Monday, May 30, 2011

Honoring President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower

On a seven-state 4,000 mile tour, my husband and I toured two presidential libraries along our route: that of Presidents Clinton in Little Rock, Arkansas and Carter in Atlanta, Georgia. We enjoyed recalling events and learning more about the men. We promised to make more Presidential libraries a destination. When our daughter and son-in-law’s birthdays drew us north to Kansas, we extended our stay to visit three libraries: Eisenhower’s in Abilene, KS; Truman’s in Independence, MO; and Hoover’s in West Branch, IA.

The first in Abilene, KS is a campus of five buildings, including a visitor center; the mausoleum where Dwight D. Eisenhower, his beloved Mamie, and infant son rest; Dwight's boyhood home; a museum; and the library. More extensive than either Clinton’s or Carter’s libraries, Eisenhower’s differed also in its focus. More rooms and displays explain his role in World War II than his years in the White House.

Upon reflection, this seems appropriate for Eisenhower would not have been drafted as a candidate for both the Democrat and Republican parties unless he had overseen D-Day, the assault that led directly to the end of the European campaign during World War II. Without his military credentials and experience, Eisenhower would not have been elected so handily, and surely, he could not have governed during times of prosperity and hope unless he had helped to bring the war to an end.

For a man familiar with the wrath and ravages of war, Eisenhower was an outspoken proponent for peace. In more than one place, we read these words: “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 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. 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.” They were the words prominently inscribed in the mausoleum, suggesting that they are Eisenhower’s abiding message after death.

His words have weight and credibility because Eisenhower had so much direct experience with waging war and the costs of it. These costs include lives lost and futures altered as well as limbs and faculties left on foreign soil. The hopes and dreams of many men and their loved ones were forever redirected by the events played out in war. As Eisenhower notes, labor that could have built a better quality of life instead builds instruments of death. Scientists who might have cured dread diseases instead devise agents of death. Children who longed to sit upon their fathers’ laps instead found cold comfort in a grave marker or medal.

Eisenhower counseled that money was better spent in feeding the hungry and clothing the needy. He warned us to beware of the military-industrial complex (MIC) that would influence Congress and reshape corporate interests toward a permanent war-machine. In the currenr debate to balance the budget, something that Eisenhower did three times during his presidency, we should reflect upon Eisenhower’s point-of-view. When we consider how much longer we should or must stay in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya, we would be wise to ponder Eisenhower’s thoughts: “When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.”

Each of those engagements—Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011—was undertaken to prevent something, including terrorist attacks on U. S. soil, the escalation of age-old schisms in Muslim sects and class structures, the spread of (fictional) weapons of mass destruction, and the suppression of freedom. None of these has been successfully prevented. Terrorists, both home-grown and foreign-born, continue to be dangerous. We will never make every alley, boulevard, or building safe from all intruders intent upon doing harm. We can only cultivate egalitarian precepts and provide avenues by which men and women can thrive. War, by its very nature, can never teach egalitarianism, and it creates an environment in which many individuals cannot discern the subtle differences between conviction and megolomania. Indeed, “war settles nothing,” and we should heed Ike’s advice.

Even though Eisenhower had earned the right to offer his thoughts on war, he must have summoned some courage to tell the world that war is the worst possible course for men to contemplate. Ours is a proud, patriotic nation, one devoted to the revolutionary sensibility. To advocate peace is sometimes to be thought a coward, but Eisenhower dared the “conventional wisdom” and argued for a more peaceful world. May we all have such courage.