Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eisenhower, Man of Peace?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower died 43 years ago this week, on March 28, 1969, at the age of 78. At the time of his election as the 34th President of the United States in 1952, he was a five-star general in the U.S. Army. During World War II, “Ike” had served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
Although I was too young to vote (you had to be 21 then), I remember well the 1956 presidential election. If I could have voted, I probably would have voted for Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate. But Eisenhower was re-elected for a second term by a landslide (457-73 electoral votes). Stevenson won only Missouri, by a very narrow margin, and six southern States. In spite of concerns about his health, the popular Eisenhower was sent back to the White House for four more years.
Last month on Presidents Day, June and I drove over to Abilene, Kansas, where we visited the Eisenhower Museum and Library for the first time. We also visited the house where Eisenhower from the age of eight (in 1898) until he left for West Point in the summer of 1911.
I had not known that the Eisenhower family were members of the Anabaptist group known as the River Brethren. His grandfather had been a pastor in that small denomination, which is now known as Brethren in Christ.
The River Brethren, as most Anabaptist groups in this country, emphasized pacifism. So Ike’s parents did not approve of his going to West Point—but they allowed him to make his own choice. And it seems that he decided to go there not because of his desire to become a soldier but in order to get an education. (He was not financially able to go to college without a scholarship.)
Way led on to way, though, and Eisenhower did become a soldier, and a general. He did not, however, forget his religious roots, and as President made some excellent statements about peace.
The Place of Meditation was built in 1966 with private funds under the auspices of the Eisenhower Presidential Library Commission. Constructed of native limestone, the interior contains marble wall panels, walnut woodwork, and brilliant stained glass windows.
There is a church-like building called the Place of Meditation at the Eisenhower Center in Abilene. The graves of Ike and Mamie are inside that attractive structure. Engraved on the wall behind the graves are words from “Chance for Peace,” a speech he gave in April 1953. In that notable address he said, in part:
“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.”
Eisenhower also spoke highly significant words about peace in his farewell address in 1961. That is when he warned about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. That talk was the first thing I listened to inside the Eisenhower museum last month. The retiring President said,
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Those are good and important words by a military man who probably can truly be called a man of peace.
Note: Eisenhower made an interesting comment to his brother in a letter dated 11/8/54: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt . . . , a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”


  1. In today's political environment Eisenhower would be considered by many conservatives to be a raging liberal.

  2. Clif is absolutely right! Nice piece, Leroy. I would add, too, that Eisenhower is the one who called out the troops to enforce court decisions to integrate schools in the South. Also, apparently Eisenhower opposed dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All of these things seem like good things to me.

  3. Thanks Anton (and Clif) for your comments. I hadn't remembered about Eisenhower's opposition to the atomic bombing of Japan.

    Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, visited Eisenhower's headquarters in Germany and informed him that the U.S. was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. Referring to that meeting, Eisenhower wrote in "Mandate for Change" (1963):

    "I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face.'"

  4. In an e-mail this morning Thinking Friend Tim Laffoon (my son-in-law) mentioned that Eisenhower "considered 'People To People' to be his greatest accomplishment in pursuit of peace. Although still relatively unknown, they are a good organization with a good mission."

    I hadn't remembered that either, but here is just a bit about that program:

    In 1956, President Eisenhower sought diplomatic alternatives to the wars he witnessed as a soldier, general and Allied Commander. In September of that year he called a White House conference of 100 top American leaders, who joined him in creating the People to People initiative, focused on creating cultural exchange programs.

    The People to People International website is, and there they use the slogan, "Peace through Understanding."

    Thanks, Tim, for calling this group to our attention.

  5. Ernest Hollaway, a Thinking Friend who lives in Tennessee, sent the following comments by e-mail, which I post here with his permission.

    "Leroy, I am glad you made that posting. Though I never saw the man in person, (except from a great distance) I served under him in Europe. He had the utmost respect from the troops, for his command decisions seemed always to be made with the best interests of our country in mind, even though some of the decisions (like the D-day invasion) required great sacrifices.

    "As president, he made a decision of far-reaching consequence when he had the interstate system built. Today I continue to be amazed that the US has no (or practically no) high speed rail system to provide better transport for both men and goods, and in many cases the interstates are poorly maintained and overloaded. Ike would have seen the urgent need for better transport systems for the welfare of our country."

  6. With all the diss they got from my generation, I still have something of a mysterious affection for Julie Nixon Eisenhower and her incarrantion as icon for my Grandfather's Middle America.
    Ike took Joe McCarthy to the woodshed; and had he been active with Baptists in the 80's I have to believe he woulda joined Bill Moyers and President Carter in doing same with Paul Pressler and all he stood for.
    There is a new novel about Nixon, I think you will like the concluding remarks of the author on bout three weeks ago. Should be able to google the transcript.

  7. I have correspondence with the daughter of Nixon's Southern Strategist, Harry Dent. You may want to visit her site
    She is friends with the Nixon daughters. Ginny has held position with the IMB of SBC, a trustee.
    She is also well acquainted with Nathan Hatch, President of Wake Forest. I will send her a link to this blog.
    You may want to contact her through her website.

  8. Corrrection, Pardon the misspelling. Christian Century last fall had great reviews by Randall Balmer of the Cold War's effect on Amrican Christianity. You may want to pick up that discussion with Ginny

  9. I was ten in 1960 when Kennedy and Nixon ran for President. It just did not seem right that anyone besides Eisenhower should be President of the United States. Unfortunately, I have had that feeling all over again many times since then!

  10. The Eisenhower quote concerning the atomic bombings needs to be questioned. First of all, there is no official contemporaneous record of Eisenhower having said this to Truman. It also can not be verified by any witnesses at the Potsdam Conference. There is also no record of Eisenhower meeting privately with Truman. Most like this is just another example of the folklore surrounding the atomic bombings such as people being vaporized by the bomb. This statement does not reflect well on Eisenhower's military judgement either. Japan was far from being defeated in August 1945. The nearest US soldiers were still 500 miles away from mainland Japan in Okinawa, which is some 25 times the distance the Allies had to traverse on D-day without any threat of Kamikaze attack.

    1. Hans, please see p. 312 of Eisenhower's "Mandate for Change."

  11. Sorry, I do not have any access to "Mandate for Change". Could you please inform me what your point might be. Thanks!

    1. Hans, please see the citation of "Mandate for Change" that I posted above, at 7:41 a.m. on 3/25.