Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery

May 30, 2005

Memorial Day
Ellwood, Illinois
Thank you for allowing me the honor of joining you here today.

This is my first time visiting the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, and as I was driving through I thought to myself that the staff and the volunteers who have made this possible should feel very proud of the work they're doing - this is a beautiful place for our veterans to come home to.

Among red maples and sturdy oaks, over 10,000 Americans now lay here, resting peacefully under an endless Illinois sky.

They rest in silence. On a typical day, except for scattered footsteps or the soft gurgling of a stream, I imagine you could walk row after row of headstones without hearing a single sound.

It isn't until you come across another visitor - a widow watering the plant she brought for her husband; a little girl planting a flag at her father's headstone; a mother shedding tears on the wreath she will lay for her son - that you realize something: In this place we have come to associate with the quiet of death, the memories of loved ones speak to us so strongly that when we stop and listen, we can't help but hear life.

And once a year on this day, in the fullness of spring, in the presence of those who never really leave us, it is life that we honor. Lives of courage, lives of sacrifice, and the ultimate measure of selflessness - lives that were given to save others.

What led these men and women to wear their country's uniform?

What is it that leads anyone to put aside their own pursuit of happiness; to subordinate their own sense of survival, for something larger - something greater?

Behind each stone is one of these stories; a personal journey that eventually led to the decision to fight for one's country and defend the freedoms we enjoy. Most of the Americans who rest here were like my grandfather, a WWII vet who volunteered after Pearl Harbor, fought in Patton's Army, but was lucky enough to came back in one piece, and went on to live well into his twilight years.

My grandfather never boasted about it. He treated the fact that he served in the military like it was only a matter of fact.

And so it is easy for us to forget sometimes that, like my grandfather, the men and women resting here, whose service spans a century of conflict from the Civil War to the War in Iraq, chose their path at a very young age.

These were kids who went to war.

They had a whole life ahead of them - birthdays and weddings, holidays with children and grandchildren, homes and jobs and happiness of their own. And yet, at one moment or another, they felt the tug. Maybe it was a President's call to save the Union and to free the slaves. Maybe it was the day of infamy that awakened a nation to the dangers of Fascism. Or maybe it was the morning we saw our security dissappear then the twin towers collapsed.

And at that moment, whatever the moment was, these men and women thought of a mom or a dad, a husband or a wife, or a child not yet born. They thought of a landscape, or a way of life, or a flag, or the words of freedom they'd learned to love. And they determined that it was time to go. They decided: "I must serve so that the people I love may live - happily, safely, freely."

Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked that "To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might."

The Americans who lay here believed.

And when they waved goodbye to their families - some for the last time - they held those beliefs close as they crossed the ocean towards an unknown destiny.

And they made us very proud.

No matter how many veterans you may meet, or how many stories of heroism you may hear, every encounter reminds you that through their service, these men and women have lived out the ideals that stir our Nation - honor, duty, sacrifice.

They're people like Seamus Ahern, who I met during the campaign at a V.F.W. hall in East Moline, Illinois. He told me about how he'd joined the Marines because his country had given so much to him, and he felt that as a young person he needed to give something back. We became friends and we kept in touch over email while he was in Iraq. One day he sent me an email that said "I'm sorry I haven't written more often - I've been a little busy over here in Falujah." I had to reply "I don't think it's necessary to apologize."

They're people like Major Tammy Duckworth, a helicopter pilot with the Illinois Army Guard. Four months ago, she lost both of her legs when a rocket was shot through the floor of her Black Hawk helicopter over Iraq. And yet, last month she came to the United States Senate to testify about ways we can improve the process of rehabilitating injured vets, and as we speak she has already begun training so that she can fly again for her country one day.

They're the people I had the honor of meeting at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. Young men and women who may have lost limbs or broken their backs or severed their nerves, but have not lost the will to live, or the pride they feel in having served their country. They have no time for self-pity, but wish only to recuperate as quickly as they can, and meet the next challenge.

It is this quintessentially American optimism that stands out in our veterans. To meet these men and women gives you a clear sense of the quality of person we have serving in the United States Armed Forces.

No wonder, then, that when these men and women come home from war, they return to parades and salutes, the arms of loved ones and the waving flags of children.

But today, on Memorial Day, we also remember that some come home in a different way. The news of their impending arrival is delivered with a soft knock on the door. Their return comes with the sound of a twenty-one gun salute and the lonely notes of taps.

I won't pretend that simple words of condolence could ever ease the pain of the loss for the families they leave behind. I am the father of two little girls, and when I see the parents who have come here today to lay wreaths for the children they lost, my heart breaks with theirs.

