Zell Miller was born in Young Harris, Georgia, and served in the
United States Marine Corps. After receiving his B.A. and M.A. degrees
in history from the University of Georgia, he was elected mayor of
Young Harris in the late 1950s. Following service as a state senator
and two terms as governor of Georgia, he was elected to the U.S.
Senate in November 2000 to serve the remaining four years of the late
Senator Paul Coverdell’s term, becoming only the third Georgian to be
elected both governor and senator. He did not seek re-election in
2004. A lifelong Democrat but a staunch supporter of the war on
terrorism, Senator Miller delivered the keynote address at the 2004
Republican National Convention. He is author of the best-selling book,
A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.
He and his wife Shirley have two sons, four grandchildren and four
The following is adapted from a speech delivered on December 9,
2004, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., at the fifth annual
Hillsdale College Churchill Dinner.
The most significant meaning of the 2004 election is that America
has renounced the worst lessons of the post-Vietnam era. America’s faith
in freedom has been reaffirmed. With the re-election of President Bush,
America recommitted itself to expanding freedom and promoting liberty.
This election validated not only America’s role in promoting
freedom, but also the faith our Founding Fathers placed in average folks
to chart the course of this great nation. In the 2004 election, the
American people confronted the ghost of Vietnam and considered the
threats in today’s world. In deciding how we would confront these
threats, they decided that while America is not perfect, America has
been, and still is, a force for peace and freedom in the world – and
that we should act for, rather than retreat from, that reality.
America has rejoined the contest for freedom, which is manifested
in a new form called the Bush Doctrine. That is why the rejection of a
Vietnam-tainted worldview in this election is so monumental. A bad idea
must be weeded out before a good one can take root.
To be sure, Vietnam holds certain lessons for America. But for far
too many in the media, academia and public leadership, Vietnam became
the only point of reference when thinking about military force and
foreign policy. Vietnam alone defined them, and Vietnam was consequently
responsible for their narrow view of America. But we know that many of
our other struggles are at least as important for understanding
America’s place in the world, if not more so. The waters of Pearl
Harbor, the thick forests of the Argonne, the ghastly ovens of
Auschwitz, the turbulent air over Germany and the shores of Normandy all
hold lessons for America. So, too, do the beaches of Iwo Jima, the
frozen mountain passes of Korea, the western ridges of Gettysburg, the
rolling plains of Manassas, the long-manned watchtowers of Central
Europe and so many other consecrated sites. But ever since Vietnam, all
those other sacred struggles for freedom were overshadowed by the
experience of that one struggle. For too many, all else was forgotten.
The Rise of “Blame America First”
Many of us can remember when this view arrived: It was the 1972
election when the Democratic Party of FDR, Harry Truman and JFK was
taken over by the anti-war Democratic Party of George McGovern. From
that point on, a post-Vietnam mindset dominated the Democratic Party. We
never got over it. And it grew into the view that America was always the
problem. Our enemies – never called Communists – were considered
excessive reformers whose motives were noble. Meanwhile America’s
motives, and those of our allies, were always suspect.
Those who adopted this post-Vietnam mindset considered the primary
output of capitalism to be poverty, and argued that poverty – not any
lust for power in the Kremlin or Cuba – was the cause of Communist
revolts around the world. They preached that military force never solved
anything – and that if it did, it shouldn’t. It was almost as if they
wanted to protect the world from America.
These Democratic radicals opposed our funding of the Contras in
Nicaragua. They opposed our support for El Salvador against Marxist
guerillas and, generally, our support for freedom fighters anywhere in
the world. They opposed our weapons systems as the main threat to world
peace. They attacked, resisted, tried to cancel or cut just about every
weapons system that President Reagan proposed to win the Cold War. The
list is long: the B-1 Bomber, the MX missile, the Pershing missile, the
Abrams tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, the Trident submarine, and
many other fighters and carriers. All were condemned as militaristic and
In place of a strong national defense, they proposed the nuclear
freeze, the ban on nuclear testing, more U.N. funding, unlimited foreign
aid and unending negotiations. These, they told us, were the paths to a
Some dared to call these Democrats the “Blame America First”
crowd, and rightly so. For when the Berlin Wall fell and a half billion
people from the Urals to the Baltic, from Siberia to the Crimea, became
free, those who had been giving America all the blame now failed to give
America any of the credit. The Cold War was the greatest victory for
freedom in the history of the world. But those of the post-Vietnam
mindset praised it not.
So America entered the post-Cold War era still conflicted. But the
divisions were latent – until 9/11, when we learned new lessons of
freedom in a grassy field in Pennsylvania, the halls of the Pentagon and
the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. On that unforgettable day – the day
historian David McCullough has called the worst in U.S. history – the
scales of the American worldview tipped back toward reality. Americans
rediscovered that the world is a dangerous place, that freedom is
fragile, and that America cannot ignore its role as leader of the free
But while 9/11 woke up many to these cold hard facts of life, it
also stirred the dormant but un-diminished ghost of Vietnam. The same
stroke that unleashed the war in Iraq let loose a host of demons from
the past. For the “Blame America First” crowd, it was as if the question
of what is in the best interest of our nation during a time of war was
never asked, or its answer never heeded.
The Lost Idea of National Unity
The depths of this collapse in national unity can only be
understood by looking back on leading instances of bipartisan unity in
past wars. My favorite example is Wendell Wilkie, who ran for president
against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. At the time, Roosevelt was pushing
for a very unpopular idea: a peacetime draft. And instead of attacking
the vulnerable Roosevelt on this issue, Wilkie gave him critical
support. Further, he made it clear that he would rather lose the
election than make national security a partisan campaign issue. Shortly
before Wilkie died, he told a friend that if he could write his own
epitaph and had to choose between “Here Lies a President” or “Here Lies
One Who Contributed to Saving Freedom,” he would prefer the latter.
That kind of unity was not rare in those days. It was the norm.
When President Truman needed support to oppose communism with the
Marshall Plan – another unpopular idea at the time – Republican Senator
Arthur Vandenberg stepped forward and helped pass it. Two young Navy
veterans and freshmen Congressmen by the names of Kennedy and Nixon also
supported Truman. That was the attitude that once prevailed: Republicans
supported a wartime Democrat and Democrats supported a wartime
Republican. Vietnam changed that.
So what did we get from the Vietnam-obsessed theorists in the Iraq
War? In essence, they decided to re-fight Vietnam. They recalled that in
the 1960s, the way they achieved victory was by pulling down the
president from within rather than defeating the enemy abroad. This
became their victory plan again. They agreed that regime change was
needed – but regime change in Washington, D.C., not in Iraq. So they
called the Iraq war “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong
time.” In their eyes, the war was doomed and somehow illegitimate
because it was an “American process” and not an “international process.”
They smeared our allies, saying they were “a coalition of the coerced
and the bribed.” And then these same critics attacked the President
because he did not have more such allies.
Again and again, they came up with ways to blame America, claiming
that Iraq had not been a breeding ground for terrorism until our
invasion had made it one. They called the new Iraq government “an
American puppet.” Even though they knew our troops would be put at
increased risk by a misperception that America was trying to colonize
Iraq or grab its oil, they went ahead and made those dangerous and
damaging charges. They knew it was terribly wrong not to provide funding
for our troops fighting in the field. They said it themselves. But then
these same leaders voted against funds for our troops in the most
gutless and reprehensible vote ever cast in time of war. In almost every
situation where their responsibility to their country conflicted with
their desire for political power, they chose political power over the
best interest of their country.
The Voters of November
Only the post-Vietnam mindset can explain the behavior of these
national leaders. Many of them, I’m sorry to say, have not changed the
way they look at the world since the 1960s. And, knowing them, I doubt
they ever will. Instead, our hope for tomorrow came from the voters of
November. As they judged what was going on in Iraq, they too recalled
what happened in Vietnam. But they didn’t stop there. From the tragedy
of 9/11, they came to understand what Churchill called our
“awe-inspiring accountability to the future.” They realized that their
country and their president were making decisions that would affect the
lives and freedoms, not just of our loved ones today, but of generations
of Americans to come.
Throughout 2003 and 2004, the American people listened to the
political debates in Washington, D.C., and around the country and
weighed America’s role in the world. The World War II memorial was
dedicated during this time, and we gave thanks and remembered the
sacrifices of the “greatest generation.” We recalled also how millions
were spared the tyranny of fascism, and could not help but note that our
enemies in World War Two are now free, prosperous, peaceful democracies
that respect human rights and individual liberty – thanks to the efforts
of America! And as we traveled with our dear departed President Reagan
to his final reunion, we pondered the hundreds of millions of people no
longer enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, who enjoy their freedom because
of this good man and America’s resolve to win the Cold War. It was
Reagan’s dream, but it was America’s resolve that made the greatest
liberation of mankind the under-appreciated miracle it is today.
As the shrill charges of the post-Vietnam crowd rained down,
Americans weighed these events. They wondered: If America is not a
liberator, why are our old enemies today free, prosperous and
independent? If America creates puppets, why are countries we liberated
now free to object to what we do? If America is the problem with the
world, what would the world look like today without us? And the people’s
answer to these questions on November 2nd was to say resoundingly that
America is what is right with the world, rejecting the post-Vietnam
assumption that America is what is wrong.
