Thank you, Mr. President. I am honored to represent the United States at this special solemn meeting of the General Assembly. Today, we pause from our current labors to salute those who gave their lives during World War II to the cause of peace and human freedom, to mourn the innocents killed and murdered during those tragic years, to honor the sacrifice of friends and allies who fought shoulder to shoulder with the brave soldiers of my country, and to remember the origins of this institution amid the ash and smoke of the most terrible war in human history.
The very term “United Nations” comes, of course, from the 1942 Declaration issued by my country and other nations “engaged in a common struggle” against Nazism and totalitarianism. They pledged “to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands.” Those noble ideals—under such siege in 1942—form the foundation of the international system that rose from the great devastation of the 1940s. We join together today to remember but also to reaffirm our commitment to the shared goal of a world free from war, oppression, fear, and want.
There would be no United Nations without World War II. Out of that great struggle came lasting resolve—a determination to defend the inalienable rights of all people, to unite against aggression, and to insist that civilians be spared during even the most furious conflict. For all the unimaginable sacrifice of the Allied forces, for all the unspeakable suffering endured by nations under occupation, for all the unthinkable devastation across Europe and Asia, we still come together today to remember World War II as a war fought out of the purest necessity. In Nazi Germany, we faced far more than just a rival power; we faced a rival view of humanity—one rooted in hatred and spite, one bent on conquest and subjugation, one that sought to murder outright an entire branch of the human family, one that denied and despised the essential rights to which my nation has always aspired. Defeating the Third Reich and the Axis powers did not guarantee freedom and justice; but so long as Hitler ruled and ravaged, so long as vast swathes of Europe and Asia suffered under cruelty and occupation, no person could be truly free.
Sixty-five years later, we join our fellow member states in hailing the victory of the great wartime alliance, and we are thankful that former foes have become true and enduring friends. But we look not just back but forward, so that we may use the lessons of the past to build a future in which all nations can exercise their rights and in which all nations will shoulder their responsibilities.
We remind ourselves that just as fascism could not be defeated by any one nation, we face a new generation of global challenges that also demand global cooperation and global solutions. We live in an era of great change, but the need to work together—to stand together against war, aggression, disease, famine, proliferation, terrorism, Holocaust denial, intolerance, bigotry, poverty, and despair—to strive together to create a world that sees all people as all truly equal—that basic need for unity in the face of great challenge—ladies and gentlemen, has not changed.
People across the world still face threats to security and stability. The enemies are different; the ideologies have different names; but we have not yet passed into a time free of dangers, and they will require courage and resolve to overcome. So we must work together to make this institution, in the words of Winston Churchill, into “a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can some day be hung up.” We must work together to stem the tide of nuclear peril. We must spread the reach of hope, prosperity, and opportunity. We must celebrate the different ways in which we have all been created. We must resist the preachers of division, hatred, and extremism. And we must defend the rights that all people have but that not all people can exercise.
Ladies and gentlemen, since the last time this assembly gathered in solemn commemoration of the Second World War, untold thousands of its veterans have left us—claimed in the fullness of time, not in the clang and terror of battle. That great generation fought on the seas and oceans; they stormed the beaches and liberated the camps; they kept the torch of freedom alight under the rule of the collaborators and the quislings; they shed their blood on the streets of Stalingrad, the waters near Midway, and the alleys of the Warsaw Ghetto. Because of them, we remember World War II for more than the horrors of the Holocaust and the malice of fascism; because of them, we remember that human beings are capable not just of unimaginable cruelty but also of unimaginable bravery. They prevailed not just through force of arms but, as President Obama put it, “with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.” So we must all listen to the stories of the veterans who are still with us. We must always remember what they endured so that their families could live without war and so that people they never met could live without fear. And above all, we must deepen our commitment to the cause for which they fought—for peace, for liberty, for justice, for the common humanity that links us all together and makes each of us equally precious.
On behalf of my government, let me offer abiding thanks to all those who struggled and sacrificed alongside us during the Second World War. And let me offer the abiding friendship of the United States to all those who cherish the values of human rights, human freedom, and human dignity.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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