The Eisenhower Nobody Remembers

News Abroad
tags: Eisenhower, Chance for Peace

William Lambers is an author and journalist who partnered with the UN World Food Programme on the book Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by the New York Times, Huffington Post, History News Network, Cleveland Plain Dealer and many other news outlets.

If you have a presentation to make at work or school, the last thing you want is to feel sick. Now imagine millions of people are going to be listening or watching you speak!

That is exactly what happened to the new president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, on April 16, 1953. Ike was to deliver his first major foreign policy address that day. But he became suddenly ill.

Eisenhower had what he described as disturbing chills and dizziness as he made remarks before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The White House diagnosed his illness as Ileitis; some scholars since have reached the conclusion that he had suffered a heart attack. Whatever the correct diagnosis, he was in terrible pain. To remain standing he had to grab hold of the lectern. Still, he managed to pull off what may have been his best speech, known as the Chance for Peace. 

Before Eisenhower had taken office, the successful Marshall Plan had rebuilt Europe from the ashes of World War II. The Chance for Peace was Eisenhower saying humanitarianism in American foreign policy would continue.  

Interestingly enough, this peace speech included a declaration of war. But not the kind of war you might be thinking.

Eisenhower called for “a declared total war, not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty and need."

Ike's Chance for Peace speech was a call to action for fighting hunger and poverty across the globe. Instead of pouring large sums into weapons of war, we should give food to children, build schools and fight disease.

Even though Ike's time as president has long passed, we should continue this fight and expect that from our leadership.

In 1953, the "Chance for Peace" speech was an outreach to the Soviet Union following the death of the dictator Josef Stalin. The Cold War was well underway and with it came a massive and expensive arms race.  Eisenhower knew this would lead to no good for the people of the world. 

One of Ike's most famous lines of his speech was, "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 is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."

There had to be a better way Eisenhower reasoned. Prior to the speech, journalist Sam Lubell had written Eisenhower about raising the standard of living of people around the world. Disarmament could free up resources to achieve this goal. This proposal was included in the Chance for Peace.

Eisenhower went on to say, "The peace we seek, founded 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."

Today, our world in arms tragically continues.  The disarmament group Global Zero estimates nations will spend a trillion alone on nuclear arms over the next decade. All this while people starve to death around the globe or fall victim to disease.

How can anyone believe that peace and stability can emerge when there is such suffering in the world? How can pouring billions into arms solve the problems of food insecurity, poverty, disease or lack of education?

Eisenhower, during his two terms, was not able to reverse the costly arms race that was a major part of the Cold War. But he did start initiatives that fight hunger and poverty, such as the Food for Peace program.

Food for Peace donates to countries in need around the world. But Congress and the President do not give it a lot of funding these days. In fact, annual U.S. nuclear weapons spending is over 30 billion a year compared to Food for Peace which comes in at far less than 2 billion.

We should take very seriously every dollar being sent into the Cold War relics of nukes. It is like a black hole for money. That money is lost when it could have done so much good somewhere it was needed.

In fact, the U.S. McGovern-Dole program, which provides school lunches to hungry children worldwide, receives around 200 million in funding in a good year. Imagine how nuclear disarmament could help fund more school lunches.

So as we remember the Chance for Peace let’s think of ways to make it a reality today. Let’s speak out against the increase in nuclear weapons spending. Let's instead support more food for the hungry.

President Eisenhower is having a memorial built in his honor. But the best memorial we can give Ike is to carry out the aspirations from the Chance for Peace. 

We should take at least a billion from nuclear weapons spending and send it to food aid for this coming fiscal year. We could almost double the current spending for Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole school lunches if this happened. Then we could keep going in this direction.

That would be a revolution that can change the world. It's our best chance for peace.

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