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McNamara, Robert. "Remarks by Secretary McNamara to the National Association of Educational Broadcasters." Denver, Colorado, November 7, 1967.

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Remarks by Secretary McNamara to the National Association of Educational Broadcasters

Denver, Colorado

November 7, 1967

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I want to talk to you this morning about the unused potential of the Department of Defense — a potential for contributing to the solution of the social problems wracking our nation.

The Defense Department is the largest single institution in the world: an institution employing directly four and a half million men and women, indirectly employing several million more, and directing the use of nearly 10 percent of the nation's wealth.

The question I want to put to you is this: can these vast resources be used to contribute to our nation's benefit beyond the narrow — though vitally necessary — role of military power?

As a basis for exploring this question, I want to describe to you three projects that are currently under way:

  • An Open Housing Program, to break through the barriers of racial discrimination in off-base housing for military personnel.

  • PROJECT 100,000, a program to salvage the poverty-scarred youth of our society at the rate of 100,000 men each year — first for two years of military service, and then for a lifetime of productive activity in civilian society.

  • And finally, PROJECT TRANSITION, a program to assist the three-quarters of a million men leaving military service each year to select and train for the role in civilian life that will contribute most to their personal fulfillment and to the nation's benefit.
But before discussing these programs, let me make it unmistakably clear that our primary responsibility and our clear mandate from the President and from the Congress is to procure and maintain in a high state of combat readiness whatever military forces are necessary to protect this nation from external attack, keep our commitments to our allies, and support the objectives of our foreign policy.

We are meeting that responsibility.

Since 1961, excluding those forces added because of operations in Vietnam, we have increased our military capability in every essential category:

  • A 45% increase in the number of combat assigned Army divisions — from 11 to 16.

  • A 73% increase in the funds for general ship construction and conversion to modernize the fleet.

  • A 200% increase in the number of guided missile surface ships — from 23 to 72.

  • A 300% increase in our inventory of nuclear-powered ships — from 19 to 77.

  • A 40% increase in the number of Air Force tactical fighter squadrons — from 67 to 94 — and a 100% increase in the total payload capability of all our fighter and attack aircraft, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

  • A 300% increase in helicopter troop lift capability.

  • A 340% increase in our fixed-wing airlift capability — an increase which will reach 1000% in the 1970s with the introduction of the mammoth new C-5A transport.

  • A 100% increase in the number of nuclear weapons deployed in NATO Europe.

  • A 160% increase in the number and total megatonnage of nuclear weapons in the strategic alert forces.
Nor do these increases tell the full story. We have developed in the past several years a broad new array of weapons which include:

  • The SR-71: a highly sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft that can fly three times the speed of sound.

  • The POSEIDON intercontinental missile which has five to ten times the destructive power of the POLARIS missile it replaces.

  • The MBT-70, a new main battle tank, providing increased firepower, protection and mobility.

  • The CH-54 flying crane: our first heavy-lift helicopter, which has paid for itself many times over in recovering battle-damaged helicopters, as well as performing an expanded range of supply and logistic functions in support of our troops.

  • The family of F-111 aircraft: the most sophisticated and effective attack aircraft in the world today — and recognized as such by foreign governments who are buying it in preference to aircraft produced in their own countries.

  • The multi-warhead ballistic missile re-entry system which multiplies the effectiveness of our missile force.

  • The WALLEYE guided bomb, which uses a television guidance system, enabling aircraft and conventional explosives to hit targets in Southeast Asia today with extreme accuracy and effectiveness.

  • The LANCE tactical surface-to-surface missile, equipped with both nuclear and non-nuclear warheads, which has greater range, accuracy and reliability than the missiles it will replace.

  • The SPARTAN and SPRINT anti-ballistic missiles which will provide defense against a possible Chinese attack in the 1970s.

  • The PHOENIX air-to-air missile system, providing us with the capability of destroying formations of enemy aircraft in the air at substantially greater distances.

  • The SRAM air-to-surface missile, increasing the effectiveness of our strategic bombers, and enabling us to penetrate advanced enemy defenses.

  • The COBRA attack helicopter, providing faster, more flexible support of our ground troops.

  • The A-7 attack aircraft, giving our Navy and the Air Force an improved capability to support our ground forces, with its greater bomb capacity and longer range.

