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President Eisenhower’s Extraordinary Speech Six Decades Ago and Its Enduring Relevance

Ike’s “Chance for Peace,” Revisited

by N.D. JAYAPRAKASH

Delhi.

Sixty years ago, on 16 April 1953 – soon after he had assumed office as the 34th President of USA, President Dwight Eisenhower had delivered an address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors under the title “The Chance for Peace”. [1] For the first time ever a president of the United States had given a call for building “an age of just peace” and, with prophetic insight, had warned people across the world “to guard vigilantly against the domination ever again of any part of the world by a single, unbridled aggressive power.” Recalling the rather exceptional political climate prevailing in Europe at the end of the Second World War, President Eisenhower said:

“In that spring of victory the soldiers of the Western Allies met the soldiers of Russia [Soviet Union] in the center of Europe. They were triumphant comrades in arms. Their peoples shared the joyous prospect of building, in honor of their dead, the only fitting monument – an age of just peace. All these war-weary peoples shared too this concrete, decent purpose: to guard vigilantly against the domination ever again of any part of the world by a single, unbridled aggressive power.”

President Eisenhower was quick to add that:

“This common purpose lasted an instant and perished. The nations of the world divided to follow two distinct roads. The United States and our valued friends, the other free nations, chose one road. The leaders of the Soviet Union chose another.”

(Of course, not all nations had chosen to join either camp as the Bandung Conference of 1955 [2] had clearly demonstrated. Moreover, how “free” the “free nations” were was highly questionable as was evident from examining the real political character of the United States at that time. [3])

Anyway, according to President Eisenhower:

“The way chosen by the United States was plainly marked by a few clear precepts, which govern its conduct in world affairs…. This way was faithful to the spirit that inspired the United Nations: to prohibit strife, to relieve tensions, to banish fears. This way was to control and to reduce armaments. This way was to allow all nations to devote their energies and resources to the great and good tasks of healing the war’s wounds, of clothing and feeding and housing the needy, of perfecting a just political life, of enjoying the fruits of their own free toil.”

Furthermore, in his opinion:

“The Soviet government held a vastly different vision of the future. In the world of its design, security was to be found, not in mutual trust and mutual aid but in force: huge armies, subversion, rule of neighbor nations. The goal was power superiority at all costs. Security was to be sought by denying it to all others.”

Thus, according to President Eisenhower:

“The amassing of the Soviet power alerted free nations to a new danger of aggression. It compelled them in self-defense to spend unprecedented money and energy for armaments. It forced them to develop weapons of war now capable of inflicting instant and terrible punishment upon any aggressor.”

While it is evident that preconceived and misconceived notions about the “Free World” and about the Soviet Union’s supposed role in prodding the arms race in those initial years after the Second World War had influenced President Eisenhower’s thoughts [4], his observations about the outcome of that arms race were spot on. In this regard, he said:

“What can the world, or any nation in it, hope for if no turning is found on this dread road? The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can be simply stated. The worst is atomic war. The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.”

Under the circumstances, President Eisenhower could not but admit that:

“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 in not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…. 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.”

Therefore, he hastened to add:

“This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace. It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty. It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men: is there no other way the world may live?”

While proceeding to answer this question, President Eisenhower could not help noticing that:

“Recent statements and gestures of Soviet leaders give some evidence that they may recognize this critical moment. We welcome every honest act of peace. We care nothing for mere rhetoric. We are only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested by deeds. The opportunities for such deeds are many. The performance of a great number of them waits upon no complex protocol but upon the simple will to do them…. This we do know: a world that begins to witness the rebirth of trust among nations can find its way to a peace that is neither partial nor punitive. With all who will work in good faith toward such a peace, we are ready, with renewed resolve, to strive to redeem the near-lost hopes of our day.”

After having placed the issue in its proper context, President Eisenhower went on to highlight the need for promoting the cause of peace and disarmament with these words:

“We seek, throughout Asia as throughout the world, a peace that is true and total. Out of this can grow a still wider task – the achieving of just political settlements for the other serious and specific issues between the free world and the Soviet Union. None of these issues, great or small, is insoluble – given only the will to respect the rights of all nations. Again we say: the United States is ready to assume its just part.

“As progress in all these areas strengthens world trust, we could proceed concurrently with the next great work–the reduction of the burden of armaments now weighing upon the world. To this end, we would welcome and enter into the most solemn agreements. These could properly include:

1.   The limitation, by absolute numbers or by an agreed international ratio, of the sizes of the military and security forces of all nations.

