Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Ashcroft
51st Attorney General Awards
July 30, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks.)
Good afternoon. Thank you for that introduction, Larry [Thompson].
Thank you all for singing the national anthem.
I believe that it is no small thing to begin an occasion such as this with the song of America, "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- a song rich with poetic imagery and filled with deep meaning for our nation.
Those words inspire. They ennoble. And they speak to our nation's values.
Francis Scott Key's poem, on first glance, describes a fateful day and night from two centuries ago. But thanks to his words, a day of war and death was turned into an inspiration for great deeds and noble aspirations for Americans yet to be born.
Like that dark day, September 11th, almost two years ago, our national anthem is a story of American endurance and perseverance.
The anthem's words have an all-too-real meaning for this generation of Americans. In the midst of chaos … explosions … and a smoke-filled sky … our flag emerged from the rubble … through the dawn's early light … and showed the world that the strength of our ideals cannot be defeated by an act of war or terror.
We stand at a moment of history much like the one Francis Scott Key witnessed from his prison ship as he watched violent assault clash with American will.
Those of us in this room have also seen the greatness of America, just as the poet described it: In moments of arduous challenge and in times of travail, Americans do not surrender. We do not betray our noblest ideals.
Instead we return to the values of America's founding. We recommit ourselves to the cause of liberty. We show the world that we honor the dignity of every life and will protect the rights of every citizen.
Today we gather to celebrate with friends and family, co-workers and colleagues, the achievements and accomplishments that have shown -- like those broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous night -- that freedom and liberty survive as the basis for American greatness.
We gather to recognize the individual acts of courage, leadership, and ingenuity that have contributed to a better America by fulfilling the vision for the Department of Justice.
We gather together to remember that each and every one of us has the duty and privilege to uphold and reflect the finest ideals and highest aspirations of our great nation.
One hundred sixty-three award recipients and more than 500 nominees testify to the dedication and to the excellence of Department of Justice employees working to sustain freedom.
This past year, we have witnessed spectacular successes in the struggle against the lawless.
We have also seen the quiet, steady, and impressive progress against the networks of terror.
We have seen this Department operate with great efficiency. You have been more careful stewards of the taxpayer's treasure. We have accomplished these deeds at a time of transformation and challenge, as our nation grapples with a ruthless terrorist adversary.
The united work of every person in every component of this Department allows us to focus on our top priority: to prevent another horrific day such as September 11th.
I commend all of you for your contribution to this end. Too often politicians and leaders try to take the credit, instead of give the credit.
You are the doers. You are the achievers. You are the extraordinary men and women on the ground and in the trenches advancing the mission of the entire Department of Justice.
You deserve the credit because you have earned the credit.
Perhaps the greatest testimony to what has been accomplished has been the silence of the past year.
For almost two years, we have not seen a major attack on U.S. soil. For almost two years, Americans have felt for themselves the quiet safety and growing security that come from our work together.
We are disrupting the networks of terror, but we must remember we have not destroyed them.
Great challenges remain.
In the first days after September 11th, President Bush reminded the nation that we face a difficult struggle of uncertain duration. In this struggle, he said, quote, "Perseverance is power."
As the days and months pass, we must sustain freedom by rallying our nation to persevere. The victories of the past two years have made the threat seem farther away than it is.
That is why we must continue to take the battle to the shadowy soldiers of terror, and we must also remember to bolster the hearts of our fellow Americans with the truth about the future of the fight for freedom.
As our successes mount, our enemies will become more desperate. This means we must remind ourselves what we fight against.
Our enemies have placed themselves on the side of oppression and domination. They have launched a campaign against innocents. They have vowed to extinguish political and religious freedom. They have sworn to enslave women, strangle education, and kill American men, women, and children, whenever and wherever they can.
From Casablanca in the West to Jakarta in the East, these extremists would draw a veil of darkness over the Middle and Far East as an ominous prelude to dominating the world … stifling freedom … and throttling liberty.
We must remind our fellow citizens with our words and our deeds that we fight for higher ideals and for a nobler vision of life. To do this best, I believe we can return to the words of our national anthem.
As "The Star-Spangled Banner" shows, power does not inspire perseverance or resolve -- only noble ideals can do that.
Like that persevering flag waving above Fort McHenry, we must show our friends and enemies the proof of our highest ideals in bold, bright colors that inspire even at the darkest moments. No matter what the challenge, we must show proof through the night that we believe in freedom, constitutional liberties, and the dignity of every human life.
Our struggle is not just to confront these forces of evil and defeat them. We must make our victory reflect our nation's finest ideals of justice, human dignity, and compassion.
Unlike any other nation in the world, we recognize the potential of every citizen who lives in freedom to build a stronger America and work toward a more just tomorrow.
Perhaps this is why our national anthem, unlike any other in the world, ends not with a definitive period or a boastful exclamation point of history past and settled. It ends with a question:
O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
This question issues each of us a challenge. It is a question we are meant to reflect and answer for ourselves. In doing so, we must reflect on what we have done to secure liberty.
Thanks to all of you -- thank you for what you have done this past year to make this Department a force for justice and a defender of the rule of law.
I also thank President Bush for his trust in this Department and his commitment to justice. He has given us the latitude and the resources to succeed in our fight for freedom.
Because of your dedication and the President's leadership, I believe that we can answer that question from Francis Scott Key and say: Yes. Yes, this is and this will be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
In this coming year, let us continue to defend liberty for our families and for the generations yet to be born.
God bless you and God bless the United States of America.