  • And scores of other weapon systems and sub-systems — many of them, of course, still highly classified.
Now, obviously, the real test of combat readiness is not simply to have an adequate arsenal of advanced weaponry — which we have greatly added to over the past six years — but to be able to respond rapidly and effectively to an emergency.

Such an emergency faced us in the summer of 1965, when it became apparent that Hanoi was on the verge of cutting South Vietnam in half by overwhelming force.

If we in the United States were to prevent that defeat, we had to respond rapidly and effectively.

That is what we did — and our accomplishments in the face of that emergency are the most realistic measure of our combat readiness.

In the first crucial months of the crisis we moved over 100,000 men to Southeast Asia in 120 days. We supplied them with hundreds of thousands of different items, at the end of a 10,000 mile pipeline — which at the time had only one deepwater port, and neither roads nor rail line to move the supplies inland.

In those first critical months we saved South Vietnam from complete and final defeat.

Today we are supporting some 600,000 men in Southeast Asia — at a standard of proficiency never before equaled in the history of warfare — and we are doing so without wage controls, without price controls, without profit controls — and indeed without the serious dislocation of the economy that has been the inevitable accompaniment of every other war we have fought in this century.

What is more, we are accomplishing this without calling up our reserve forces; without any significant movement of our men and equipment out of Western Europe; without any important change in our forces in South Korea; and without jeopardizing our ability to meet additional emergencies that might occur elsewhere in the world.

Now, how has all this been possible?

It has been possible because we have met our first and overriding responsibility in the Defense Department: we were, we are, and we will continue to remain in a high state of combat readiness.

Combat readiness is our primary responsibility.

But I want to stress that responsibility is not inconsistent with other goals.

We have been concerned, for example, with obtaining and operating the required level of military power at the lowest possible cost. That goal is clearly sensible in a Department that is spending over $70 billion per year.

Efficient, economical management does not detract from combat readiness. On the contrary, it strengthens it.

Our defense expenditures today — even including the full cost of our commitments in Southeast Asia — constitute a smaller percentage of the Gross National Product than they did in any fiscal year from 1952 through 1959.

That is due in part to the five-year Cost Reduction Program, which we initiated in 1962. Over the five years we saved the taxpayers in excess of 14 billions of dollars. Now that the initial phase has been completed, we have established the Cost Reduction Program as a permanent annual procedure — with stated goals and carefully audited results.

As part of reducing costs, we have to date initiated actions to consolidate, reduce, or close over 950 Defense installations or activities — all over the world — involving property that has become surplus to foreseeable peacetime or wartime needs.

The base closure program understandably created, in the beginning, a great deal of local apprehension and political pressure. And yet we have not reversed a single base closure decision due to pressure; nor has it been necessary to reopen a single installation to take care of the 25% expansion of our forces which has occurred in the past two years. The recurring annual savings of the base closure program alone, when completed — including the elimination of 200,000 jobs — will total $1.5 billion.

Furthermore, the usual pattern of these base closures is that the local communities — ultimately — benefit from the action. Our Office of Economic Adjustment works closely with the community leaders from the day a base closure is announced, and helps explore fully the growth potential of the area.

Now, just as efficient management and cost reduction are not the Defense Department's primary goals — but are nevertheless entirely consistent with our central responsibility of combat readiness — so it is becoming clear there are other measures that we can take that benefit the economy, and the social profile of the nation, which are equally consistent with our primary objective.

As I said at the outset, we are currently conducting three programs which are directed toward alleviating certain social inequities in the nation.

First, the Open Housing Program:

Racial discrimination — granting the great legislative advances that have been achieved in the past six years — remains a festering infection in our national life.

The Defense Department, beginning with the courageous executive order of President Truman in 1948 integrating the armed services, has been a powerful fulcrum in removing the roadblocks to racial justice — not merely in the military, but in the country at large.

But clearly the nation's road to equality is still strewn with boulders of bias.

Shortly after I became Secretary of Defense, I asked Mr. Gerhard A. Gesell, a leading member of the bar, to organize a committee to review the progress of equal opportunity in the Armed Forces.

That committee took a hard, realistic look at the problem. It reported that substantial improvement had been made on military bases. But it found that there remained severe off-base discrimination affecting thousands of Negro servicemen and their families. This discrimination was most destructive in the field of housing.

