalion. (Applause.) The Dagger Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division. (Applause.) The Navy Seabees of Battalion 3. (Applause.)
You did pretty well. (Applause.)
Let me say to all of you, I know that a lot of your assignments are still dangerous. I appreciate the hard work you have done to protect all the people of Kosovo, including the Serbs. I appreciate your pursuit of local thugs, like the mad mortar-man. I appreciate your constant mediation between people who have a long way to go toward reconciliation.
I'm told that children routinely say, "We love you, United States." Well, they love the United States because they love you, because we gave them their freedom back, we gave them a chance to go home. We're giving the children a chance to have a different life than their parents have lived.
But let me just say this -- I say this every time I speak to a group of American servicemen and women overseas -- the biggest problem in the world today, with all the modern technology, all your fancy computers, everybody getting on the Internet -- (laughter) -- all the new discoveries in science, the biggest problem in the world today is the oldest problem of human society: people tend to be afraid of people who don't look like them, and don't worship God the way they do, and come from a different place.
And when you're afraid of somebody, it's just a short step to disliking them. If you dislike them, it's a short step to hating them. If you hate them, it's a short step to dehumanizing them. And once you do that, you don't feel bad about killing them. Now that's what this whole deal is about.
And you see this problem in our inability to solve the peace in the Middle East, although we're getting there. But it's been a long time coming. We may be about to have a final breakthrough in the Irish civil war -- been 30 years coming. Almost 800,000 people were killed in a hundred days in Rwanda by people of two different tribes, one hacking the other to death with machetes -- they hardly had any guns at all.
And if you strip it all away, the number one problem in this whole world today is the problem of Bosnia, the problem of Kosovo. It's racial and ethnic and religious hatred and dehumanization.
All you've got to do is look around the room today, and you see that our military is a stunning rebuke to that. This is the American idea in flesh and blood, all of you. You come from all different backgrounds, all different races, all different religious faiths, all different walks of life. And you're here working together as a team. You can appreciate your differences. You can even make fun of them. You can even make jokes about them -- because you know that your common humanity and your shared values are even more important than you differences. (Applause.)
Now, the most important thing you can do, besides keeping these people alive and having security, is to teach that to the children and to their parents by the power of your example and your own testimony. Because I am telling you, what they're going through here today is an example, but by no means the only example, of the worst problem the world faces on the eve of a new millennium. And it violates everything we in America stand for.
And the power of our weapons could win the military battle in Kosovo. But the peace can only be won by the human heart. And every day they see you -- every day these little old kids see you working together -- even if they don't speak our language, even if they never met any African-Americans or Hispanics before, even if they don't know any Asians before -- they can see. They have eyes. They'll get it. You just show up and you be yourself and you do what you're supposed to do and you treat them right, the power of your example will show them that they do not have to be trapped in the pattern which led to the slaughter of a quarter of a million people in Bosnia, 2.5 million refugees there, almost 1 million refugees here, though we acted quicker, and because we acted quicker, they all came home.
But now that they came home, they've got to learn how to win the peace. And I say that to the other nations who are here represented. I want people to see Americans working with you. I want these children to know that the world is a better place when people are proud of their own race and ethnicity and religion, but respectful of others; when they are secure enough in who they are that they don't have to put anybody else down, hurt anybody else, torch anybody else's church or mosque just to feel that they matter. This is the most important issue in the whole world today.
And just by getting up every day, going to work, keeping the kind of morale that you manifested today with your cheers and your pride, you are a rebuke to the biggest problem in the world, and the power of your example can do more than anything else to help us to win the peace.
Thank you, God bless you, and Happy Thanksgiving. (Applause.)
(A gift is presented to the President.)
THE PRESIDENT: You all know I have an important job, because I'm your Commander-In-Chief, right? (Applause.) Well, tomorrow, because I'm also the President and I have broad executive authority, I get home at 10:00 p.m. tonight, we're all dog-tired, but I've got to get up and go to work tomorrow because I have to do something that every president has been doing since the 1920s. I have to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey. (Laughter.) And they bring me a big turkey and we let one go so we can eat all the others. (Laughter.) And they put this turkey in a petting zoo for children to see in the Washington area.
Anyway, it's always a great deal. I just say, when I go into the office tomorrow to pardon the turkey, I'm going to take the falcon and put it on my desk so all of America can see when my desk is on television what you're doing.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 12:25 P.M. (L)
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