The Irony of the “Cross of Iron Speech”

I am actually old enough to remember Dwight D. Eisenhower.  I can still remember seeing his picture hanging on the wall of my kindergarten class, next to the American Flag, where we stood and recited the pledge of allegiance every morning.

cross-of-iron-speach1He watched over us as we practiced hiding under our desks in event of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.

We learned about building underground bomb shelters, never realizing that their likely more realistic purpose was disposal of the bodies.

It was under this dark cloud of never-ending armament of the superpowers that Eisenhower gave what is known as his “Cross of Iron Speech” in 1953. It would surely break his heart to know that we have not come any closer to the dream of world peace that was so anticipated in 1945 when the 2nd World War came to an end.  How quickly that dream has morphed into untenable scenarios.

Both the Democrat and the Republican politicians of today could benefit from noting how far they have strayed from these kinds of principles.  Of course the pressures and irrational fears of the time grew like a cancer to erode the sentiments of this great speech as well.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, one would think that a larger percentage of the resources expropriated from the people of the world could be distributed toward something other than the war machines we feed today.  Currently our expenditures per year far exceed anything that was ever thrown at the Cold War.

Surely with all the current discussions about how to balance the budget, it may be time for the biggest sacred cow of all to go on a diet.

The impact it is having on the current housing market is huge and the issues with the banks are but a diversion from the overall size of the problem.  Here is what Dwight D Eisenhower, warrior-hero, had to say—as poignant today as it was in 1953.

A Boy and His Dog knows the answer
A Boy and His Dog knows the answer

“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.

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.

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.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
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.” (bold and underline are mine)

Of course many of the numbers related to the costs he quotes have increased astronomically in the last 62 years–and the proportions are likely even worse as well.

Charles Buell