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1995 - President Clinton’s Speech to the Houses of Parliament

Below is the text of President Clinton’s speech to the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 29th November 1995.


PRESIDENT CLINTON:

My Lord Chancellor, Madam Speaker, Lord Privy Seal, the Lord President of the Council, Mr Prime Minister, My Lords and Members of the House of Commons.

Lord Chancellor, the longer I hear you talk the more I wish we had an institution like this in American government. I look out and see so many of your distinguished leaders in the House of Lords and I think it might not be a bad place to be after a long political career.

My wife and I are honoured to be here today and I thank you for inviting me to address you. I have been here to Westminster many times before. As a student, I visited often, and over the last 20 years I have often returned. Always I have felt the power of this place where the voices of free people who love liberty, believe in reason and struggle for truth, have for centuries kept your great nation a beacon of hope for all the world, and a very special model for your former colonies which became the United States of America. Here where the voices of Pitt and Burke, Disraeli and Gladstone rang out, here where the rights of English men and women were secured and enlarged, here where the British people's determination to stand against the tyrannies of this century were shouted to the entire world, here is a monument to liberty to which every free person owes honour and gratitude.

As one whose ancestors came from these isles, I cherish this opportunity. Since I entered public life I have often thought of the words of Prime Minister Churchill when he spoke to our Congress in 1941. He said that if his father had been American and his mother British, instead of the other way around, he might have gotten there on his own. Well for a long time I thought that if my forebears had not left this country, perhaps I might have gotten here on my own, at least to the House of Commons. But I have to tell you now our American television carries your Question Time and I have seen Prime Minister Major, and Mr Blair and the other Members slicing each other up face to face with such great wit and skill, against the din of cheers and jeers. I am now convinced my forebears did me a great favour by coming to America.

Today the United States and the United Kingdom have an extraordinary relationship that unites us in a way never before seen in the ties between two such great nations. It is perhaps all the more remarkable because of our history, first the war we waged for our independence, and then barely three decades later, another war we waged in which your able forces laid siege to our capital. Indeed, the White House still bears the burn marks of that earlier stage in our relationship. And now, whenever we have even the most minor disagreement, I walk out on the Truman Balcony and I look at those burn marks, just to remind myself that I dare not let this relationship get out of hand again.

In this century, we overcame the legacy of our differences. We discovered our common heritage again, and even more important, we rediscovered our shared values. This November, we are reminded of exactly how the bonds that now join us grew, of the three great trials our nations have faced together in this century.  

A few weeks ago, we marked the anniversary of that day in 1918 when the guns fell silent in World War I, a war we fought side-by-side to defend democracy against militarism and reaction. On this Veterans Day for us and Remembrance Day for you, we both paid special tribute to the British and American generation that, 50 years ago now, in the skies over the channel, on the craggy hills of Italy, in the jungles of Burma, in the flights over the Hump, did not fail or falter. In the greatest struggle for freedom in all of history, they saved the world.

Our nations emerged from that war with the resolve to prevent another like it. We bound ourselves together with other democracies in the West and with Japan, and we stood firm throughout the long twilight struggle of the Cold War, from the Berlin Airlift of 1948 to the fall of the Berlin Wall on another November day just six years ago.

In the years since, we have stood together, fighting together for victory in the Persian Gulf; standing together against terrorism, working together to remove the nuclear cloud from our children's bright future, and together, preparing the way for peace in Bosnia, where your peacekeepers have performed heroically and saved the lives of so many innocent people. I thank the British nation for its strength and its sacrifice through all these struggles. And I am proud to stand here on behalf of the American people to salute you.

Ladies and gentlemen, in this century, democracy has not merely endured, it has prevailed. Now it falls to us to advance the cause that so many fought and sacrificed and died for. In this new era, we must rise, not in a call to arms, but in a call to peace.

The great American philosopher, John Dewey, once said, "The only way to abolish war is to make peace heroic”. Well, we know we will never abolish war or all the forces that cause it because we cannot abolish human nature or the certainty of human error. But we can make peace heroic. In so doing, we can create a future even more true to our ideals than all our glorious past. To do so, we must maintain the resolve and peace we shared in war when everything was at stake.

