Remarks on Kosovo Relief EffortDover Air Force Base
by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
April 9, 1999
Thank you very much, General McDuffie. I am honored to be here and to have a chance to see in action just a brief snapshot of what youre doing on behalf of this mission. Im pleased to be joined here with those who support our military men and women and their families, and in particular, this base. I want to thank Governor and Mrs. Carper for joining us. I want to thank Congressman Castle. And I particularly want to thank Senator Biden. Because what he said today needs to be said over and over again to remind us why were doing what were doing and why each of you is an integral part of fulfilling Americas mission of leadership at this point in the worlds history.
Im very grateful for all of the military personnel and the leadership who have pulled together the humanitarian side of this mission. We know very well that there are a lot of men and women who are supporting the bombing and are actually making those flights, and we want to think and pause for a minute to make sure we remember them and their families as well.
General McDuffie and General Handy have worked very hard on the military side to make sure the logistics are handled as well as they can be. And Brian Atwood, the Administrator of USAID, brings his considerable experience to bear on making sure the work you do here actually gets delivered and makes a difference in the lives of the men, women, and children we are trying to help.
But none of this would be possible -- none of the planning, none of the effort -- if it werent for the men and women on this base. So let me thank Colonel Grieder and the entire Eagle Wing and Liberty Wing for all youre doing to bring the food that I saw being flown in to the people of Kosovo. Your contribution represents almost half of the 1.1 million HDRs that we are providing now. Theres no way these people we are trying to help could get a meal because there are no cooking facilities where theyre being temporarily placed, were it not for these HDRs. So every time you package one up and load it on a pallet and put it on an aircraft, I hope youll have in mind the pictures and the faces that I do of the people who are going to be on the other end and receive this gift of the American people that youre making possible.
You know, I went to Bosnia shortly after the peace accords were signed, when it was safe enough to go to our base in Tuzla, but not very safe to go anywhere else. I couldnt get in to Sarajevo. But I was able to fly out of Tuzla into two base camps -- Camp Alicia and Camp Bedrock -- to visit with the men and women who were there on the front lines of Americas peace-keeping efforts. And I also had an opportunity to visit with some of the people, principally women, who had survived that first of Milosevics attempts to bring to bear the full weight of his dictatorial powers -- his use of propaganda, disinformation, the stirring up of ethnic and religious hatred -- for his own personal, political, partisan advantage. And I remember sitting in a room in Tuzla talking with a group of Bosnians. There were Serbs and Croats and Muslims. I couldnt tell who was who based on my observation of them. I listened to them explain to me how it came to be that all of a sudden, neighbor was turned against neighbor, and paramilitary units were given free reign to round up men and boys and put them in camps and summarily execute them. Or to rape women. Or to turn children into orphans. And one of the people with whom I was speaking said, You know, when it started in my village, I went to one of my neighbors and I said, Why is this happening? Weve known each other, weve known our families so long. Weve been at each others weddings; weve attended the funerals of our loved ones. Why is this happening? And the response that I was given, she told me, is from the voice of an old friend: Well, we were told that if we didnt do this to you, you would do it to us. And the woman said, Well, who told you that? And the answer was, Well, we read it in a newspaper or we heard it on the radio. It was the message of hatred, it was the message of ethnic cleansing, that Milosevic and his allies were putting out in order to turn Bosnia into a killing field.
Now what we saw happen in Bosnia was part of a larger plan on the part of Milosevic. And this is a continuation of the plan. It didnt just start a few weeks ago. And these refugees, although they are now coming out in the tens of thousands, they were coming out in smaller numbers on a regular basis over the last year. Last Spring, I met in the White House with a woman who is a pediatrician from Pristina, the capital of Kosova. And she sat and detailed to me what it meant for her to be taking care of the women and children who are being driven into the mountains, who are fleeing before the Serb paramilitary units. She didnt have the medicine to take care of them. They were dehydrated. They were contracting diseases. She came to me to tell me what was going on firsthand, and this was a year ago. And so diplomacy was tried; interventions were tried; common sense, appeals to humanity were tried. In every way we knew how to try to talk to a person who wasnt interested in hearing about the suffering of women and children, but only interested in his own perverted view of what was a political strategy to keep himself and his allies in power.
So the peace efforts were not sufficient. And you know, you learn early enough in life that sometimes after you try everything you know, whether you like it or not, you have to use force to try to bring across a message, and to try to make it clear that you will not tolerate unacceptable behavior and actions that strike at the very core of what it means to be a human being.
So I wanted to come to thank those of you who are on the front lines of fulfilling the need that we as Americans and as members of the NATO alliance feel to send that message as forcefully as we possibly can, but to fulfill also, because of our values, the role of providing humanitarian relief to those who have been driven out of their homes. I know that this has been added to your other regular duties. Many of you have put in enormous extra hours of work in order to make sure that this mission can be accomplished. Many of you even gave up your Easter weekend to come in and do the work that needed to be done. A couple of the people I spoke with earlier told me that it wasnt even hard to get you to do that. It just took a phone call and you were on your way.
