"America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches, and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment. Throughout America's adventure in free government, such basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people."
Insofar as Hagel's speech may be used as a roadmap, the country appears to be traveling in circles.
In 1967, the war in Vietnam was still intensifying and Hagel was serving there as a volunteer sergeant in the infantry (awarded two purple hearts). That April, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously spoke out against the war and against the American government's merciless waging of it:
"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men [in ghettos of the North], I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, "What about Vietnam?' They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government."
That government has learned some interesting lessons since 1967, about war and violence, not so much about nonviolence and peace. Led in recent decades by people who eschewed exposing themselves to war or even military service, the United States has nevertheless managed to remain the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.
In that same speech, drawing on the same vein of American idealism invoked by Hagel and Eisenhower, King arrived at a very different place:
"America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war."