July 2, 1983
My fellow Americans:
On Monday, America will celebrate her 207th birthday. I love the Fourth of July. I enjoy picnics and fireworks and long summer days, and I get excited with the thought that millions of our people all across our great country will, on this Fourth of July weekend, join together in thinking about freedom and the men and women who sacrificed to make it our inheritance.
It's easy to forget just what a revolution these Americans made. It's easy to forget how they amazed the world and how many hopes they raised. President George Washington, in the very first Inaugural Address, warned Americans that they had a new responsibility. He said, ``. . . the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.''
Now, you may not think of yourself or our democracy as an experiment, but look around. All over the world, millions and millions of people still live under tyranny. Their leaders claim that they're the wave of the future, that history is on their side. And yet, their people look to us for hope. Their people look to America as the cradle of freedom, the place where the great civilized ideas of individual liberty, representative government, and the rule of law under God are realities.
Yes, these people see America as the experiment that works. And democracy works because of the physical and moral courage of individuals -- some famous, others deserving of recognition.
I think of a group of women we honored in Washington this past April, an honor long overdue. They were nurses who'd been captured in the Philippines during World War II and then spent nearly 3 years in prison camps. Lieutenant Colonel Madeline Ullom, who was captured at Corregidor, has described tending wounded soldiers during the long months of siege: ``Our atmosphere was one of dusty pall, ever present, in which we moved, worked, tried to eat, tried to breathe in an endless nightmare,'' she said.
In Santa Tomas Prison Camp, Colonel Ullom and her fellow nurses quickly organized into shifts and began to care for other prisoners. They fought against diseases and starvation. They lacked medicine and equipment and food. But miraculously, every one of the 81 American women POW's had survived.
These women would not describe themselves as extraordinary Americans; they simply volunteered to serve their country, and they chose to serve it with courage and hope. Their patriotism, as they gathered in Washington 40 years after their capture and imprisonment, remained strong and vibrant.
Of course, we're accustomed to thinking of courage during a time of war, but democracy requires political courage as well. In 1954, when he was convalescing from a painful back operation, Senator John F. Kennedy had time to think about political courage. The result was a book entitled "Profiles in Courage,'' in which he wrote, ``In the days ahead, only the very courageous will be able to take the hard and unpopular decisions necessary for our survival in the struggle with a powerful enemy. And only the very courageous will be able to keep alive the spirit of individualism and dissent which gave birth to this nation, nourished it as an infant, and carried it through its severest tests upon the attainment of its maturity.''
We've seen a great example of this kind of political courage just recently when a majority, made up of both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress, set aside narrow political considerations and embraced a bipartisan program for enhancing America's security and stability through meaningful arms reductions and modernization of our defenses.
It was not easy for many of these men and women to vote for the MX missile. Some have been harshly criticized by other Members in their own party. Indeed, they faced considerable pressure and corresponding political risks. While accepting such risks, the only benefit they've received is the knowledge that they placed foremost their hopes for successful arms reductions and greater security of their nation.
Together with the Congress, we're doing everything possible to achieve genuine arms reductions. Our negotiators have been given instructions that provide greater flexibility in our negotiations with the Soviet Union. The proposals are fair, realistic, and would bring a much greater degree of stability for all the peoples of the world. There's absolutely no doubt that the prospects for success in our negotiations have been significantly improved because of the political courage shown by the Congress.
The task now is to be patient and to sustain our resolve. On this Fourth of July weekend, I salute those Members of the Congress who are putting the interests of America first. They're part of a long American tradition of proving democracy's critics wrong -- of showing that we have the courage to stand up for what is right and what is necessary.
Our democratic experiment is alive and well at year 207. And with the help of the kind of political leadership and vision that we've seen in recent weeks, we can count on many happy returns.
Until next week, God bless you, and God bless America.
Note: The President spoke at 9:06 a.m. from Rancho del Cielo, his ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif.