April 16: The Anniversary of Eisenhower’s ‘Cross of Iron’ Speech

April 16th, 2023 - by The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

April 16: The Anniversary of
Eisenhower’s Stunning Antiwar Speech

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

(April 14, 2023) — To commemorate the 70th anniversary of President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Chance for Peace” speech (April 16th), the Quincy Institute has posted the following resources in support of cutting Pentagon spending.

Eisenhower Was Right: “Every Gun that Is Made
Is a Theft from Those Who Hunger
Andrew Bacevich / Tribune News Service

(April 9, 2023) — As an orator, Dwight D. Eisenhower was not in the same league with Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. His roster of memorable speeches numbers a grand total of two, a paltry total for someone who served eight years as US president. Yet some five decades after his death, those two speeches retain at least as much salience as anything Lincoln or FDR ever said.

The second and more famous of those speeches was his Farewell Address in which Ike warned against the danger posed by what he called the “military-industrial complex.” The first, arguably less well remembered, became known as his “Cross of Iron” speech.

Ike used his Farewell Address, televised nationally on Jan. 17, 1961, to offer his final reflections on his public life. “Cross of Iron,” delivered 70 years ago this month, on April 16, 1953, was his first formal presentation following his inauguration. So the two presentations book-ended his presidency.

Together, they addressed a common theme to which Eisenhower attributed singular importance: the problematic relationship between military power and the practice of democracy. The former five-star general worried that the two were antithetical.

Eisenhower’s misgivings about
military power still ring true:
“Is there no other way
the world may live?”

In 1953, Eisenhower tallied up the costs exacted by the militarization of US policy prompted by the onset of the Cold War. Policies advertised as essential to preserving freedom and democracy exploited the very people they purported to protect.

“Every gun that is made,” he said, “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.”

Expenditures justified as essential to preserving the American way of life subverted what they purported to uphold. “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense,” Ike insisted. “Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Eight years later, in his farewell to the nation, Ike took aim at the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” stemming from the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.” Abetted by a pliant Congress, military and corporate leaders collaborated to advance their shared interests with the well-being of the American people consigned to the status of afterthought. The resulting corruption, hidden in plain sight, perverted national priorities and suborned democratic processes.

Over the course of two terms in office, Eisenhower made minimal progress in lifting humanity from the cross of iron. Indeed, policies undertaken by his administration drove new nails into the bleeding body. The vast expansion of the US nuclear arsenal, covert operations undertaken by the CIA, and the first stirrings of America’s Vietnam War — each occurring on his watch — testify to the gap between what Ike professed and what he actually did.

Even so, the two speeches merit careful reflection in our own time. Granted, the concerns that Eisenhower expressed may sound almost quaint. But quaint is not necessarily untrue.

The notion that expending the nation’s treasure on guns, warships and rockets diverts resources from more important purposes survives today only on the far fringes of American politics. In Washington, that military spending will increase from one year to the next is today simply taken for granted. So when the Afghanistan War, longest in the nation’s history, ended in defeat, President Joe Biden and the Congress responded by increasing the size of the Pentagon budget. In Washington, few objected.

As for the incestuous relationship between the armed forces and weapons makers, Republicans and Democrats actively compete with one another for a cut of the spoils. Both parties accept the military-industrial complex as permanent and ignore its insidious implications. Ambitious politicians know better than to object to its existence.

In the 1950s, not an especially peaceful decade, Eisenhower had professed to believe that peace defined the ultimate aim of US policy. He also contended that peace formed a prerequisite if American democracy was to flourish. In our own time, these qualify as radical propositions.

Today, peace has become a chimera and American democracy is on the ropes. Suspicions that something has gone fundamentally awry are widespread. Yet neither Joe Biden nor any of those who aspire to succeed him have offered an adequate explanation of what that might be.

Where should Americans look for answers? I submit that Eisenhower had an inkling.

“Is there no other way the world may live?” This was Ike’s plaintive query. The place to begin is at least to acknowledge the possibility of another way. War is a choice. As a powerful nation, the United States can choose otherwise.

Andrew Bacevich, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, is chairman and co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His most recent book is “On Shedding an Obsolete Past.”


Fact Sheet:
The Rising Costs of US Militarism:
Americans Are Tired of Footing the Bill

Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Seventy years ago, President Eisenhower warned of the costs to the American people of nuclear buildups and excessive military spending. The severe tradeoffs Eisenhower cited in 1953 are even more pronounced today.

Congress must confront these tradeoffs before adding tens of billions of dollars to next year’s $886 billion Pentagon spending request.

Costs in 1953

  • One bomber = 30 new schools or 2 fully equipped hospitals or 2 electric power plants
  • One propeller-driven aircraft = 500,000 bushels of wheat
  • One naval vessel – 8,000 people housed in new homes

Costs in 2023

  • One B2 bomber = 80 high schools or 22,900 elementary teachers’ salaries
  • Six F-35 jet fighters = Double the CDC budget for fighting infectious disease or three times the Federal rail safety budget
  • One Arleigh Burke naval destroyer = 17,948 emergency room beds, 8,974 nurse salaries, 4,487 ER doctors’ salaries, 315 at-risk rural hospitals saved from closure or 249,200 public housing units.

Further Resources
•  Upcoming Webinar: Remembering Ike’s Chance for Peace Speech, April 20, 12pm ET
•  Webpage: Reigning In America’s Military Industrial Complex