History

Ike’s Cross of Iron: 70 Years after V-E Day

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.  Though the date that WWII started is debatable, it lasted about 2,200 days, during which an estimated 60 million military and civilian human beings lost their lives. Those 60 million souls represented about four percent of the world’s population, the ratio equivalent of killing every living person in the United States today. During those 2,200 days, an average of 27,000 people were killed a day. That’s three times the population of the town I grew up in, every day, for six years. My generation’s grandparents lived through and witnessed the most horrific time in the history of mankind. They met this horror with courageous resolve and they did so to ensure that the forces of autocracy and genocide did not march unchallenged across the globe. I hear regularly how crazy the world has gotten and how dangerous these times we live in are. Clearly time has dulled the memory of what truly dangerous times we have seen. 

One man who understood fully what dangers war brought was Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Having served as Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force during the battle of Normandy and the 10 months of war that led to the final surrender of Germany, Ike had a front row seat for the most comprehensive organized violence in the history of mankind.  As we take a moment to honor those who sacrificed to accomplish this great end, we must also take a moment to reflect on the legacy of the uneasy peace that has helped form the America we know today.

Eight years after V-E Day, less than 100 days into his presidency, Eisenhower delivered his “Chance for Peace” speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  It was given a month after Joseph Stalin’s death in what we now know to be a last chance effort to stave off the arms race. In it he warned of the grim outlook of a nation driven by militarization and defense spending.  His words were prescient.  By 2014, the United States would be responsible for half of all defense spending on the planet.  His words serve as a reminder to us that once, our leaders, even those painfully familiar with the horrors of war,  believed that there was another way to live as a nation.

“It instilled in the free nations — and let none doubt this — the unshakable conviction that, as long as there persists a threat to freedom, they must, at any cost, remain armed, strong, and ready for the risk of war.

It inspired them — and let none doubt this — to attain a unity of purpose and will beyond the power of propaganda or pressure to break, now or ever……

…….This has been the way of life forged by 8 years of fear and force.

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 is 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 fifty miles of concrete pavement.

We pay for a single fighter plane 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 is, I repeat, 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. These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953.

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?”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower April 16th, 1953

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