Our turn came following February 1990, when Nelson Mandela emerged unbowed, unbeaten, and unembittered from 26 years of imprisonment. Within weeks, I had accepted the post of officer-in-charge of our embassy in Pretoria, and had the honor of working with men and women of good will and great courage to help South Africa make its historic transformation toward non-racial democracy. The sweetest moment of my professional life came four years later, when I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of President Mandela.
At that time, I was President Clinton's senior adviser for Africa, and I spent most of my time trying to replicate this triumph of reason and humanity elsewhere on the continent-in places like Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia, and Angola. This moved me to an issue that's dominated my life ever since: the fight against 70 million landmines planted in one-third of the world's nations.
In 1994 I helped support the peace agreement that ended three decades of civil war in Angola. After the pact was signed, I traveled to the town of Kuito in central Angola for what I hoped would be a victory celebration. Our team was stunned to find a refugee center no larger than this area, filled with 10,000 people. When we asked why the people weren't returning to their homes, they told us they were afraid of millions of landmines planted by the government and the rebels on their roads, in their villages, and outside their schools and markets.
At a small clinic, we saw a young woman giving birth and having part of her leg removed at the same time. The doctor later told us that the woman had been living in the refugee camp. She was seven months pregnant and knew that the thin porridge she was eating was not enough for her unborn child. She went into a grove of mangos behind the camp to get some fruit, and detonated a landmine planted there purposely to sow disorder. The loss of blood stimulated labor, and the doctor told us it was unlikely that either the mother or the child would survive.
No one can see such a sight and be immune to the terror of these weapons. I returned to Washington and asked to serve in Angola. As ambassador there from 1995 to 1998, I witnessed the everyday tragedy of landmines: 80,000 amputees; hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes and villages, long after the guns of war were silenced; millions suffering economic and psychological degradation. Consider that the first song Angolan school children learn isn't "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or "Old MacDonald's Farm," but a song about landmines warning them that their next step could bring death or mutilation.
Now, as the president's adviser for humanitarian demining, I direct a program designed to reduce the threat of mines to civilians around the world by the year 2010. From Angola to Afghanistan, from Kosovo to Cambodia, from Nicaragua to Namibia, we're working to clear the world's most dangerous minefields, assist the 300,000 victims of mine accidents, educate people to identify and avoid these weapons, and find new techniques to detect and remove landmines.
I'm sure the military commanders who planted these mines around the world or the military contractors who built them could explain their motivations, using antiseptic terms like area denial, battlefield shaping, and force multiplication. Similarly, I know that the government I represent can explain our refusal to sign the global treaty that banned the use and production of landmines some 15 months ago. But I leave it to you to decide if anything can justify denying the next gen-eration of world citizens the right to walk the earth without fear.
And finally, nothing can justify failure to express my fondness for Reed College itself, this remarkable institution that teaches you that the glass of knowledge isn't half-filled or half-empty: it's overflowing. Most everything I needed to know in life I learned how to learn here at Reed.
That includes my old calligraphy lessons from Lloyd Reynolds. I've brought my pen and inkwell today. So that if history repeats itself and any lost souls have been left without diplomas already prepared, I'm ready.
Congratulations again, and thanks for listening.