When you think about it, there would hardly be a more relevant way of fulfilling the meaning of Easter than trying to turn darkness and despair into hope and renewal. And that is what you are making possible.
I sometimes try -- when I visit places where terrible atrocities have occurred, where people have seemed to have lost all sense of empathy or compassion with their fellow human beings -- I try to imagine, as hard as it is for Americans to do that, I try to imagine what it would be like if something this terrible were to happen here. Instead of the people I dont know whose faces I see on the television screen, I try to superimpose the faces of people I do know and love, and imagine them being forced out of their homes and villages. Imagine them being pushed at gunpoint to walk into the hills without their belongings or their identity papers. Imagine children that I love and spend time with having to endure sub-freezing temperatures, rain, and even snow. And then I think about all of my friends huddled together in a no mans land, unable to go back home and unable to go forward into a place of refuge and safety.
If you think about it that way, then its easier to understand that, as blessed as we are here in our country, there are countless people who dont share those blessings and look to us for the very simplest gift, right now, of survival. And when I met the men and women that I shook hands with and thanked, who were loading the HDRs and securing the pallets and getting them on the tonners and getting them into the bellies and I was able to say thank you, I could imagine this human chain from hand to hand to hand here at Dover to our personnel who will be unloading and then distributing this food. And it is such a strong statement against what we are standing up to fight.
You are also representing countless other Americans -- the relief workers, other members of the military, ordinary citizens -- who want to lend a helping hand as well. The United States has already committed $150 million to this humanitarian operation, and we will stand by the Kosovar refugees until they can once again rebuild their own lives in security. Just this morning the President reiterated that the United States will not accept as permanent the results of this ethnic cleansing, not when a quarter of Kosovos people are living in refugee camps beyond Kosovos borders. And not when hundreds of thousands more are trapped inside, afraid to go home but unable to leave. This gift from the people of the United States of America, which is emblazoned on the side of every box and on every HDR, is the way we can fulfill our own values and reach out across this vast ocean to try to alleviate the plight of these refugees.
I know that many Americans are responding. Ive been checking on the results of the contacts that have been made at the White House. Weve received countless calls, letters and e-mails from people who want to know how they can help. A woman from Indiana wrote the White House saying, Ive watched the refugees on television all evening and Im deeply concerned. Is there anything the mothers of this country can do to assist the mothers who have been displaced? A veteran from Ohio wrote, I spent 25 years helping to defeat the Soviet Union. What can I do now to help the suffering of the refugees? And a group of junior high students from Minnesota wrote, We all feel it is horrible what is going on in Kosovo and we want to help the people who have no food and made it past the border. But I especially like what a woman from Florida wrote when she said, Tonight I will close my eyes haunted by the image of the refugees fleeing, the looks in the eyes of the children and the elderly. We are so blessed in our beloved country and I really believe the majority of American folks would like to help these folks in some way but really dont know how.
Well, I want Americans to know that you are helping. The relief efforts that our military and relief agencies are doing is an extension of all of us as Americans. But there are ways that individuals, who arent members of our Armed Forces or arent a member of a relief agency, can help as well. Theres a toll free number that you can call: 1-800-USAID-RELIEF. Already more than 22,000 people have called. And right after this I will be filming a PSA to give more Americans this number so that they can call as well. That is the way to not only help the Kosovar refugees, but to thank the men and women of this Dover team for what you are doing.
You know, I mentioned being in Bosnia and talking to the victims of Milosevics initial effort to dominate other people and to ethnically cleanse land that he believes should be off limits to them. That made a very big impression on me, but probably an even bigger impression came when I looked into the faces of the men and women in our military who are on the front lines keeping the peace there in Bosnia. I had the same feeling today when I met the members of the Dover team. You know, you go down a line of Americans and you shake hands and somebody says, Im from Pennsylvania; and somebody else says, Im from Oklahoma; and somebody else says, Im from Hawaii. And you look into faces that are every shape and color from the whitest white to the darkest black and everything in between, and you hear different accents of people who grew up in the city and grew up in the country, grew up in the north, grew up in the south. And theyre all Americans, and theyre all part of this Dover team, and theyre all part of the United States military.
When I was shaking hands today, just like when I was shaking hands in Bosnia, I couldnt tell you who among those I shook hands with was a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. I couldnt tell you what their political beliefs were, what their personal experiences were, because thats what weve worked so hard to overcome in our country. Weve made a lot of progress. We have some problems, but year after year, decade after decade, weve tried to fulfill our ideals and values. And here at the end of this century we are the only remaining superpower. And we are not just because of our military mind, and not just because of the stock market going over 10,000. As important as those are, we are because of what we are inside and what we believe. And so every day when you come to work here, youre not only doing whats important to be done on this mission and all the others you are assigned, you are in small ways and large representing what is best in this country. And you are also representing what we are fighting to make possible for other people: that every man, woman, and child can live up to their own God-given dreams and potential. Thank you for making it possible for these desperate people to have a belief that there is a tomorrow and that they will be able to see once again their own dreams.
Thank you very much.