2.    A commitment by all nations to set an agreed limit upon that proportion of total production of certain strategic materials to be devoted to military purposes.

3.  International control of atomic energy to promote its use for peaceful purposes only and to insure the prohibition of atomic weapons.

4.   A limitation or prohibition of other categories of weapons of great destructiveness.

5.  The enforcement of all these agreed limitations and prohibitions by adequate safeguards, including a practical system of inspection under the United Nations.

“The details of such disarmament programs are manifestly critical and complex. Neither the United States nor any other nation can properly claim to possess a perfect, immutable formula. But the formula matters less than the faith – the good faith without which no formula can work justly and effectively.

“The fruit of success in all these tasks would present the world with the greatest task, and the greatest opportunity, of all. It is this: the dedication of the energies, the resources, and the imaginations of all peaceful nations to a new kind of war. This would be a declared total war, not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty and need.

“The peace we seek, rounded upon decent trust and cooperative effort among nations, can be fortified, not by weapons of war but by wheat and by cotton, by milk and by wool, by meat and by timber and by rice. These are words that translate into every language on earth. These are needs that challenge this world in arms….

“We are prepared to reaffirm, with the most concrete evidence, our readiness to help build a world in which all peoples can be productive and prosperous. This Government is ready to ask its people to join with all nations in devoting a substantial percentage of the savings achieved by disarmament to a fund for world aid and reconstruction….

“The monuments to this new kind of war would be these: roads and schools, hospitals and homes, food and health. We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving the needs, rather than the fears, of the world. We are ready, by these and all such actions, to make of the United Nations an institution that can effectively guard the peace and security of all peoples. I know of nothing I can add to make plainer the sincere purpose of the United States. I know of no course, other than that marked by these and similar actions, that can be called the highway of peace….

“Again we say: the hunger for peace is too great, the hour in history too late, for any government to mock men’s hopes with mere words and promises and gestures. The test of truth is simple. There can be no persuasion but by deeds…. If we strive but fail and the world remains armed against itself, it at least need be divided no longer in its clear knowledge of who has condemned humankind to this fate….

“These proposals spring, without ulterior purpose or political passion, from our calm conviction that the hunger for peace is in the hearts of all peoples – those of Russia and of China no less than of our own country…. They aspire to this: the lifting, from the backs and from the hearts of men, of their burden of arms and of fears, so that they may find before them a golden age of freedom and of peace.”

Despite all his fervent hopes about advancing the cause of disarmament and peace, the unfortunate aspect was that President Eisenhower did not manage to make any advance in this direction during his presidency as he himself has regrettably admitted while stepping down after remaining in office for eight years. In his farewell address to the U.S. citizens on 17.01.1961, President Eisenhower had expressed his grave apprehensions about the undue influence that the armament industry was wielding over the U.S. society. He said:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government…. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society….

“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. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted….

“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment.” [5]

At the end of his presidency, President Eisenhower was certainly disappointed that he could do little to advance the cause of disarmament and peace. Not only was the armament-lobby the biggest stumbling block in this regard but also the extremely conservative but influential groups, who were associated with the work of his administration had ensured that President Eisenhower would not make any progress in that direction. Apart from the usual activity of propping up pro-Western dictatorial regimes through U.S.-led military interventions, the likes of James Dulles, Nelson Rockefeller, Allen Dulles, Edgar Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Richard Helms, etc., were instrumental in subverting the 1955 and 1960 Summit Meetings between leaders of USA, USSR, UK and France. While both the said Summit Meetings (1955 at Geneva and 1960 at Paris) held high hopes about a possible breakthrough in advancing the cause of disarmament, subversive elements within the U.S. Administration ensured that both the meetings ended in disastrous failures. In the words of McGeorge Bundy:

“In essence what [John Foster] Dulles feared about proposals for disarmament in 1955 was simply that they might lead to agreement….he did not fear the nuclear arms race, because he had confidence the Russians could not keep up. What he feared much more was an agreement [on disarmament]…” [6]

Again according to McGeorge Bundy:

“By the spring of 1960, Eisenhower and Khrushchev had made a record of proposals and counterproposals, joint technical inquiry, and serious argument, that was entirely without precedent in nuclear arms control negotiations. They had drafted a treaty banning tests at all levels except that of small underground tests – for those there would be an uninspected moratorium. Only two issues remained: how much inspection would be allowed, and how long the moratorium would last. The Americans were looking forward with hope to a summit meeting in Paris as the place where Eisenhower and Khrushchev might resolve these two remaining issues.” [7]

