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Visita ao Instituto dos Pupilos do Exército por ocasião do seu 100º aniversário
Visita ao Instituto dos Pupilos do Exército por ocasião do seu 100º aniversário
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Address by the President of the Republic at the launching of the Commemorations of the 200th Anniversary of the Torres Vedras Lines
Torres Vedras, 11 November 2009

Minister of National Defence,
Mayor of Torres Vedras,
Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff,
Commissioner for the Commemorations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are launching today the Commemorations of the Bicentenary of the Torres Vedras Lines, an unparalleled task in the organization of military terrain. For us Portuguese, these Lines are above all the symbol of a People’s will to resist. We are thus paying tribute, on this occasion, to our heroic forbears who fought here in defence of the Fatherland.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the Napoleonic war machine extended its forces to the western limits of the European continent. Arriving from Central Europe, which it then dominated, its long march stopped here, in this countryside, only one journey away from reaching its final objective.

What mystery was this? How could a small country put a stop to the best of armies when this was just two steps away from victory?

Napoleonic armies did not conquer lands, they destroyed the opposing forces. They always advanced until they found the right moment and place. There, and only there, they attacked ferociously, with a maximum concentration of men and fire power.

In 1810, the invader had made it clear that its sole objective was to reach Lisbon. This revelation allowed the commands of the Portuguese and English Armies to anticipate the enemy’s movements and thus adapt its defensive strategy.

For the first time, the French army was facing forces that, seeming to refuse fighting, attracted it to the point where the defenders wanted to place it.

Arriving at the Torres Vedras Lines, the surprise of the French command was proof that their construction had been carried out in absolute secrecy.

Thousands of men and women, digging trenches and building ramparts, carrying materials and artillery on ox carts over the steepest hillsides, did all in their power to erect defences. A lengthy task, carried out with great effort, organized, efficient. And in utmost secrecy.

It is considered, by many specialists, one of the best kept secrets in military history. It is in fact remarkable that it was possible to place trust in the silence of so many thousands of people.

And that the invader was unable to buy one single traitor that would sell it the crucial information. This is how victory was made possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the city which gave its name to this major task of a people in arms, I take the opportunity to remember the figure of a great Portuguese.

I recall a first class military cartographer, a victim of many injustices and, perhaps the greatest of all, that of oblivion.

José Maria das Neves Costa was the officer in the Royal Engineering Corps who carried out the terrain survey on which the decision was based, precisely two hundred years ago, to build in such a short space of time, such an imposing and dissuading fortification. Let us pay tribute to his memory.

Unable to overcome the obstacle, or even to proceed around it, incapable of forcing its allies to fight, defeated by time and by the weariness of its troops, all the invader could do was withdraw.

This is where the motion of the Peninsular War was blocked. It was the beginning of the end of the Napoleonic adventure which placed Europe under fire. The withdrawal would end in Waterloo, five years later. .

Napoleon’s greater error, however, had little to do with tactics or strategies, but a lot more with the true nature of the enemy which opposed him.

In Portugal, the great general underestimated the vital strength of a people. The invasion was already on its way and he proclaimed that “... the English are the only danger”.

As such he did not take the Portuguese units into account and for this reason was clearly disproportionate in his assessment of the forces, thus demanding an easy victory.

A simple soldier from the French army, a veteran of many battles and of all campaigns, testified in his memories how the calculations of the invaders were reduced to nothing in the Iberian Peninsula by something which they had never foreseen.

“In the wars we had fought until then we became used to view just a nation’s military forces and to disdain the vital spirit of its people.”

It was the spirit of our forbears that made all the difference. The character and the will of all those that joined the fighting, some reinforcing the trenches, others harassing the invader’s rearguard.

Including all those from the provinces of the Beiras, the Ribatejo, and the High Estremadura, who left their homes and lands behind, losing the goods and chattels which they could not carry. Entrenched behind the Lines, they suffered the horrors of hunger, encouraged only by the hope of maintaining their freedom.

As a tribute to these Portuguese, we have the duty to care for the preservation of this heritage and to do all in our power to keep alive the memory of a people that rose against the invader.

I salute the people of Torres Vedras and all those who have endeavoured to preserve the Torres Vedras Lines, from the central administration and the Portuguese Army, to the local authorities and the civil society bodies involved.

I particularly congratulate Torres Vedras County Council and the Municipal Commission for the Commemorations of the Bicentenary of the Torres Vedras Lines in the person of its Commissioner, D. Manuel Clemente.

The victory of the allies in the land on which we are standing was an inspiration to those Europeans who had not resisted when invaded by a seemingly overwhelming force.

With our example the hope to be able to decide its destiny was reborn in each of Europe’s peoples.

Those that want to impose their will through the force of numbers think themselves strong. Strong are those that are capable of facing the will of others with the strength of their reason.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The blood and sweat of many Portuguese was shed here. Portugal’s independence was guaranteed here. It was here, in this very place, that our identity and our nature against those that wanted to take away our freedom were defended, tooth and nail.

Much has changed since then. But, by giving sense to the blood and sweat shed, the Portuguese have always had a word to say in the planning of their own path.

These bicentenary commemorations comply with the national duty of recognition of the heroes of the Torres Vedras Lines. What we are is also owed to them.

Let us celebrfate them as they so well deserve.

Thank you very much.

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