AUSTRALIAN-AMERICAN LEADERSHIP DIALOGUE
SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
WASHINGTON DC, USA
MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014
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Ladies and Gentlemen
Tonight we gather in celebration of our countries’ deep and enduring friendship - and in the shadow of new global tragedy.
Tonight, in a building that houses monuments to some of the greatest feats of aviation daring in history, we mourn the loss of 298 people whose lives were stolen from the skies.
Here, at the home of Orville and Wilbur’s Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, Chuck Yeager’s Glamorous Glennis and the cramped command module of men who went to the moon ‘in peace for all mankind’, we reflect on new proof of the fragility of all human life.
The shooting down of MH17 touched every corner of our world.
As President Obama put it:
An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies, filled with citizens from many countries.
Of the 298 innocent people murdered a little more than 100 hours ago, it is reported that 80 were children.
At least six of those on board MH17 were leading researchers bound for the International HIV/AIDS Conference currently underway in my home town of Melbourne.
It is entirely possible that the cure for a disease that has claimed the lives of 20 million people – and afflicts another 35 million – was on that plane.
At least one US Citizen is among the dead.
And Australia is in mourning for 37 of our own – citizens and residents.
No country knows better than America, the pall of shock and grief that currently grips so many nations of the world.
Nearly 13 years ago, the skies and streets of New York were filled with the smoke and ash and dust of the World Trade Centre.
The twin towers reduced to rubble, nearly 3000 lives claimed in an act of unspeakable evil and hundreds more cut short by a cancerous cloud.
Outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, United Airlines Flight 93 was brought to ground when the passengers on board rose in revolt against the hijackers.
They sacrificed their own lives to spare the plane’s intended target –possibly the Capitol Building at the top of this mall, or the White House less than two miles from here.
And this morning, at Arlington National Cemetery, I paused in front of the granite marker that bears the names of the 184 people who perished when American Airlines Flight 77 was piloted into the Pentagon on that dreadful day.
13 years ago, in that moment of violent horror, Prime Minister Howard stood shoulder to shoulder with our friends in the United States – as did Labor leader, and now Australia’s outstanding Ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley.
For generations, our friendship has been strengthened and deepened by shared hardship.
As believers in peace, liberty and democracy – we have fought together in wars against tyranny and oppression.
I laid a wreath today at Arlington, to honour the sacrifice of generations of Americans to the cause of peace and freedom.
So often, they have fought, and fallen, alongside Australians.
In July 1918 on the Western Front, at the battle of Hamel, Diggers and Doughboys fought side by side under the command of the great Australian General, Sir John Monash.
Two months later, at the pivotal battle of St Quentin Canal, Monash again led Australian and US troops, achieving the first full breach of the hitherto-impregnable Hindenburg line in the Allies’ ‘100 day offensive’.
In that First World War, the Australian Federation was in only its second decade.
Australian soldiers still enlisted in the name of ‘King and Country’.
And many, if not most, members of the Australian Imperial Force would indeed have seen their young country as an outpost of the old Empire.
The Americans had a very different perspective.
As Sergeant Fred P Jones of the 108th Engineers put it:
The British still remembered the Revolutionary war – and if they didn’t we reminded them of it.
And yet from the outset, American and Australian troops formed a spontaneous and special bond.
Then, as now, we saw something of ourselves in each other.
Lieutenant Kenneth Gow from New Jersey said that Australians:
were more like ourselves than any of the other allies
And an Australian Private who fought alongside the Americans in the Battle of Hamel wrote of his ‘lavish admiration’ for the Americans’ ‘dash’.
Few battlefields have borne more bloodshed than the Western Front, and few have played host to more inspiring acts of selfless courage.
Historian Dale Blair recounts the story of New York Sergeant Merritt D Cutler, from the 107th Regiment, who fought in the battle of St Quentin Canal, and described the aftermath of the German artillery assault as resembling: ‘a scene from Dante’s Inferno’.
Cutler would win a Distinguished Service Cross that day, when, in the face of heavy machine-gun fire, he went in search of a stretcher – and a fellow stretcher-bearer - to bring the wounded and dying back behind the line.
The first soldier he encountered was an Aussie.
When Cutler asked if this soldier was prepared to join him in risking his life to rescue wounded comrades, the Australian replied, as only an Australian could:
‘Sure, Yank, I’ll go – we’re in this bloody thing together’
And in the century since, that promise has endured.
From its very beginning, ours was a friendship built on the extraordinary courage of ordinary people.
This mutual respect, this returned admiration for American and Australian bravery in adversity, is the human thread that runs unbroken through our shared history.
In February 1942, in Sunda Strait off the coast of Indonesia - the USS Houston and the HMAS Perth stood alone against a Japanese invasion convoy of more than 50 ships.
696 American and 375 Australian sailors paid the ultimate price that night, in a fierce battle that claimed both ships.
A simple plaque in Western Australia’s Rockingham Naval Memorial Park pays tribute to the memory of crewmen from the Houston and the Perth with the words:
Still on watch in Sunda Strait.
In Korea, pilots from Australia’s 77 Fighter Squadron flew almost 19,000 individual sorties in Meteors and Mustangs to support General MacArthur’s UN forces on the ground.
American respect for the skill and dedication of these Australian pilots helped drive the signing of the ANZUS Pact – the foundation of our two nations’ security partnership.
And most recently, in the southern Uruzgan province of Afghanistan, our service men and women have worked seamlessly together, often in the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances.
First under Dutch command, then American, now Australian.
More than two thousand US soldiers made the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan.
Along with 41 Australians.
Among them, Corporal Cameron Baird who was posthumously awarded Australia’s 100th Victoria Cross.
The Victoria Cross, or VC, is our nation’s highest military honour – just as the Congressional Medal of Honor is yours.
In the US Army, the inscription for the Medal of Honor is one world ‘Valour’.
Our inscription is twice as long, it reads: ‘For Valour’.
The Victoria Cross is a decoration open to all ranks, and all ranks of the Australian Defence Force are required to salute a VC recipient.
It has been described as:
‘the most democratic, and at the same time the most exclusive of all orders of chivalry’.
And proof that:
‘there is only one standard, the human standard of valour and deadly peril’.
Four Australians have been awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery in Afghanistan and nine Americans have earned the Medal of Honour.
13 men from our two countries who, when confronted with deadly danger and inescapable peril, thought only for the safety of their friends.
Their bravery, and the bravery of all their comrades-in-arms, is the latest and most vivid chapter in the tale of our countries shared history of courage, friendship and sacrifice.
Tonight, we honour their memory.
I leave you with a final thought from the hallowed ground of Arlington, where an eternal flame burns alongside the immortal name of John F Kennedy.
53 years ago, in that memorable inaugural address, Kennedy told tens of thousands of Americans on seats swept free of snow – and millions listening around the world - of humanity’s new mission:
Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need.
Not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”.
A struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
Ladies and Gentlemen, for as long as those enemies remain, America’s mission, Australia’s mission, humanity’s mission endures.
Whatever our future holds, Australians and Americans know that we will always face it together.
As old allies in war.
As unwavering partners in peace.
And as steadfast friends in times of need.
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