Open housing is a serious issue throughout our society. It is not confined to the Armed Forces. Too many of our citizens cannot live in the homes of their choice, on the streets of their choice, in the neighborhoods of their choice.

But this intolerable racial discrimination affects military personnel even more severely than it does the population art large. The serviceman and his family, on limited compensation and under military orders, must move every few years. While defending their nation, they are singularly defenseless against this bigotry.

My response to the Gesell Committee findings was to issue a directive incorporating its recommendations. Commanders everywhere were asked to organize voluntary programs to eliminate housing discrimination in the communities surrounding their bases.

In the Pentagon we turned our minds to other problems.

Early this year we reviewed the results of that four-year-old directive. We sent teams to a dozen bases to look into every aspect of equal opportunity. A special task force was set up for the greater Washington area. Seventeen thousand service families were surveyed. Their answers were analyzed.

One fact became painfully clear. Our voluntary programs had failed, and failed miserably.

This failure we found intolerable. I put the matter to you bluntly: our nation should not, and will not, ask a Negro sergeant, for example, to risk his life, day after dangerous day, in the heat and hardship of a jungle war; and then bring him home and compel him to remain separated from his wife and his children because of the hate and prejudice that parades under the pomposity of racial superiority.

And yet, that is precisely what has been happening in this country.

The color of the blood that our men shed in the defense of Asia is all the same shade.

But when these men return home, it is not the color of their blood that matters: it is the color of their skin.

There are thousands of our Negro troops, returning from Vietnam, who are being discriminated against in off-base housing. When there is adequate housing on the base, Negro men in uniform are treated as all Americans should be treated. When there is not, and the Negro must depend on the civilian community for housing, he all too often is denied this equality of treatment.

Because of his color he suffers a penalty; his family suffers a penalty; and our national security suffers a penalty because of the impaired morale of our fighting forces.

We are talking here about a group of men who have distinguished themselves in the service of their nation. It is a fact that Negroes often volunteer for the most difficult and hazardous assignments. It is a fact that 20 percent of Army deaths in Vietnam last year were Negroes.

Earlier this year, in a visit to his home State of South Carolina, General Westmoreland paid tribute to the superb performance of these men.

"I say to the people of my native State and my country," the General noted, "that the performance of the Negro serviceman has been particularly inspirational to me. He has served with distinction equal to that of his white comrade in arms. The Negro serviceman, like all servicemen, has been a credit to our country. He has been courageous on the battlefield, proficient in a cross section of technical skills. Like his white colleague, he understands what the war is all about, he is loyal to his country and supports its policies, and is carrying out his responsibilities with a sense of responsibility."
The Negro serviceman has been loyal and responsible to his country. But the people of his country have failed in their loyalty and responsibility to him. The country which sent him to hazardous duty abroad refuses to permit him to live in the midst of the white civilian community when he returns.

Our original voluntary program to correct off-base housing discrimination foundered and fell apart. It lacked sufficient leadership from the top — starting with me, and going right on down through the senior echelon of the Defense establishment. And it lacked appropriately stiff sanctions for the violation of our anti-discrimination policy.

We have forged, therefore, a whole new set of tools to deal with this failure.

We have mapped out a two-pronged campaign. The first phase was to compile a nation-wide census of open off-base rental housing for military personnel. That we have completed.

The second phase is to mobilize — throughout the entire country — effective community support for non-discriminatory military off-base housing. That is now well under way.

We selected the greater Washington metropolitan area, including Maryland and Virginia, as our first objective. We wanted to make the area surrounding the nation's capital a model program — as it should be — and we wanted to learn quickly all the lessons we could that would assist us in the country at large.

Officials from the highest levels of the Defense Department — the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Service Secretaries, and senior commanders — met with realtors and landlords of the area and put the matter to them squarely.

The extent of off-base housing discrimination was appalling. The morale of our Negro servicemen and their families was being severely eroded. We told the landlords the Defense Department could no longer tolerate the situation.

We appealed to the landlords for voluntary compliance with our non-discriminatory housing policy.

But we pointed out that the situation as it stood was so unjust that, whether we secured their voluntary compliance or not, we simply could not permit the conditions to continue. If, then, the landlords felt they would not or could not comply, we were going to have to prohibit any of our men — regardless of their race — from signing rental agreements in housing units where such discrimination was practiced.

