Secretary of Defense James Mattis delivered a powerful speech Saturday to the graduating class at West Point, warning them that terrorism must not become normal.
Earlier this week, the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in the United Kingdom. “We must never permit murderers to define our time or warp our sense of normal. This is not normal,” Mattis told 950 graduating cadets. “Manchester’s tragic loss underscores the purpose of your years of study and training at this elite school.”
ISIS also claimed fatal attacks in Indonesia and Egypt, and intense fighting between the military and ISIS-linked militants is destabilizing the southern Philippines. These tragedies come amidst a concentrated push to eliminate ISIS in Mosul and to rid countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria of violent extremism.
More than 20 people perished in Manchester, three police officers lost their lives in Indonesia, and around 30 people were killed in Egypt. In the Philippines, police and civilians alike have been slaughtered.
“By the time this class was in first grade classrooms in every state across our union, our country had been thrust into a war by maniacs who thought that by hurting us, they could scare us,” Mattis explained, “Well, we don’t scare.”
“Nothing better represents America’s awesome determination to defend herself than this graduating class,” he added. “You will drive home a salient point that free men and women will volunteer to fight, ethically and fiercely, to defend our experiment that you and I call, simply, ‘America.’”
“We Americans are not made of cotton candy,” he said, evoking cheers from the crowds.
“You hold the line, faithful to duty, confronting our nation’s foes with implacable will,” he said, “Knowing that if there is a hill to climb, waiting will not make it any smaller.”
Mattis told the cadets t0 hold the line “true to honor” and “loyal to country,” adding that “loyalty only counts when there are a hundreds not to be.” He said that are enemies are watching, hoping that the U.S. military will falter. He instructed the young graduating cadets to “prove them wrong … dead wrong.”
The secretary of defense recalled a tale from Christmas 1944, when the German army was pushing into the Ardennes. A sergeant in a retreating tank spotted an American soldier digging a foxhole. The soldier asked the sergeant, “Are you looking for a safe place?” The sergeant responded in the affirmative. “Well, buddy, just pull your vehicle behind me,” the soldier said, “I’m the 82nd airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are going.”