However, the infamous U-2 incident sabotaged the Paris Summit meeting, which was scheduled to take place from 18 May 1960 onwards, and relations between the U.S. and the USSR seriously deteriorated. The U-2 incident appears to have been stage-managed. On 01 May 1960, just two weeks ahead of the proposed Paris Summit, a U.S. surveillance-aircraft (code-named U-2) went on a photo-reconnaissance mission over the USSR and was shot down by a Soviet missile. There have been deep suspicions that the Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles (without the company of his brother, John Foster Dulles, who was now dead) and his ilk had engineered the incident to disrupt the Paris Summit, where a significant breakthrough in the nuclear test ban negotiations was expected as McGeorge Bundy had noted. (See endnote 7) It may also have been intended to frustrate the proposed visit of President Eisenhower soon after the Paris Summit to the USSR, where he would have received a rousing welcome. As commander of the Allied Forces in Western Europe during the Second World War, General Eisenhower had enjoyed good rapport with the military leadership of the USSR – many of whom were still around.

The visit of President Eisenhower to the USSR would have not only signaled the process of détente between the two nations but also would have been a crowning achievement for President Eisenhower, who was nearing the end of his second term as president. As it turned out, Soviet Premier Khrushchev had little option but to seek an apology from Eisenhower for the U-2 spying episode. However, Eisenhower could not disown responsibility for the ugly incident without losing face. All that Eisenhower managed to offer was an undertaking that such incidents would not take place in future. Khrushchev refused to accept anything short of an apology and the summit meeting fell through. The spying incident would have definitely marred the proceedings at the summit meeting even if it had been held. It was also unlikely that Eisenhower would have visited the USSR, when a U.S. spy – the U-2 pilot – was being held as a prisoner there. Anyway, for the opponents of disarmament, ensuring the collapse of the Paris Summit of 1960 did turn out to be a major accomplishment.

Although President Eisenhower had escaped the wrath of the military-industrial-complex, his successor, President John Kennedy, who too went on to support the cause of disarmament and peace, was not so lucky in this regard. The Joint Agreement on the Principles of General and Complete Disarmament signed by John McCloy and Valerian Zorin on behalf of USA and USSR respectively on 20 September 1961 at the initiative of President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev was a valiant attempt at curtailing the arms race. Although the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the McCloy-Zorin Accord on 20 December 1961 and specific steps were initiated to proceed to that ultimate goal, the entire process was thwarted by the assassination of President Kennedy on 22 November 1963. [The conspiracy behind the assassination of President Kennedy has not yet been unraveled. The conspiracy behind the assassinations of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984, of Prime Minister Olaf Palme on 28 February 1986, and of ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on 21 May 1991, who were all ardent supporters of disarmament and peace, too remain shrouded in mystery.]

Thirty-eight years after President Eisenhower’s said 1953 speech (i.e., after the Soviet Union had committed hara-kiri in 1991) the United States of America had become the “single, unbridled aggressive power” and, for the last twenty-two years since then, the U.S. has placed itself in a position to dominate militarily every part of the world. Under the circumstances, President Eisenhower’s 1953 speech has become more perceptive than ever. Finding ways and means for getting out of the quagmire, in which the world is currently in, is the biggest challenge. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan for a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non Violent World Order’, which was presented before the UN General Assembly on 09 June 1988 during the Third Special Session Devoted to Disarmament, provides an outline of such a plan for reaching that cherished goal. It is hoped that, on the 25th anniversary of the submission of Rajiv Gandhi’s Action Plan, a renewed attempt could be made to take requisite steps to convene a Global Disarmament Convention and to bring back the issue of disarmament and peace as the most important agenda of the United Nations and to restructure its activities accordingly.

N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint-Secretary, Delhi Science Forum. E-mail: jaypdsf@gmail.com

References.

[1] See: http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/all_about_ike/speeches/chance_for_peace.pdf

[2] See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/07/09/why-the-cia-tried-to-killed-chou-en-lai/

[3] See: http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/03/%E2%80%9Cworld%E2%80%99s-oldest-democracy%E2%80%9D-the-myth-the-reality-4/ [Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3]

[4] See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/05/26/disarmament-negotiations/

[5] See: http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/all_about_ike/speeches/farewell_address.pdf

[6] McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival – Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years, Affiliated East-West Press Pvt Ltd., New Delhi, 1989, p.301

[7] Ibid, pp.332-333