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Europe and Eurasia: Remarks Following Receipt of the Tipperary Peace Award

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Martin, thank – I’m really incredibly touched, moved, very, very grateful, and hope and pray that there is no way possible that the glen of Aherlow and its beauty will remain a secret anywhere. (Laughter.) Really, you are blessed here in so many ways – blessed by your people. I thank you for your eloquence, I thank you for the honor of this award, which I accept really on behalf of all of the people in the United States State Department, in the White House, who labor for peace every single day; for our colleagues around the world, without whom on a multilateral basis we can’t make things happen; and for all those desperate people for whom peace can so often be so elusive and so passionately yearned for. They are ultimately our inspiration, I think, for everybody here. We know that when you see a photo like that photo of that kid in the ambulance or hear of yet another hospital that has been bombed or seen the photographs of torture or hear yet again of gas being used or barrel bombs being dropped, only the most hardened, callous soul could resist a sense of duty, a sense of responsibility to try to stop that. So I am profoundly grateful to the Tipperary Peace Convention. Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for caring. To all of the citizens who’ve come here today, thank you for being the force that supports this endeavor, that takes this beautiful glen and this extraordinarily beautiful island and takes a moment of busy days everywhere to send a message to people about what is possible and what is worth working for.

I am really grateful for the remarkable comments of Martin. Martin, thank you for your personal eloquence and thank you for stopping to get away from the script and speak from the heart, which I will also try to do here today. I want to begin, however, by thanking my friend Charlie Flanagan, who is himself an eloquent and dedicated force for peace and for making a difference in the world. And I had the pleasure of complimenting him today and of thanking Ireland for the remarkable commitment of Ireland to humanitarian initiatives, to peacekeeping. Your commitment is way beyond your size and probably a stretch on the budget, but it’s a powerful comment about who you are, what you’ve been through, and what matters. And coming from Boston and having had the pleasure through all these years of such an extraordinary contribution to our community from the Irish, the Irish American community, I have a special sense for this caring and for the words of the poets that you quoted, Martin.

I extend my gratitude to our ambassador, to Kevin O’Malley; to our envoy, my friend from the United States Senate and from life itself – we first met when we opposed the war in Vietnam, when Gary was working to elect a anti-war senator, George McGovern, to be president. Very difficult time for America, but Gary was steadfast then and went on to pursue his own endeavors. And I’m particularly proud of the effort that he has made on behalf of President Obama and the United States to represent us in the effort to further the Stormont House Agreement and to get the Fresh Start Agreement and to be able to move forward.

Also want to thank all of you for letting me feel at home here – I mean really at home. I was a little surprised myself to look up at a window in the hotel and there was the bride – (laughter) – who proudly turned around and showed me that she was wearing a gown that said “bride” on the back. (Laughter.) But my apologies, my profound apologies to Paul Shanahan and to Marie O'Leary, the new Mrs. Shanahan, although may not be in this world today. But I was really also surprised because I think her parents and her cousins and the whole family was up there in the room at the same time. Is that a different custom over here, folks? (Laughter.) Anyway, my – apologize to them. It’s hard to find a place where you can travel thousands of miles and come and I get to grab a bite to eat at the Barack Obama Plaza – (laughter) – and then if I’m lucky, I can wash it down with a pint from the Ronald Reagan Bar. (Laughter.) So I feel right at home.

But all of you know if you look at a map, the only thing between us is water, so we really are neighbors. And we’re neighbors in so many different ways. Through the years of my service – I got to serve with Tip O’Neill, Ted Kennedy, many others – we were part of the discussions when I first served on the Foreign Relations Committee with Chris Dodd and Joe Biden about whether or not we would give a visa to Gerry Adams and begin to try to move the process forward. And as all of you know, that’s all history now. We did it and it began a dialogue, it – and one dialogue led to another and it led to the peace that Martin was able to talk about.

So this award has very special significance for me, and I’m proud to be here, though I apologize that it is for a shorter period of time than I would have liked. But my service with Ted Kennedy as I watched him fight against apartheid in South Africa and elsewhere and as we worked together to advance the peace process in Ireland has always emphasized to me the importance of our using our positions of responsibility to make peace. And with leaders like President Bill Clinton, who is a prior recipient of the award, and Senator George Mitchell and Nelson Mandela, I am blessed to be in such company and blessed that you would take a moment to honor the efforts that I’ve been making over these years.