Many proprietors complied voluntarily. Too many did not.

Let me say that in many instances their position — while shortsighted — was understandable. Some faced genuine economic pressures.

In any event, they did not comply. And so we were compelled to take the only action open to us. We prohibited all military personnel, both white and Negro, from signing new leases or rental agreements in their facilities.

This had the effect of applying a countervailing economic pressure, and our open housing program took on an altogether new and positive direction.

In Northern Virginia and Maryland, within 120 days, we more than trebled the number of non-discriminatory units — from about 15,000 to 53,000 units.

Now we are at work elsewhere throughout the nation. We have, for example, an intensified program going on in California at the moment. We are giving particular emphasis to this State, not merely because of the large number of Defense installations and military personnel there; but because of the 14 states with open housing regulations and laws, California has the lowest percentage of apartment facilities open to all races.

Indeed, we have plans to extend the program in a dozen additional states in the near future.

Everywhere our approach will be the same. We will survey the local situation of each military base. We will meet with the realtors and landlords and explain the problem fully. We will request their cooperation and seek their voluntary compliance. We will do everything possible to see that our military families act as good tenants: that they pay their obligations promptly, and that they respect the property of private owners. We will enlist the help of local and State officials. And only when, and if, all other actions fail, will we apply the appropriate sanctions.

I want to emphasize that I am fully aware that the Defense Department is not a philanthropic foundation or a social-welfare institution. But I want to emphasize just as strongly that I do not propose to let our Negro servicemen and their families continue to suffer the injustices and indignities they have in the past.

It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. I can assure you that in South Vietnam there is no segregation in foxholes.

There is no segregation of our servicemen in on-base housing.

And the Defense Department cannot tolerate segregation of our servicemen in off-base housing.

Where we must use stiff sanctions, we will.

What we prefer, hope for, and expect is an overwhelming measure of voluntary compliance.

Now let me discuss with you for a moment our second program in the social field. It is called PROJECT 100,000, and I first announced it in a speech in New York in August of last year.

I pointed out, at the time, that though there were roughly 1.8 million young men reaching military service age each year in the United States, some 600,000 — a full third — were failing to qualify under our draft standards. Some had medical problems, but I was particularly concerned about those thousands who failed because of educational deficiencies.

In some areas, the failure rate for draftees ran as high as 60 percent; and for Negroes in some states it exceeded 80 percent.

What this clearly meant was that the burden of military service was not being shouldered equally. Inequities were serious: inequities by region; inequities by race; and inequities by educational level.

What was even worse was the obvious implication. If so massive a number of our young men were educationally unqualified for even the least complicated tasks of military service, how could they reasonably be expected to lead productive and rewarding lives in an increasingly technological and highly-skilled society?

Our studies confirmed that a great number of these draft rejectees were the hapless and hopeless victims of poverty: a poverty that is not the mere absence of American middle-class affluence, but something infinitely more complex: a corrosive and decaying mix of social, educational, and environmental deprivation.

What these men badly need is a sense of personal achievement — a sense of succeeding at some task — a sense of their own intrinsic potential.

They have potential, but the slow and silent poison of the poverty virus has paralyzed it in many of them. They have grown up in an atmosphere of drift and discouragement. It is not simply the sometimes squalid ghettos of their external environment that has debilitated them — but an internal and more destructive ghetto of personal disillusionment and despair: a ghetto of the human spirit.

Poverty in America pockmarks its victims inwardly.

If unchecked and unreversed, that inner ghetto of the poverty-scarred personality of these men can fester into explosive frustrations of bitterness and violence.

Chronic failure in school throughout their childhood, they are destined to a downward spiral of defeat and decay in a skill-oriented nation that requires from its manpower tool an increasing index of competence, discipline, and self-confidence.

Poverty destines thousands of young men today to a dismal future. Destines them, yes. But dooms them, no.

These young men — and they are typified by those who in the past have failed to qualify for military service due to educational deficiencies — can be saved from that futile future. They can be rehabilitated, both inwardly and out. They are men, we concluded, who given the benefits of the Defense Department's experience in educational innovation and on-the-job training, and placed in an atmosphere of high motivation and morale, could be transformed into competent military personnel. Beyond that, after their tour of duty they could return to civilian life — equipped with new skills and attitudes — and thus break out of the self-perpetrating poverty cycle.

