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Address by ROBERT EATON, Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation
Delivered to the National Academy of Engineering, 1998 Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., October 4, 1998
Thank you, Bill [Wulf]. It's a high honor to be here in the capacity of Chairman of NAE. I mean that sincerely. I am an engineer who - like many other engineers - took a turn in the road many years ago that led me out of the laboratory and into the executive suite. But I'm still an engineer, and the opportunity to serve NAE for the next two years is a great privilege, indeed.
This is my maiden speech in this role, and I want to use it to tell you why I'm looking forward to this opportunity so much. To do that, I have to go back a few years.
In November of 1989, the Berlin Wall crumbled under the dead weight of a 75-year bad economic idea called communism. I was head of General Motors of Europe at the time and I happened to be in Berlin the day after it happened. The party was still going on.
One day, there was an ugly rampart of concrete-and-concertina wire that symbolically cut the world in half. The next day, people were breaking off chunks as souvenirs.
There was euphoria not only in Berlin, but in all of Germany, all of Europe, indeed all of the world, and, ironically, even in the Soviet Union, which was about to crumble almost as dramatically as that wall itself.
We all knew we were watching serious history being made. We knew this was more than a headline; this was a major shift in the world's political tectonics.
It was the end of the Cold War, and that war was fought on two fronts. Our military strength kept it cold, for the most part. But in the end, it was our economic strength and technological superiority that brought victory.
One day the leaders of the Soviet bloc looked across that wall in Berlin at the prosperity of the capitalist west and quietly and finally said "Uncle."
Then we began doing what we always do after a war - we began disarming. We began cutting military budgets. And we began cutting other budgets as well, including some of the research and development spending that had such a high priority for so long. We began to forget how we'd won.
For all the fear and discontent that it brought, the Cold War was a godsend to American science and technology. For a time after Sputnik, aerospace engineers wore the patriotic halo of front-line Marines. We were locked in technological combat with the Soviets, and the guys with the slide rules were the heroes.
Sic transit gloria ... and all that.
I'm glad the Cold War is over. I'm glad we won. But I have to confess that I'm …