As we come up on Memorial Day and I think about my relatives and ancestors who sacrificed their lives during military service, I always begin to ponder the "why" behind such service. There are times when a country just has to use "hard power" vs. "soft power" and I don't think I could explain it better than this segment of a speech by Gen. Colin Powell on January 26, 2003:
The United States believes strongly in what you call soft power, the value of democracy, the value of the free economic system, the value of making sure that each citizen is free and free to pursue their own God-given ambitions and to use the talents that they were given by God. And that is what we say to the rest of the world. That is why we participated in establishing a community of democracy within the Western Hemisphere. It's why we participate in all of these great international organizations.
There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power -- and here I think you're referring to military power -- then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can't deal with.
I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.
So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world.
We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years -- and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan -- and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.