The Defense Department is the world's largest producer of skilled men. We provide enlisted men with highly professional training in 1,500 different skills, in more than 2,000 separate courses. And each year we return about three-quarters of a million men to the nation's manpower pool.

The goal of PROJECT 100,000 was, therefore, to take in 40,000 rejectees the first year, and 100,000 each year thereafter. The program completed its first year on September 30.

I want to report to you on its progress.

Our goal was to take 40,000 men; we took 49,000.

They entered all of the services: Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps.

Now, what sort of backgrounds do these men come from? About 60 percent are whites; about 40 percent Negroes. Their average age is 21. Thirty percent of them are unemployed at the time they come to us, and an additional 26 percent are earning less than $60 a week.

What this means is that more than half of these men are gripped in poverty. Nor is that surprising. Their average reading score is a bare sixth-grade level; and 14 percent of them read at a third-grade level or less. Many are poorly motivated when they reach us. They lack initiative. They lack pride. They lack ambition.

If nothing were done to give them a strong sense of their own worth and potential, they, their wives and their children would almost inevitably be the unproductive recipients of some form of the dole 10 years from now.

I want to repeat: we have taken these men into the service because we are convinced that, given the proper environment and training, they can contribute just as much to the defense of their country as men from the more advantaged segments of our society.

Has that belief been borne out by the facts?

We now have had a full year's experience with this program, and let me tell you the results.

Ninety-eight percent of our traditional categories of recruits successfully graduated from basic training during the year. And the successful graduation rate of these 49,000 new category men was 96 percent — only two percentage points less than our traditional recruits.

I have insisted that these men should never be singled-out or stigmatized as a special group. Technically — and for our own internal record-keeping — men who would have formerly been draft rejectees are termed New Standards men. But the men themselves are never informed that they are in this category.

It is absolutely imperative that they believe in themselves and their own potential. They obviously cannot do that if we treat them with anything remotely suggesting condescendence.

The plain fact is that our PROJECT 100,000 is succeeding beyond even our most hopeful expectations. Many of our commanders report that these men are turning out to be even more highly motivated than some servicemen with a much more privileged background.

Now these are the initial results, and we are immensely encouraged. But obviously the real test is going to come later, when these men move back into civilian society. How will they fare then?

Will the vital sense of achievement and self-confidence they have experienced in their military service, as well as the skills they have learned, move them forward in society — or will they return to the depressing downward-spiraling, poverty-in-the-midst-of-plenty phenomenon that plagues our urban ghettos and our rural pockets of economic stagnation?

We cannot say for certain. But we intend to find out.

We are launching a careful follow-up study to test conclusively the ultimate outcome of PROJECT 100,000. At least a decade of careful measurement of the performance of the men both in and out of the service will be required. We won't know until the end of that period what the definitive study will prove. But I am willing to make a prediction. I am convinced that the PROJECT 100,000 men will continue to do a fully creditable job in the service; and that on return to civilian life, their earning capacity — and their over-all achievement in society — will be two or three times what it would have been had there been no such program, and had they remained rejectees.

Hundreds of thousands of men can be salvaged from the blight of poverty, and the Defense Department — with no detriment whatever to its primary role — is particularly well equipped to salvage them.

We not only can do it. We are doing it. And the benefit to our society — and to the ultimate roots of our security — will be immense.

Now, let me describe to you briefly our third program in this field. We call it PROJECT TRANSITION.

As I mentioned, we return some 750,000 men from the services annually to civilian life. Some of these men can move readily into civilian jobs without difficulty, but a significant number of them are faced with genuine problems.

We surveyed the situation, and found that some 50 percent of the men about to leave the services need and want some degree of help to make the transition to a productive civilian life.

To provide that help, we have created a voluntary program — PROJECT TRANSITION — for men with 30 to 180 days of service time remaining. The project gives priority to certain groups: to those disabled in battle; to those with no previous civilian occupation; to combat arms servicemen with no civilian-related skill; to those who have such a skill, but who require additional training or upgrading; and finally to those who desire a completely new civilian skill, regardless of their current training status.

