It should be an important lesson for everyone that possibly the most antiwar President we have ever had is the only one who spent almost his entire career in the military before becoming President.
President Dwight David Eisenhower said in his most famous speech that "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
The fact that he spoke these words after serving for eight years in the White House in what he must have believed would be his most important speech shows how strongly he felt about this.
In Bret Baier’s fine book Three Days in January, and in Geoffrey Perrett’s biography of Eisenhower, they both wrote that an earlier version of this speech labeled it as the "military-industrial-congressional" complex.
This is probably more accurate, because defense contractors figured out a long time ago that if they placed parts of their production in several different states they could get stronger support in Congress and more money every year.
Eisenhower did not save his plea for peace only for his farewell address. On April 16, 1953, less than three months into his Presidency, he spoke to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in what has been called both the Chance for Peace Speech and the Cross of Iron Speech.
This may be the most antiwar speech ever given by a U.S. President. He said: "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."
He added: "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…. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed 8,000 people…. It is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
Of course, today, those cost estimates could probably be quadrupled.
In his State of the Union address in January of 1956 he said, "The sum of our international effort should be thus: the waging of peace, with as much resourcefulness, with as great a sense of dedication and urgency, as we have ever mustered in defense of our country, in time of war. In this effort, our weapon is not force. Our weapons are the principles and ideas embodied in our historic traditions…."
Later that year, just a few days before the election, he faced the Suez Crisis with Israel, Britain and France urging him to follow them in a war against Egypt. Eisenhower addressed the Nation and said, "we do not accept the use of force as a wise or proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes."
But Eisenhower did more than just give a speech. In Alex Von Tunzelmann’s book Blood and Sand, he wrote that the President sent a message to Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion saying if Israel did not give up the Egyptian territory it had just taken that the US would "bring about the condemnation of Israel as a violator of the principles as well as the directives of the United Nations."
Von Tunzelmann wrote that Eisenhower even turned down Ben-Gurion’s request for a private meeting between the two until Israel gave up the territory it had seized. On Nov. 8th, Ben-Gurion wrote the President saying Israel would "willingly withdraw our forces."
Pat Buchanan wrote in the American Conservative on March 2, 2015 that in "November 1956, President Eisenhower, enraged he had not been forewarned of their invasion of Egypt, ordered the British, French, and Israelis to get out of Suez and Sinai. They did as told. How far we have fallen from the American of Ike…."
It would shock many people today to find out that Eisenhower even was against dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. According to columnist Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, Eisenhower said in 1963, "The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing."
And Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs that in a meeting with War Secretary Henry Stimson he "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…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."
This also was the conclusion of the US Bombing Survey ordered by President Truman in 1946 which said, "Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped…."
In Evan Thomas’ book on Eisenhower’s foreign policy entitled Ike’s Bluff, Thomas wrote: "When Defense Secretary Neil McElroy warned him that further budget cuts would harm national security, Eisenhower acerbically replied, "If you go to any military installation in the world where the American flag is flying and tell the commander that Ike says he will give him an extra star on his shoulder if he cuts his budget, there’ll be such a rush to cut costs that you’ll have to get out of the way."
Thomas added that Eisenhower "would periodically sigh to Andy Goodpaster (his Chief of staff), ‘God help the Nation when it has a President who doesn’t know as much about the military as I do.’"
Today, unfortunately, my Republican Party, to which I am still very loyal, has become super hawkish, and there are very few Republicans in Congress who would ever vote to reduce defense spending.
It is interesting to note that both the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for President in 1952, Eisenhower and Sen. Robert Taft, were peace candidates. I probably would have supported Sen. Taft in that race if I had been old enough to do so. However, my admiration and respect for both men has grown through the years.
Sen. Taft once wrote one of the greatest statements about war ever written: "The results of war may be almost as bad as the destruction of liberty and, in fact, may lead, even if the war is won, to something very close to the destruction of liberty at home. War not only produces pitiful human suffering and utter destruction of many things worthwhile, but it is almost as disastrous for the victor as for the vanquished."
Expanding on Pat Buchanan, how far have this Country and my Republican Party fallen since the days of Eisenhower and Taft.
Former Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) represented Tennessee’s 2nd District. Congressman Duncan served honorably in both the US Army Reserve and the Army National Guard, starting as an enlisted man and rising to the rank of captain.