But I will say to those parents that here in Illinois and all across America, other children and other parents look to your children and their service as a shining example of what's best in this land.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln took a moment to sit down and personally write a condolence letter to a Mrs. Bixby of Massachusetts after he had learned that she lost five of her sons in battle. In that letter, the President wrote:

"I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."

Here on this hallowed ground and in ceremonies across the nation, we choose this day to solemnly honor those costly sacrifices - sacrifices that were made on the fields of Gettysburg, the beaches of Normandy, the deserts of Iraq, and so many other distant lands. It makes our hearts heavy; our heads bow in respect.

But amid the quiet of this spring day in Elwood, we also hear life. And as we are called by the memories of those who found the courage to lay down a life so that others may live, we thank God for blessing us with the privilege of knowing such heroic sons and daughters of America.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama About America's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy

May 26, 2005

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Mr. President, throughout the last half of the 20th Century, one nation - more than any other on the face of the earth - defined and shaped the threats posed to the United States.

This nation, of course, is the Soviet Union and its successor state, Russia.

While many have turned their attention to China or other parts of the world, I believe that the most important threat to the security of the United States continues to lie within the borders of the former Soviet Union - in the form of stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and materials.

We are in a race against time to prevent these weapons from getting in the hands of international terrorist organizations or rogue states. And the path to this potential disaster is easier than anyone could imagine: there are a number of potential sources of fissile material in the former Soviet Union in sites that are poorly secured; the material is compact, easy to hide, and hard to track; and weapons designs can be found on the internet.

Today, some weapons experts believe that terrorist organizations will have enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb in the next 10 years. That's right - 10 years.

I rise today to instill a sense of urgency here in the Senate. I rise today to ask how we are going to deal with this threat -- tomorrow; a year from now; and a decade from now.

The President has just completed an international trip that included a visit to Russia.

I want to commend the President for taking this trip and making our relationship with Russia a priority.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union produced nearly 2,000 tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for use in weapons that could destroy the world several times over. To give you an idea of just how much this is, it takes only five to ten kilograms of plutonium to build a nuclear weapon that could kill the entire population of St. Louis.

For decades, strategic deterrence, our alliances, and the balance of power with the Soviet Union ensured the relative safety of these weapons and materials.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of this changed.

Key institutions within the Soviet national security apparatus crumbled, exposing dangerous gaps in the security of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and fissile material. Regional powers felt fewer constraints to develop nuclear weapons. Rogue states accelerated nuclear weapons programs.

And while this was happening, international terrorist organizations who were aggressively seeking nuclear weapons gained strength and momentum.

Thanks to the leadership of Senators Nunn and Lugar in creating the Cooperative Threat Reduction program at the Department of Defense, there is no question that we've made some great progress in securing these weapons. These same leaders continue to work tirelessly on the problem to this day -- Senator Nunn through the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Senator Lugar through his Chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee.

And so today, the situation in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union today is drastically different that it was in 1991 or even 1996 or 2001.

But the threat is still extremely dangerous and extremely real. In March of this year, a senior Russian commander concluded that 39 of 46 key Russian weapons facilities had serious security shortcomings. Many Russian nuclear research sites frequently have doors propped open, security sensors turned off, and guards patrolling without ammunition in their weapons.

Meanwhile, the fanatical terrorist organizations who want these weapons continue to search every corner of the Earth, resorting to virtually any means necessary. The nuclear programs of nations such as Iran and North Korea threaten to destabilize key regions of the world. And, we are still learning about the tremendous damage caused by A.Q. Kahn, the rogue Pakistani weapons scientist.

Looking back over the past decade and a half, it is clear that we could and should have done more.

And so as the President returns from his trip to Russia, we should be thinking - on a bipartisan basis - about some of the critical issues that can guide us in the future to ensure that there are no more missed opportunities.

The situation is too dangerous. The threat to our security too grave.

The first question that we should be thinking about is what is the future of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program? Where do we go from here? In other words, what is our plan?

I believe that the Administration must spend more time working with Congress to chart out a road map and strategic vision of the program.

There are two things that the President can do to move on this issue. First, in the National Security Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction of 2002, the Administration said the National Security Council would prepare a 5 year government-wide strategy by March, 2003. To my knowledge, this has not been completed.

In addition, Congress required the Administration to submit an inter-agency coordination plan on how to more effectively deal with non-proliferation issues. This plan is due at the end of this month.

Completing these plans will help U.S. better address critical day-to-day issues, such as liability, resource allocation, and timetables.

