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.
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.”