Sec. of State Mac Warner’s comments at WVU’s Dec. 7 Pearl Harbor Commemoration Ceremony

By W.Va. Secretary of State Mac Warner, Retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel

“If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Vegetius, 4th Century AD Roman General; Restated by George Washington.

This quote applied in Roman times, as it did to President Harry Truman in 1950 and still today in 2023. In this fallen world, preparedness and vigilance are the price we must pay for peace.

Today, we stand by the mast from the battleship USS West Virginia that sunk on this day 82 years ago in the devastating, unprovoked Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Down the street in the WVU library is a life preserver just donated by Ken Kendrick, which was on that great ship the day it was sunk, killing 106 of our countrymen. The mast, the bell, and the ring buoy are iconic relics, reminders of man’s inhumanity to man. They remind us that violence and evil perpetually lurk in this world, and we must always remain vigilant. 

The painful irony persists: if we want peace, we must stay prepared for war. Those prone to violence to achieve their ends must be deterred, and deterrence succeeds when evil is confronted with strength and the will to use it. The civilized nations of the world, of which we are the leader, must stand unified in this endeavor. 

Yet today, in Ukraine and Israel, peace has been shattered. The perpetrators of violence had reason to doubt the civilized world’s response. They opened Pandora’s Box, and now we must deal with the ugly consequences. 

Why must we learn this lesson over and over again? Rather than Dec 7, 1941, I want to begin with July 5, 1950, when President Truman sent Task Force Smith to Korea to stop an invading force from the north. Just five years earlier the US military had vanquished Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Certainly, peasant farmers from the north would stop their aggression when confronted by the US military.

However, they didn’t; they were not deterred. The US had let the massive might we built after Pearl Harbor dissipate. The peasant army of North Koreans in 1950— just five years after the end of WWII — hammered and humiliated Task Force Smith. Then, they nearly drove the supposed invincible American military into the sea. My wife’s grandfather carried shrapnel throughout his body for the rest of his life after being wounded as part of the rear guard helping Americans escape from the onslaught at the Chosin Reservoir.

Five years! That is how fast utter chaos can occur when we let our guard down. When we are not strong and do not demonstrate an unflinching willingness to fight evil when it emerges.

As we did after Pearl Harbor, we regained our footing and fought back. In 1953 we restored peace on the Korean Peninsula. We vowed to always be prepared. “Peace thru strength” became our bi-partisan national mantra. 

Let me share two insights today, 82 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. If you visit Korea today, be prepared to be amazed. South Korea is a phenomenal testament to what a free, energetic, productive, industrious people can accomplish when given protection and opportunity.

Since the Armistice in 1953, we have maintained a strong military presence in Korea. Several of my family have been stationed there and “stood on the wall” at the DMZ, showing a willingness to fight and win if necessary. Deterrence has worked. 

The resulting peace has allowed the Korean people to live the ideals of Western civilization, and they have generated prosperity beyond imagination. Individual rights, the rule of law, and free markets are not just moral imperatives; they are universally applicable and materially beneficial across all geographic regions, religions, and ethnicities. 

In stark contrast, the very same ethnic people in North Korea live in despondency, servitude, and squalor. The consequences of living in freedom versus tyranny are clear: the Korean Peninsula is a crucible the world cannot ignore.

The second insight is the United States. As Tocqueville did two centuries ago, an outside set of eyes can sometimes provide perspective as to our unique place in the world. After training in the US two decades ago, a Korean general made a lucid observation. He acknowledged our two countries were united in a magnificent purpose, but he wished to explain a profound difference. “Koreans,” he explained, “are cross-stitched like fabric, woven together via geography, ethnicity, family ties, culture, and religion. South Korea’s flag is merely a recent addition to a four-thousand-year common history.”

“Americans on the other hand,” he stated, “are a menagerie of people from everywhere and a recent historical phenomenon. They share two things in common: a flag and an ideal. The Stars and Stripes bind Americans together as it represents their highest ideal and aspiration: human freedom.” This, he explained, was the reason why American flags fly everywhere in the US on public buildings, businesses, homes, cars, schools, churches, and the list goes on. Unlike anywhere else on earth, our national flag is a sacred icon. Ralph Rose, the US flag bearer in the 1908 Olympics explained, “the flag representing human freedom bows to no earthly king.”

Now, let’s reflect on what is happening in America today. Progressives denigrate America’s founding, our founding fathers, and our flag. Social media de-platforms people who do not adhere to their agenda, and things as basic as sex and gender are transformed into meaningless terms. Our youth are programmed to believe America is flawed and our flag is an object of shame. Our flag and freedoms are mocked and disparaged.

Pearl Harbor united us and we rose to the challenge and won the ensuing war. Yet it took just five years of neglect, from 1945 to 1950, for our military to fall into disrepair. In the wake of 9/11, we were united in purpose and the world witnessed a strong, determined America to avenge that attack. I was in Afghanistan when SEAL Team 6 took down Osama bin Laden and the world took note of America’s resolve. 

But in America today, we are politically divided, unsure of our elections, and the process of democracy is constantly under attack. People question the righteousness of our cause, and our youth do not value the profound achievement of our Founding Fathers and the virtue of Western Civilization. Our culture is falling into disrepair.

We must restore faith in America. Our youth need to know that the American ideals and military accomplishments in the Korean Peninsula are applicable around the world. They need to know our ideals are morally just and have universal application. They must know the alternative to human freedom is abject poverty, misery, and subjugation. Here among the relics of the USS West Virginia at WVU, academia must play a key role in the revival of pride in America and our ideals.

Let’s take this opportunity and this moment to honor those fallen on this day 82 years ago and recommit ourselves to the common purpose of human freedom, human rights, and human dignity. That is what America represents to the world. As Abraham Lincoln said, America is the “last best hope of earth.” The lesson of Pearl Harbor, played out less than a decade later in Korea, is that to maintain peace for free people in the world, we must reinvigorate our culture and stay prepared for war.

God bless each of you, God bless the Great State of West Virginia, and God bless America!


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