Having a better strategic vision will also help us work more efficiently and effectively with other international donors, who have become increasingly involved and are making significant contributions to these efforts.
This is an important issue, as the contributions of other donors could help us make up valuable lost time.

Mr. President, the second set of questions I would like to raise concerns the U.S.-Russian relationship. Where is this relationship heading? Will Russia be an adversary? A partner? Or something in between?

I don't ask these questions simply because I am a nice guy and I want to get along with the Russians. I ask these questions because they directly impact our progress towards securing and destroying stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials.

In the last few years, we have seen some disturbing trends in Russia - the rapid deterioration of democracy and the rule of law; bizarre and troubling statements from President Putin about the fall of the Soviet Union; the abuses in Chechnya; and Russian meddling in the former Soviet Union from the Baltics to Ukraine to Georgia.

The Russians must understand that their actions on some of these issues are completely unacceptable.

At the same time, I believe that we have to do a better job of working with the Russians to make sure that they are moving in the right direction.
This starts by being thoughtful and consistent about what we say and what we do. Tone is important here.

Some of the statements by our own officials have been confusing, contradictory, and problematic. At times, I have been left scratching my head about what exactly is our policy and how Administration statements square with this policy.

Another issue is the level of sustained engagement with Russia.

I am glad that the President and Secretary of State have made a number of trips to Russia.

But, as these trips are but a few days every year or so, this is only one aspect of the relationship. An additional part, which has suffered in recent years, is our foreign assistance programs to Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union.

These programs are an essential way for the United States to maintain our engagement with Russia. They aren't just giveaways; they are programs that advance U.S. interests by strengthening democracy and civil society, enhancing economic development, and dealing with international health issues - in addition to curbing the nonproliferation threat.

At a time when these programs are desperately needed, their budgets have been cut dramatically. At a time when we should be doing more to engage and shape the future of Russia, we seem to be doing the exact opposite.

The non-proliferation threat does not exist in a vacuum. The issues I just mentioned -- along with other important issues such as our own strategic nuclear arsenal -- must also be considered as we move forward.

Finally, Mr. President, I would like my colleagues to consider how our relationship with Russia, and our efforts to secure and destroy weapons and materials inside the former Soviet Union, fits in with our broader non-proliferation goals.

Russia is a major player in the two of the biggest proliferation challenges we currently face - Iran and North Korea. Russia's dangerous involvement with Iran's nuclear program has been well documented, and there is no question that their actions will be pivotal if the President is to successfully resolve this deteriorating situation.

The Russians are also an important voice in trying to make progress on the deteriorating situation in North Korea. The Russian city of Vladivostok is home to 590,000 people and is very close to the North Korean border - putting the Russians smack in the middle of a crisis that we need to resolve.

In addition to all of this, Russia holds a veto on the UN Security Council, which could consider the Iranian and North Korean issues in the very near future.

Developing strong bilateral and multilateral strategies that deal with Russia's role in these growing crises will be extremely important, both in terms of resolving these crisis, advancing our non-proliferation goals within the former Soviet Union, and our long-term relationship with Russia.

I realize that right now, none of us have all the answers to these extraordinarily difficult questions.

But if we hope to successfully fight terror and avoid disaster before it arrives at our shores, we must start finding those answers. We have work to do.

I believe that it is worth putting in place a process - one that involves senior Administration officials, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress as well as retired senior military officers and diplomats - in an effort to dramatically improve progress on these issues.

I am interested in hearing from the President about his trip. I am also interested in hearing if he believes that an idea, similar to the one that I put forward, is worth considering.

Delay is not an option. We need to start making more progress on this issue today. I urge my colleagues to act.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner

Detroit, Michigan | May 02, 2005

Thank you. Half a century after the first few hundred people sat for justice and equality at these tables, I am honored to be here with this crowd of thousands at the 50th NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.

Founded at a time when we were constantly reminded how the world around us was separate and unequal...when the idea of legal rights for black folks was almost a contradiction in terms...when lunch counters and bus seats and water fountains were luxuries you had to fight for and march for, the 50th anniversary of the Fight for Freedom Dinner reminds us of just how far our struggle has come.

I was reminded of this last month, when I had the honor of going to Atlanta to speak at John Lewis's 65th birthday celebration. Many of the luminaries of the Civil Rights Movement were down there, and I had the great honor of sitting between Ethel Kennedy and Coretta Scott King, who both turned to me and said "we're really looking forward to hearing you speak." Now that's a really intimidating thing!

And as I stood up there next to John Lewis, not a giant in stature, but a giant of compassion and courage, I thought to myself, never in a million years would I have guessed that I'd be serving in Congress with John Lewis.

