Perhaps my favorite quotation from the late President Dwight Eisenhower is making the rounds on Facebook in the form of a virtual poster produced by a progressive Facebook group called “The Other 98%.” If you’ve got any progressive friends, you’ve probably seen it (pasted below), though it’s too bad they didn’t use more of the quote. It’s a really remarkable and eloquent piece of rhetoric:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final
sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. 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.
It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
We pay for a single fighter plane 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, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking.
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.
A couple of friends have asked me about the origins of this speech, and specifically whether Ike wrote it. The short answer is that it’s a collaboration, but certainly the key sentiment came from the president. [Check out the month's best political cartoons.]
As I recount in White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, the circumstance was the March, 1953 death of Joseph Stalin. Eisenhower felt that the Soviet dictator’s demise provided an opportunity to nip the Cold War in the bud. It prompted him to give a speech that would be titled “The Chance for Peace.” Here’s the key section from Ghosts:
More than a week after Stalin’s death, Eisenhower was talking with speechwriter Emmet Hughes about the address. “Look, I am tired—and I think everyone is tired—of just plain indictments of the Soviet regime,” Ike said. “I think it would be wrong—in fact, asinine—for me to get up before the world now to make another one of those indictments. Instead, just one thing matters. What have we got to offer the world?”
As Eisenhower spoke, it seemed to Hughes that his contemplation was drawing to a close. Ike’s thoughts were now coalescing. The president stopped and, jaw set, stared out the window onto the South Lawn. The tiny speck of an F-86 Sabre buzzed across the sky.
In an instant his reverie broke, and he wheeled around. “Here is what I would like to say. The jet plane that roars over your head costs three quarter of a million dollars. That is more money than a man earning ten thousand dollars every year is going to make in his lifetime. What world can afford this sort of thing for long? We are in an armaments race. Where will it lead us? At worst to atomic warfare. At best, to robbing every people and nation on earth of the fruits of their own toil.
“Now, there could be another road before us—the road of disarmament. What does this mean? It means for everybody in the world: bread, butter, clothes, homes, hospitals, schools—all the good and necessary things for decent living. …”
Eisenhower and Hughes would go over a dozen drafts of the speech, each of which the president carefully edited. It survived criticism from quarters as disparate Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who thought an overt peace overture a mistake.
When he gave the speech, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April of 1953, Ike was ill and was barely able to deliver it.
Luckily for all of us, he did—even out of the Cold War context, it remains magnificent presidential statement.