The message of the voters of November was that any nation that has
done so much for the freedom of strangers, that has brought prosperity
and peace to hundreds of millions, that has free elections and a free
press – that any nation with such characteristics and such a record
deserves the benefit of the doubt. I cannot overemphasize the importance
of this point: The worst aspects of the opposition party in the recent
election campaign were the doubt that its leaders directed against
everything the Bush administration said or did, and the lack of any
doubt directed against America’s enemies. In the debate over Iraq’s
fate, we saw these leaders and many in the media granting every benefit
of the doubt to a mass murdering, neighbor-invading, terrorist-harboring
and dictatorial regime.
The plain facts are that Saddam Hussein not only had but used
weapons of mass destruction on foreigners and on his own countrymen. He
filled mass graves with hundreds of thousands, invaded three countries
and dropped missiles on Israel. He repeatedly and consistently violated
UN sanctions, gave refuge to the killers of American Leon Klinghoffer,
and paid families of suicide bombers in Israel. The civilized world
could not permit a man like Hussein to continue in power. The American
By saying no to the wrong ideology at the wrong time, America has
dodged a bullet, and a failed dogma is doomed to wither and die on its
poisoned vine. The most destructive idea in America of the past half
century has been dismissed and America now has the opportunity to act
with energy in support of the best idea of man – the idea of freedom.
That is the core of the Bush Doctrine. It is simple but effective
The Bush Doctrine
The Bush Doctrine means, first, that America will not hesitate to
use force to stop terrorism. We will act, react, block and prevent it.
Terrorism will no longer be considered a social problem, a political
statement or a criminal infraction. Instead, it will be seen as an act
of war, and our response will be appropriate. The second part of the
Bush Doctrine appears to be new, but really isn’t. It concerns the role
of liberty. Simply put, liberty works. It isn’t free. It has its costs.
But liberty saves more than it costs.
In Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth, the Duke of Burgundy recounts
the losses and sacrifices of a bloody war that drained the heart of the
French aristocracy at Agincourt. Then he asks the eternal question, now
forgotten by European leaders:
You are assembled; and my speech entreats
That I may know the let why gentle Peace,
Should not expel these inconveniences,
And bless us with her former qualities.
In Europe, where small wars once raged incessantly and major
wars cursed every generation, the courage and steadfastness of FDR,
Churchill and Truman brought a gentle peace lasting now almost 60 years.
What great change brought this about? Liberty! After World War II,
America fought hard to ensure that constitutional democracies with
individual rights and free elections replaced the totalitarian regimes
that had been our enemies. Some said that nations like Germany and
Japan, with their militaristic backgrounds and totalitarian pasts, could
never make the transition to freedom, individual rights and the rule of
law. Yet they did. And their adoption of democratic institutions and
principles has translated into a spirit of international cooperation and
respect. That U.S. policies following WWII could change the history of
lands known for war-making proves their potential.
No one claims or believes that freedom is free. Struggle is
required, and the linkage between struggle and freedom is as old as time
itself. No one captured this understanding as well as Frederick Douglass
The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows
that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of
earnest struggle. . . . If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are
men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain
without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful
roar of its many waters.
Abraham Lincoln added to this in his second annual message to
Congress: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free
– honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly
save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”
President Bush’s speeches about introducing freedom to a region
known for tyranny and terror follow in this tradtion.
Two years before Munich, when no one would listen, Churchill
We must recognize that we have a great inheritance in our
possession, which represents the prolonged achievement of the
centuries; that there is not one of our simple uncounted rights today
for which better men than we have not died on the scaffold or the
battlefield. We have not only a great treasure, we have a great
If you take one thing away with you tonight, I pray it is this:
American civilization deserves protection and has earned the benefit of
the doubt. Do not let barbarians use our civility and freedom to destroy
our liberty. Do not let barbarians sack civilization simply because they
knock gently. Holding the course for freedom is hard. But with all I’ve
learned from study, age and experience, I believe, with every fiber of
my body, that there comes a time when a civilization has to choose
between good and evil, between freedom and tyranny.
I retire from the Senate heartened that the America of our
forefathers has made, once again, the right choice for freedom. And I
thank Providence above for the wisdom our Founders demonstrated by
entrusting the direction of this nation to the common man and woman.
From these ordinary folks, we have again seen extraordinary leadership,
and for that we can all rejoice.
2004. Permission to reprint in whole or part is hereby granted, provided
the following credit line is used: "Reprinted by permission from
IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hilldale College,
free upon request.