And then I thought, you know, there was once a time when John Lewis might never have guessed that he'd be serving in Congress. And there was a time not long before that when people might never have guessed that someday, black folks would be able to go to the polls, pick up a ballot, make their voice heard, and elect that Congress.

But we can, and many of us are here, because people like John Lewis believed. Because people feared nothing and risked everything for those beliefs. Because they saw injustice and endured pain in order to right what was wrong. We're here tonight because of them, and to them we owe the deepest gratitude.

The road we have taken to this point has not been easy. But then again, the road to change never is.

Some of you might know that I taught Constitutional Law at the Chicago Law school for awhile. And one of the courses I taught was a course in race and law, where we chronicled the history of race in this country and people's struggle to achieve freedom in the courts and on the streets. And often times my students would come up to me and say things like, "Boy I wish I could've been around at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Because things seemed so clear at the time. And while there may have been room for debate on some things, the clarity of the cause and the need for the movement were crystal clear, and you didn't have the ambiguities you have today.

Because it's one thing to know that everyone has a seat at the lunch counter, but how do we figure out how everyone can pay for the meal? It was easy to figure out that blacks and whites should be able to go to school together, but how do we make sure that every child is equipped and ready to graduate? It was easy to talk about dogs and fire hoses, but how do we talk about getting drugs and guns off the streets?" This is what they told me.

And of course, I reminded them that it wasn't very easy at all. That the moral certainties we now take for granted - that separate can never be equal, that the blessings of liberty enshrined in our Constitution belong to all of us, that our children should be able to go to school together and play together and grow up together - were anything but certain in 1965.

I reminded them that even within the African-American community, there was disagreement about how much to stir things up. We have a church in Chicago that's on what use to be known as State Park Way. After Dr. King's assassination, the street was renamed to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. But the pastor of the church - a prominent African-American in the community - hated Dr. King so bad that he actually changed the address of the church.

And so it's never been clear. And it's never been easy. To get to where we are today it took struggle and sacrifice, discipline and tremendous courage.

And sometimes, when I reflect on those giants of the Civil Rights movement, I wonder - where did you find that courage? John Lewis, where did you find that courage? Dorothy Height, where did you find that courage? Rosa Parks, where did you find that courage?

When you're facing row after row of state troopers on horseback armed with billy clubs and tear gas...when they're coming toward you spewing hatred and violence, how do you simply stop, kneel down, and pray to the Lord for salvation?

Where do you find that courage?

I don't know. But I do know that it's worth examining because the challenges we face today are going to require this kind of courage. The battle lines may have shifted and the barriers to equality may be new, but what's not new is the need for everyday heroes to stand up and speak out for what they believe is right.

Fifty years ago this country decided that Linda Brown shouldn't have to walk miles and miles to school every morning when there was a white school just four blocks away because when it comes to education in America, separate can never be equal.

Now that ruling came about because the NAACP was willing to fight tirelessly and risk its reputation; because everyday Americans - black and white - were willing to take to the streets and risk their freedom. Because people showed courage.

Fifty years later, what kind of courage are we showing to ensure that our schools are foundations of opportunity for our children?

In a world where kids from Detroit aren't just competing with kids from Macomb for middle-class jobs, but with kids from Malaysia and New Delhi, ensuring that every American child gets the best education possible is the new civil rights challenge of our time.

A student today armed with only a high school diploma will earn an average of only $25,000 a year - if you're African-American, it's 14% less than that. Meanwhile, countries like China are graduating twice as many students with a college degree as we do. We're falling behind, and if want our kids to have the same chances we had in life, we must work harder to catch up.

So what are we doing about it?

When we see that America has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world - even higher for African-Americans and Hispanics, what are we doing about it?

When we see that our high school seniors are scoring lower on their math and science tests than almost any other students in the world at a time when expertise in these areas is the ticket to a high-wage job, what are we doing about it?

When we see that for every hundred students who enter ninth grade, only eighteen - eighteen - will earn any kind of college degree within six years of graduating high school, what are we doing about it?

And when we see broken schools, old textbooks, and classrooms bursting at the seams, what are we doing about that?

I'll tell you what they've been doing in Washington. In Washington, they'll talk about the importance of education one day and sign big tax cuts that starve our schools the next. They'll talk about Leaving No Child Behind but then say nothing when it becomes obvious that they've left the money behind. In the budget they passed this week in Congress, they gave out over $100 billion in tax cuts, on top of the trillions they've already given to the wealthiest few and most profitable corporations.