The program meets four basic needs of the man leaving the service: counseling, skill enhancement, education, and job placement.

We now have pilot programs — for each of the services — at five bases. I can report to you today that within sixty days PROJECT TRANSITION will be in operation at all eighty of the major installations in this country.

We have enlisted the cooperation of other federal agencies — the Labor Department, HEW, the Postal Service — as well as a number of State and local agencies that can assist with training, and offer employment to these men. A number of police departments around the nation, for example, are participating, not only with professional advice and technical assistance but with solid job offers as well.

Though the program is still in its pilot stage, it clearly has tremendous potential, and industrial leaders throughout the nation have already expressed enthusiasm for the idea. Further, the Ford Foundation has offered to work closely with us in solving the problems connected with placing the right veteran in the right job.

We are going to be able to give the returning Negro veteran — particularly the Negro veteran who without help might be compelled to drift back into the stagnation of the urban ghetto — an opportunity for valuable training and satisfying employment.

Every veteran — regardless of color, creed, or class — who has served his country in the Armed Forces deserves the opportunity to move back usefully and productively into civilian life. PROJECT TRANSITION will help give him the opportunity.

I think the point we must realize is this. There is no question but that the economic, social, and educational legislation of the current period eventually will transform American society immensely for the better.

But the very magnitude of the task will require a decade or two for the full effects to be felt.

This means that the present generation of the under-privileged youth of all races, caught in the self-perpetuating trap of poverty, are in danger of being left out of these eventual benefits.

The President has made clear that the United States cannot be satisfied with that situation. We must find ways to assist people now — even before our present legislation can reach its full potential for economic and social improvement.

This is manifestly a national responsibility — not primarily a Department of Defense responsibility.

Our primary responsibility — is the security of this nation. But in the ultimate analysis, the foundation of that security is a stable social structure. I suggest to you that the Defense Department can find ways to contribute to the development of such a structure without compromising the combat readiness of its forces.

The three social programs I have described to you today are the kinds of programs that will bolster the security of this nation. They are the kinds of programs that will reduce the criticism, some of it justified, that we are often bludgeoned with internationally: criticism that grows out of the discrepancy between our traditional preaching of the principles of liberty and equality — and our obvious lapses in the practice of those two bedrock constitutional guarantees. They are partial answers to the basic question: can our present American society afford to meet simultaneously its responsibilities both at home and abroad?

Can we continue to meet our commitments to contain aggression internationally, and at the same time take the measures necessary to cure our urban and racial ills here at home?

I say definitively that we can.

This nation is immensely powerful — both in material and human resources.

Our current Defense expenditures — as heavy as they are — are only 9 percent of the GNP. That is a lesser percentage of the GNP than defense spending in most of the years of the 1950s. The taxes we pay today are billions of dollars less than the taxes we would be paying under the tax rates of the 1950s. The modest surcharge that the President is recommending — and which makes eminent sense in our highly charged economy — will represent a recision of less than half of the tax cuts this Administration has achieved.

And yet, we appear to believe that we cannot afford to achieve all that genuinely needs achieving.

We appear to believe that we are stretching our resources too thinly.

We appear to believe that we cannot simultaneously wage war against aggression abroad, and a war against poverty, urban decay, and social injustice here at home.

That we cannot afford it is a myth.

That we may choose not to attempt it, is another matter entirely.

But if we make that choice, let us make it deliberately and rationally.

Let us not make that choice because of a mere mythology — the mythology that America is not strong enough to do all that needs doing.

We are strong enough materially and technologically. We do have the resources in both money and manpower.

What we may lack is the will power.

If we do lack it, so be it. But let that be our conscious choice. Let us face the issues honestly, and admit to ourselves that we simply do not want to make the effort.

Let us not blame the lack of effort on the myth that we cannot do all that needs doing.

For the fact is, we can.

We can curb aggression abroad. And we can meet our pressing social problems here at home. And we can do both at the same time if we will use wisely existing institutions and available resources.

The simple question is this: do we have the requisite faith in ourselves?

Do we have the requisite confidence in our constitutional objectives?

Do we have the requisite resolve to complete the achievements that the United States was founded less than 200 years ago to secure?

I, for one, say we do.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what say you?

Thank you, and good morning.

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