In this new world our lives are not so very much at risk, but much of what makes life worth living is still very much at stake. We have fought our wars. Now let us wage our peace. This time is full of possibility. The chasm of ideology has disappeared. Around the world, the ideals we defended and advanced are now shared by more people than ever before. In Europe and many other nations, long-suffering people at last control their own destinies. And as the Cold War gives way to the global village, economic freedom is spreading alongside political freedom, bringing with it renewed hope for a better life, rooted in the honourable and healthy competition of effort and ideas.

America is determined to maintain our alliance for freedom and peace with you and determined to seek the partnership of all like-minded nations to confront the threats still before us. We know the way. Together we have seen how we succeed when we work together.

When President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill first met on the deck of the HMS Prince of Wales in 1941 at one of the loneliest moments in your nation's history, they joined in prayer, and the Prime Minister was filled with hope. Afterwards, he said, "The same language, the same hymns, more or less the same ideals. Something big may be happening, something very big."  

Well, once again, he was right. Something really big happened. On the basis of those ideals, Churchill and Roosevelt and all of their successors built an enduring alliance and a genuine friendship between our nations. Other times in other places are littered with the vows of friendship sworn during battle and then abandoned in peacetime. This one stands alone, unbroken, above all the rest, a model for the ties that should bind all democracies.

To honour that alliance and the Prime Minister who worked so mightily to create it, I am pleased to announce here, in the home of British freedom, that the United States will name one of the newest and most powerful of its surface ships, a guided missile destroyer, the United States Ship “Winston Churchill”. When that ship slips down the ways in the final year of this century, its name will ride the seas as a reminder for the coming century of an indomitable man who shaped our age, who stood always for freedom, and who showed anew the glorious strength of the human spirit. I thank the members of the Churchill family who are here today with us, Lady Soames, Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill, and I thank the British people for their friendship and their strength over these many years.

After so much success together, we know that our relationship with the United Kingdom must be at the heart of our striving in this new era. Because of the history we have lived, because of the power and prosperity we enjoy, because of the accepted truth that you and we have no dark motives in our dealings with other nations, we still bear a burden of special responsibility.

In these few years since the Cold War, we have met that burden by making gains for peace and security that ordinary people feel every day. We have stepped back from the nuclear precipice with the indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and we hope, next year, a comprehensive test ban treaty.

For the first time in a generation, parents in Los Angeles and Manchester and, yes, in Moscow, can now turn out the lights at night knowing there are no nuclear weapons pointed at their children. Our nations are working together to lay the foundation for lasting prosperity. We are bringing down economic barriers between nations with the historic GATT agreement and other actions that are creating millions of good jobs for our own people and for people throughout the world. The United States and the United Kingdom are supporting men and women who embrace freedom and democracy the world over with good results, from South Africa to Central Europe, from Haiti to the Middle East.

In the United States, we feel a special gratitude for your efforts in Northern Ireland. With every passing month, more people walk the streets and live their lives safely, people who otherwise would have been added to the toll of The Troubles.

Tomorrow, I will have the privilege of being the first American President to visit Northern Ireland, a Northern Ireland where the guns are quiet and the children play without fear. I applaud the efforts of Prime Minister Major and Irish Prime Minister Bruton who announced yesterday their new twin-track initiative to advance the peace process, an initiative that provides an opportunity to begin a dialogue in which all views are represented and all views can be heard.

This is a bold step forward for peace. I applaud the Prime Minister for taking this risk for peace. It is always a hard choice, the choice for peace, for success is far from guaranteed, and if you fail, there will be those who resent you for trying. But it is the right thing to do. And in the end, the right will win.

Despite the progress we have made in all these areas and despite the problems clearly still out there, there are those who say at this moment of hope we can afford to relax now behind our secure borders. Now is the time, they say, to let others worry about the world's troubles. These are the siren songs of myth. They once lured the United States into isolationism after World War I. They counselled appeasement to Britain on the very brink of World War II. We have gone down that road before. We must never go down that road again. We will never go down that road again.  

Though the Cold War is over, the forces of destruction challenge us still. Today, they are armed with a full array of threats, not just the single weapon of frontal war. We see them at work in the spread of weapons of mass destruction, from nuclear smuggling in Europe to a phial of sarin gas being broken open in the Tokyo subway, to the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York. We see it in the growth of ethnic hatred, extreme nationalism, and religious fanaticism, which most recently took the life of one of the greatest champions of peace in the entire world, the Prime Minister of Israel. We see it in the terrorism that, in recent months, has murdered innocent people from Islamabad to Paris, from Riyadh to Oklahoma City. And we see it in the international organized crime and drug trade that poisons our children and our communities.

