WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama pledged a “prudent use” of military power as the nation works toward “ushering in a new era of peace” in his inaugural address to the nation Tuesday.
“Our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint,” he said from the west side of the Capitol here after taking the oath of office as the 44th president. An estimated 2 million people crowded the National Mall and surrounding area to hear his address.
The use of these principles will allow America to develop greater understanding of other nations and greater cooperation against common threats from them, he said.
“We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan,” Obama said. “With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.”
Obama said Americans will not apologize for their way of life, nor waver in its defense. “And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you,” he said.
America is a country of doers and risk-takers; it is an immigrant country where each generation worked hard to provide for the next, he said.
“For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life,” Obama said. “For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
“For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn,” he continued. “Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.”
Americans today must continue this journey, he said. It is time for hard decisions and a time of change. “Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions, that time has surely passed,” he said. “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”
Obama rejected the idea that the nation has to choose between its safety and its ideals. “Our Founding Fathers – faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine – drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”
In the United States, all languages are spoken, all religions are practiced, and all good people are welcomed, he said. “And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace,” he said.
Obama reached out to the nations of the world in his speech. He told them that America “is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”
He also spoke to the Muslim world, saying America seeks a new way forward, based on mutual interest and respect.
“As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains,” the president said. “They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington [National Cemetery] whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.”
He called on all Americans to shoulder that burden of service. He said it is the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.
“Greatness is never a given. It must be earned,” he said. “Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.”
The faith and determination of Americans can serve the nation well in a time rife with challenges.
“Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” the president said. “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”
Americans have lost their homes, their jobs, their businesses, and health care is too costly, he said. Schools are failing too many, and the American energy policy plays into the hands of the nation’s enemies.
“These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics,” he said.
These are disturbing, but more disturbing is a sapping of confidence and the fear that with this decline the next generation must lower its sights, he said.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” the president said. “They are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.”
While the challenges of this age are new, the values which have seen the country through in the past will best serve the nation, Obama said. “Honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old, but these things are true,” he said.
America must return to these truths, he said. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task,” Obama said.
“This is the price and the promise of citizenship,” he said. “This is the source of our confidence, the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.”
If Americans seize this responsibility, then the challenges will be surmounted, he said.
“Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations,” Obama said.