Hearkening back to Martin’s introduction, I was thinking just the other day that two months and a week or so 50 years ago, I raised my hand and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States when I became a candidate at officer candidate school and then ultimately commissioned in the United States Naval Reserve. And as a skipper of a gunboat in Vietnam – many people know parts of the story, but I saw a lot. I learned a lot. I learned a lot about leadership, but I also learned a lot about war. I learned about absurdity, I learned about confrontation with fear and danger. I learned about the impact of war on average people. And I saw something – it was a look that I learned to take note of. As a combatant in another country carrying an M-16 and sometimes other weapons, I saw the look on the faces of the people – the indigenous population, the Vietnamese – as we, this foreign force, entered their villages and their hamlets and issued instructions and orders and managed the nature of the war. I saw what I sometimes interpreted to be deep resentment, if not hatred, from those who were meant to be our allies. And it raised serious questions in my mind.

I encountered the grim realities of warfare and of rampant destruction, of whole areas that could be declared in the antisepticness of war as a free fire zone and anything moving is a legitimate target, notwithstanding that it may wind up being a woman or a child. And I witnessed the real-life costs of the failure of diplomacy, which is war. And I resolved that if I was ever in a position of responsibility, that I would do everything in my power to try to make certain that others didn’t have to repeat the lessons, that young people didn’t have to go through what we’d gone through.

So that was part of what motivated, I think, Senator John McCain and myself to become so involved in working to normalize relations in Vietnam, because both of us knew that our country was fundamentally still at war with itself to some degree. And so we began a process of reaching out. We ultimately lifted the embargo. We then normalized. I was able to go back to Vietnam with a President Bill Clinton in year 2000 having normalized relations, and just this last year, I went back there with President Barack Obama as we celebrated 20 years of having moved on from the war. And frankly, I really was able to say we were in a very different country – a country that is practicing raging capitalism whose young people are wearing Western clothes, who are all on smartphones, who are in touch with the world, who are looking for something different. In truth, I said to myself, you know what? This is finally peace.

And it didn’t come about at the gun tip – at the tip of a barrel. It came about through the efforts of diplomacy, through the renewal of relations, through the changing of an economy, through the opening up of opportunity, through the connecting of people to the rest of the world, and for beginning to give people an opportunity to make choices in their own lives. So I think when you think about it, the people of Europe understand this maybe especially, because this is a continent that had known war and animosity and violence in so many ways for so long – just go back to the song; “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” And by the way, for me it has been a long way to Tipperary. (Laughter.)

But the last 70 years for Europe have brought this remarkable unity, this collaboration, incredible rebuilding of an entire society out of the ashes of war. And I am proud to say that part of that came through the Marshall Plan and through the commitment of the United States to help rebuild and even to rebuild those with whom we had fought. And so today we look at a Germany or we look at a Japan that are democracies and firm allies and great contributors to the norm of global affairs and to the rule of law that we have established out of the ashes of that war.

So I think what Europe has created stands in stark contrast to what had been considered normal for too many years, and I particularly say that with a note of caution as people navigate the shoals of Brexit and try to figure out the road ahead, which I hope will not turn its back on a project that has made such a difference to peaceful lives of human beings over such a long period of time.

Not far from here, the Tipperary Arch represents a reminder of that history, and it remains the remains of the barracks that once housed the Irish soldiers who were about to march off to the mud field battlefields of World War I. And since that era, we have circled the sun a hundred times, but the service and sacrifice of those young people has not been forgotten, nor will it ever be. Each year, the men and women of this county gather at the arch to remember those who never made it back to Tipperary, those who paid the ultimate price in a conflict that most historians agree should never have happened. Sound familiar?

Memorials of this type serve as gatherings in places and in cities and in villages all around the world, and we come to them not to preserve the recollection of war but to honor the joy and the wonder and the potential of lives cut short. We stand before them; we pray for a time when it will no longer be necessary to erect such monuments, when we will have no new names to add to the list of the dead, when we can celebrate instead the ability of children everywhere to grow up in peace.

And by peace, Martin, to pick up on your notion of tranquility in a room or peacefulness with the kids, or whatever the definition is, by peace I don’t just mean the absence of war, the kind of sterile order that can be imposed on people by repression or fear. I don’t mean an uneasy peace where violence is merely contained and voices of dissent are silenced and oppression rules the day.

And I don’t mean the type of peace that Tacitus described when he referred to the Romans and the Roman legions: Where they made a desert, they called it peace. Real peace is a presence, not an absence – the presence of good schools and safe neighborhoods, of flourishing businesses and vibrant civil society, of accountable governments, of systems of justice that treat people equally under the law. That’s the type of peace that the United States has tried to create for itself at home and that it wants to help others build abroad. And we and our partners have come together again and again to support human development in all of its dimensions and with encouraging results, I think, around the globe.

Let me just – as we think about the world where we are today with Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, the challenge of North Korea, other challenges; as we think about Boko Haram or al-Shabaab, we also need to see the progress that we’re making even against those enemies.

We need to recognize that because of our efforts today, children born today can expect to live longer and healthier than any other time in any other previous generation. Compared to just 20 years ago, we have cut in half the number of mothers who die during childbirth and the number of infants who perish because of malnutrition.

We’ve vastly expanded education to boys and girls alike. In Afghanistan in 2001 when we went in, there were just about a million kids going to school and they were almost all boys. Today, there are 9 million kids going to school in Afghanistan and 40 percent of them are girls.

We’ve also been able to bring people lifesaving vaccines. We’ve driven extreme poverty below 10 percent for the first time in human history. And we’ve defied predictions that said a million people were going to die two Christmases ago in West Africa, and we’ve saved thousands of people’s lives by sending people and troops to go and build health care capacity and save their lives from the scourge of Ebola.

And we joined forces with the global community to turn to fight – in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Fifteen, 20 years ago, it was a sentence of death. Now, we look forward to the first generation born free of AIDS in more than three decades.

So my friends, I’ll be the first to recognize that moving things forward in this complicated world is difficult. Yes, it is. But I believe that America, together with our friends and allies, particularly in Europe, have the ability to be an indispensable force for good and to offer essential leadership for international security and prosperity when we act together strategically, thoughtfully, in accordance with universal values.

So my hope is that we will take these challenges that we face where we’re active even now. One of the reasons I’m here for such a short time today – I am going to London because we are going to meet with our colleagues from various countries that are the stakeholders in Libya and try and strengthen the Government of National Accord and try and prevent a civil war and try and move the parties towards an agreement that can do what we ought to do, which is in a country of 6 million people we ought to be able to do better than we’re doing today. And we’re going to try.

So let’s not forget that in recent years we’ve advanced this effort in various places and parts of the world. We haven’t moved as fast as we want, but the experience that we’ve been through together demonstrates that again and again, that – what you know here in Ireland probably better than people anywhere else in the world, that the people on the ground themselves, not the external nations or the mediators like me or others, have to want the peace more than the parties that are supporting them in trying to get it to happen. I regret that was not the case two years ago in the Middle East; it’s not the case yet, but we’re going to get there.

It doesn’t mean we should back off in our investment for peace, and I won’t. Even when I stop being Secretary of State, I will continue in this endeavor to try to help countries and individual entities to move in this direction. We still have to lead. Leadership is quintessential ingredient of making peace.

In this age, when the reach and influence of non-state actors is increasing, where technology is changing the way we interact – it changed the way we do business, the way we learn, the way we communicate, the way people get their information, and affects their ability to process that information – the pursuit of peace has to be a constant in all of that. And it has to remain our unwavering objective – our North Star, if you will.

It isn’t easy to say, but I know I speak for my country when I say we don’t wander the world in search of enemies. There are times when enemies come at us, and peace is not sustainable, I am afraid, so long as a group like Daesh, about which there is nothing to negotiate – it is not a war between civilizations. It is a war by a nihilistic group against civilization itself. And so we have to stand up and never bow down to the doctrines of hate. And so in Iraq and Syria today, we have to continue this fight.

Now, I’ll just leave you by sharing with you that not long ago, a young Syrian boy approached a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, and he opened his jacket to show the security guards an explosive vest. And he surrendered, saying he didn’t want to blow anybody up. The same thing happened with a young woman in northern Nigeria who’d been sent by Boko Haram to kill herself and a whole bunch of people in a crowded marketplace.

So people can be brainwashed into doing terrible things. If you’re willing to take your own life, you can take lives with you. But there is a resilience, I believe, to the human spirit that enables light to shine even in the deepest darkness, a light that the darkness will never completely overcome.

We’ve heard a lot of talk in recent years about this clash of civilization. I think much of that discussion is completely wrongheaded. There’s a clash of ideas, there’s a clash of modernity with culture and education or lack thereof and history. On the one side, there are those who seek to impose their will forcefully on others in the name of nation or ethnicity or religion or their own insatiable thirst for power. On our side are those who believe that people from vastly different backgrounds absolutely can and must find a way to live together in productivity and in peace.

In his Christmas address two years ago, Pope Francis said, “True peace is not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment.”

I agree with the Holy Father that peace is not easy. Peace is hard, and however painstaking the process, even if it takes years of patience and perseverance to achieve, years of daily commitment, it is always worth the effort and it is never beyond our reach. And to those who suggest otherwise, I would simply remind them of the words of another recipient of the Tipperary Peace Award, Nelson Mandela, when he said that “it always seems impossible until it is done.”

That spirit of perseverance on behalf of reconciliation is exactly what the Tipperary Prize is all about, and that’s why I’m so honored to accept it on behalf of my colleagues in the State Department and all those others I mentioned with the thoughts and prayers in mind of all who desire peace.

Thank you, folks. Thank you to the Tipperary Convention. Thank you for what you do. Let’s not ever stop working for peace. Thank you. (Applause.)