Monday, January 17, 2011

50 years later, we're still ignoring Ike's warning


Video - Eisenhower - Hanging from a Cross of Iron

WaPo | On April 16, 1953, the new president spoke to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, just weeks after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's death. In this "Chance for Peace" speech - one as important as the farewell address but often overlooked by historians - he seized the moment to outline the cost of continued tensions with the U.S.S.R. In addition to the military dangers such a rivalry imposed, he said, the confrontation would exact an enormous domestic price on both societies:

"This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. . . . We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Contrary to many historians' suggestions, Ike's farewell speech was not an afterthought - it was the bookend to "Chance for Peace." As early as 1959, he began working with his brother Milton and his speechwriters to craft exactly what he would say as he left public life. The speech would become a solemn moment in a decidedly unsolemn time, offering sober warnings for a nation giddy with newfound prosperity, infatuated with youth and glamour, and aiming increasingly for the easy life.

"There is a reoccurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties," he warned in his final speech as president. ". . . But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs . . . balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future."