In 1974, American Author and Philosopher, Ayn Rand, was chosen to deliver the Commencement Address to that year's Graduating Class of West Point. The title of the address has come to be known as Philosophy: Who Needs It? During the course of her speech, Mrs. Rand answered here own question. "Everyone!" She also bestowed on the United States Military, one of the more profound vindications of their existence as has ever been noted. On this Veterans Day, 2006, do let's recall her words, and share her gratitude to the brave men and women who DO NOT sacrifice themselves for this nation, but have honored its principles with enormous virtue... the willing dedication of their greatest possession to its highest value.
In conclusion, allow me to speak in personal terms. This evening means a great deal to me. I feel deeply honored by the opportunity to address you. I can say--not as a patriotic bromide, but with full knowledge of the necessary metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political and esthetic roots--that the United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world. There is a kind of quiet radiance associated in my mind with the name West Point--because you have preserved the spirit of those original founding principles and you are their symbol. There were contradictions and omissions in those principles, and there may be in yours--but I am speaking of the essentials. There may be individuals in your history who did not live up to your highest standards--as there are in every institution--since no institutions and no social system can guarantee the automatic perfection of all its members; this depends on an individual's free will. I am speaking of your standards. You have preserved three qualities of character which were typical at the time of America's birth, but are virtually nonexistent today: earnestness--dedication--a sense of honor. Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.
You have chosen to risk your lives for the defense of this country. I will not insult you by saying that you are dedicated to selfless service--it is not a virtue in my morality. In my morality, the defense of one's country means that a man is personally unwilling to live as the conquered slave of any enemy, foreign or domestic. This is an enormous virtue. Some of you may not be consciously aware of it. I want to help you to realize it.
The army of a free country has a great responsibility: the right to use force, but not as an instrument of compulsion and brute conquest--as the armies of other countries have done in their histories--only as an instrument of a free nation's self-defense, which means: the defense of a man's individual rights. The principle of using force only in retaliation against those who initiate its use, is the principle of subordinating might to right. The highest integrity and sense of honor are required for such a task. No other army in the world has achieved it. You have.
West Point has given America a long line of heroes, known and unknown. You, this year's graduates, have a glorious tradition to carry on--which I admire profoundly, not because it is a tradition, but because it is glorious.
Since I came from a country guilty of the worst tyranny on earth, I am particularly able to appreciate the meaning, the greatness and the supreme value of that which you are defending. So, in my own name and in the name of many people who think as I do, I want to say, to all the men of West Point, past, present and future: Thank you.
Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York - March 6, 1974