One hundred billion dollars. Think about what that could do for our kids if we invested that in our schools. Think of how many new schools we could build, how many great teachers we could recruit, what kind of computers and technology we could put in our classrooms. Think about how much we could invest in math and science so our kids could be prepared for the 21st century economy. Think about how many kids we could send to college who've worked hard, studied hard, but just can't afford the tuition.

Think about all that potential and all that opportunity. Think about the choice Washington made instead. And now think about what you can do about it.

I believe we have a mutual responsibility to make sure our schools are properly funded, our teachers are properly paid, and our students have access to an affordable college education. And if we don't do something about all that, than nothing else matters.

But I also believe we have an individual responsibility as well.

Our grandparents use to tell us that being Black means you have to work twice as hard to succeed in life. And so I ask today, can we honestly say our kids are working twice as hard as the kids in India and China who are graduating ahead of us, with better test scores and the tools they need to kick our butts on the job market? Can we honestly say our teachers are working twice as hard, or our parents?

One thing's for sure, I certainly know that Washington's not working twice as hard - and that's something each of us has a role in changing. Because if we want change in our education system - if we want our schools to be less crowded and funded more equitably; if we want our children to take the courses that will get them ready for the 21st century; if we want our teachers to be paid what they're worth and armed with the tools they need to prepare our kids; than we need to summon the same courage today that those giants of the Civil Rights movement summoned half a century ago.

Because more than anything else, these anniversaries - of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act and Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner - they remind us that in America, ordinary citizens can somehow find in their hearts the courage to do extraordinary things. That change is never easy, but always possible. And it comes not from violence or militancy or the kind of politics that pits us against each other and plays on our worst fears; but from great discipline and organization, and from a strong message of hope.

And when we look at these challenges and think, how can we do this? How can we cut through the apathy and the partisanship and the business-as-usual culture in Washington? When we wonder this, we need to rediscover the hope that people have been in our shoes before and they've lived to cross those bridges.

Personally, I find that hope in thinking about a trip I took during my campaign for the U.S. Senate.

About a week after the primary, Dick Durbin and I embarked on a nineteen city tour of Southern Illinois. And one of the towns we went to was a place called Cairo, which, as many of you might know, achieved a certain notoriety during the late 60s and early 70s as having one of the worst racial climates in the country. You had an active white citizen's council there, you had cross burnings, Jewish families were being harassed, you had segregated schools, race riots, you name it - it was going on in Cairo.

And we're riding down to Cairo and Dick Durbin turns to me and says, "Let me tell you about the first time I went to Cairo. It was about 30 years ago. I was 23 years old and Paul Simon, who was Lieutenant Governor at the time, sent me down there to investigate what could be done to improve the racial climate in Cairo."

And Dick tells me how he diligently goes down there and gets picked up by a local resident who takes him to his motel. And as Dick's getting out of the car, the driver says "excuse me, let me just give you a piece of advice. Don't use the phone in your motel room because the switchboard operator is a member of the white citizen's council, and they'll report on anything you do."

Well, this obviously makes Dick Durbin upset, but he's a brave young man, so he checks in to his room, unpacks his bags and a few minutes later he hears a knock on the door. He opens up the door and there's a guy standing there who just stares at Dick for a second, and then says, "What the hell are you doing here?" and walks away.

Well, now Dick is really feeling concerned and so am I because as he's telling me this story, we're pulling in to Cairo. So I'm wondering what kind of reception we're going to get. And we wind our way through the town and we go past the old courthouse, take a turn and suddenly we're in a big parking lot and about 300 people are standing there. About a fourth of them are black and three fourths are white and they all are about the age where they would have been active participants in the epic struggle that had taken place thirty years earlier.

And as we pull closer, I see something. All of these people are wearing these little buttons that say "Obama for U.S. Senate." And they start smiling. And they start waving. And Dick and I looked at each other and didn't have to say a thing. Because if you told Dick thirty years ago that he - the son of Lithuania immigrants born into very modest means in east St. Louis - would be returning to Cairo as a sitting United States Senator, and that he would have in tow a black guy born in Hawaii with a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas named Barack Obama, no one would have believed it.

But it happened. And it happened because John Lewis and scores of brave Americans stood on that bridge and lived to cross it.

You know, two weeks after Bloody Sunday, when the march finally reached Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the crowd of thousands and said "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." He's right, but you know what? It doesn't bend on its own. It bends because we help it bend that way. Because people like John Lewis and Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and thousands of ordinary Americans with extraordinary courage have helped bend it that way. And as their examples call out to us from across the generations, we continue to progress as a people because they inspire us to take our own two hands and bend that arc.

Congratulations to all of you here at the NAACP who are busy bending that arc. Thank you.