In their variety, these forces of disintegration are waging guerrilla wars against humanity. Like communism and fascism, they spread darkness over light, barbarism over civilization. And like communism and fascism, they will be defeated only because free nations join against them in common cause.

We will prevail again if, and only if, our people support the mission. We are, after all, democracies, and the people are the ultimate bosses of our fate. I believe the people will support this. I believe free people, given the information, will make the decisions that will make it possible for their leaders to stand against the new threat to security and freedom and to peace and prosperity.

I believe they will see that this hopeful moment cannot be lost without grave consequences to the future. We must go out to meet the challenges before they come to threaten us. Today, for the United States and for Great Britain, that means we must make the difference between peace and war in Bosnia.  

For nearly four years, a terrible war has torn Bosnia apart, bringing horrors we prayed had vanished from the face of Europe forever, the mass killings, the endless columns of refugees, the campaigns of deliberate rape, the skeletal persons imprisoned in concentration camps. These crimes did violence to the conscience of Britons and Americans.

Now we have a chance to make sure they do not return, and we must seize it. We must help peace take hold in Bosnia, because as long as that fire rages at the heart of the European continent, as long as the emerging democracies and our allies are threatened by fighting in Bosnia, there will be no stable, undivided, free Europe. There will be no realization of our greatest hopes for Europe. But most important of all, innocent people will continue to suffer and die.

America fought two world wars and stood with you in the Cold War because of our vital stake in a Europe that is stable, strong, and free. With the end of the Cold War, all of Europe has a chance to be stable, strong, and free for the very first time since nation states appeared on the European continent.

Now the warring parties in Bosnia have committed themselves to peace, and they have asked us to help them make it hold, not by fighting a war, but by implementing their own peace agreement. Our nations have a responsibility to answer the request of those people to secure their peace. Without our leadership and without the presence of NATO, there will be no peace in Bosnia. I thank the United Kingdom, which has already sacrificed so much for its swift agreement to play a central role in the peace implementation. With this act, Britain holds true to its history and to its values. And I pledge to you that America will live up to its history and its ideals as well.

We know that if we do not participate in Bosnia, our leadership will be questioned and our partnerships will be weakened, partnerships we must have if we are to help each other in the fight against the common threats we face. We can help the people of Bosnia as they seek a way back from savagery to civility. And we can build a peaceful, undivided Europe.

Today, I reaffirm to you that the United States, as it did during the defence of democracy during the Cold War, will help lead in building this Europe by working for a broader and more lasting peace and by supporting a Europe bound together in a woven fabric of vital democracies, market economies, and security cooperation.

Our cooperation with you through NATO, the sword and shield of democracy, can help the nations that once lay behind the Iron Curtain become a part of the new Europe. In the Cold War, the alliance kept our nation secure and bound the Western democracies together in a common cause. It brought former adversaries together and gave them the confidence to look past ancient enmities. Now, NATO will grow and expand the circle of common purpose, first through its Partnership for Peace, which is already having a remarkable impact on the member countries; and then, as we agree, with the admission of new democratic members. It will threaten no one. But it will give its new allies the confidence they need to consolidate their freedoms, build their economies, strengthen peace, and become your partners for tomorrow.  

Members of the House of Commons and noble lords:  Long before there was a United States, one of your most powerful champions of liberty and one of the greatest poets of our shared language wrote: "Peace hath her victories, no less renowned than war." In our time, at last, we can prove the truth of John Milton's words.

As this month of remembrance passes and the holidays approach, I leave you with the words Winston Churchill spoke to America during America's darkest holiday season of the century. As he lit the White House Christmas Tree in 1941, he said,

"Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let us share to the full in their unstinted pleasure before we turn again to the stern tasks in the year that lies before us. But now, by our sacrifice and bearing, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world."  

My friends, we have stood together in the darkest moments of our century. Let us now resolve to stand together for the bright and shining prospect of the next century. It can be the age of possibility and the age of peace. Our forebears won the war. Let us now win the peace.

May God bless the United Kingdom, the United States, and our solemn alliance. Thank you very much.