Thursday, January 8, 2009

Great Inaugural Addresses - II

First Inaugural Address of Dwight David Eisenhower
by Charlie Leck
“We are summoned by this honored and historic ceremony to witness more than the act of one citizen swearing his oath of service, in the presence of God. We are called as a people to give testimony in the sight of the world to our faith that the future shall belong to the free.”
Dwight David Eisenhower (IKE) was first and foremost a war hero. His presidency was not the primary star of his personal history. His military career outshines his time in politics even though he was an efficient and capable President. In World War Two, he was the Commander in Chief of the Allied invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy; he was the Allied Commander for the invasion of Europe and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Military from 1945 to 1948. He also served as the President of Columbia University from 1948 to 1950 and then as the Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Forces in Europe during 1950 through 1952 as the cold war against the Soviet Union commenced.

He was sworn in as President of the United States on 20 January 1953. The oath was administered by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Frederick Vinson. IKE, though he was considered a talented writer, was not a great orator. He was bland and rather monotone; yet he was steady and unhesitant. He basically read his speeches and did not make steady eye-contact with his attendant listeners or his film and television audiences. Of course, this was in the days previous to teleprompters. He sounded better as a speaker when listened to on the radio. Nevertheless, a careful reading of the address shows it to be more brilliant than ordinary and if it failed it was because of its delivery and not its content.

At the time of his inauguration, the nation was involved in a great “police action” in Korea. The government and its people were torn by the mission, and tired of it, and wanted out. It was difficult for politicians, who painted the war as an action to stop the spread of communism, to make the conflict seem purposeful. IKE would successfully lead the nation toward an armistice that ended fighting 6 months after his inauguration; however, we kept heavily armed forces in South Korea for many decades thereafter. Communism was the massive evil of the day and IKE’s speech cannot be properly understood without that in mind. The threat of communism seemed to be everywhere and a great paranoia existed throughout America. IKE opened by saying the following:
“The world and we have passed the midway point of a century of continuing challenge. We sense with all our faculties that forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history.“This fact defines the meaning of this day.”IKE called for us to testify, through the ceremony of his inauguration, with the entire world watching, “that the future shall belong to the free!”
“We have passed through the anxieties of depression and of war to a summit unmatched in man’s history. Seeking to secure peace in the world, we have had to fight through the forests of the Argonne, to the shores of Iwo Jima, and to the cold mountains of Korea.”
Even though he was a hero of war, the nation had elected IKE to bring us peace. We were exhausted by the challenges of the depression, World War II, the rise of communism and now the war in Korea. We felt we needed a military hero to lead us through the dangerous swamp.

This is a public domain (U.S. Government) photograph of Pfc. Julias Van Den Stock of Company A, 32nd Regimental Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, resting on a Chinese Communist bunker with a Russian DP light machine gun, along the slope of Hill 902 north of Ip-Tong. [NARA FILE#: 111-SC-3605083]

“How far have we come in man’s long pilgrimage from darkness toward light? Are we nearing the light – a day of freedom and of peace for all mankind? Or are the shadows of another night closing in upon us?”
America wanted to move toward the light and away from darkness; yet, the battles against Germany and Japan had taught us that we must forever be strong and mighty.

“Science seems ready to confer upon us, as its final gift, the power to erase human life from this planet.”How well I remember, as a boy, the rehearsals of what we were to do at a time of atomic attack. Did we really believe that the silly basement boiler rooms would actually protect us from the A-bomb? IKE painted the communist threat as horrific and horrible.

“The enemies of this faith know no god but force, no devotion but its use. They tutor
men in treason. They feed upon the hunger of others. Whatever defies them, they torture, especially the truth.“Here, then, is joined no argument between slightly differing philosophies. This conflict strikes directly at the faith of our fathers and the lives of our sons. No principle or treasure that we hold, from the spiritual knowledge of our free schools and churches to the creative magic of free labor and capital, nothing lies safely beyond the reach of this struggle.“Freedom is pitted against slavery; lightness against the dark.”

My goodness, are you old enough to remember the fear that existed in those days? Communists were everywhere and Senator Joe McCarthy would soon try to prove it. Fear was everywhere assembled. One of IKE’s great failures in office was his handling, or lack of handling, of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohen (pictured above).

One of the key elements of IKE’s first inaugural address were the principles he laid out for both friend and foe to understand. They are principles that I wish so much the George W. Bush administration had understood.

“ (1) Abhorring war as a chose way to balk the purposes of those who threaten us, we hold it to be the first task of statesmanship to develop the strength that will deter the force sof aggression and promote the conditions of peace. For as it must be the supreme purpose of all free men, so it must be the dedication of their leaders, to save humanity from preying upon itself. In the light of this principle, we stand ready to engage with any and all others in joint effort to remove the causes of mutual fear and distrust among nations, so as to make possible drastic reduction of armaments. The sole requisites for undertaking such effort are that—in their purpose—they be aimed logically and honestly toward secure peace for all; and that—in their result—they provide methods by which every participating nation will prove good faith in carrying out its pledge.“

(2) Realizing that common sense and common decency alike dictate the futility of appeasement, we shall never try to placate an aggressor by the false and wicked bargain of trading honor for security. Americans, indeed all free men, remember that in the final choice a soldier's pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner's chains.“

(3) Knowing that only a United States that is strong and immensely productive can help defend freedom in our world, we view our Nation's strength and security as a trust upon which rests the hope of free men everywhere. It is the firm duty of each of our free citizens and of every free citizen everywhere to place the cause of his country before the comfort, the convenience of himself.‘

(4) Honoring the identity and the special heritage of each nation in the world, we shall never use our strength to try to impress upon another people our own cherished political and economic institutions.“

(5) Assessing realistically the needs and capacities of proven friends of freedom,
we shall strive to help them to achieve their own security and well-being. Likewise, we shall count upon them to assume, within the limits of their resources, their full and just burdens in the common defense of freedom.“

(6) Recognizing economic health as an indispensable basis of military strength and
the free world's peace, we shall strive to foster everywhere, and to practice ourselves, policies that encourage productivity and profitable trade. For the impoverishment of any single people in the world means danger to the well-being of all other peoples.

"(7) Appreciating that economic need, military security and political wisdom combine to suggest regional groupings of free peoples, we hope, within the framework of the United Nations, to help strengthen such special bonds the world over. The nature of these ties must vary with the different problems of different areas.

“(8) Conceiving the defense of freedom, like freedom itself, to be one and indivisible, we hold all continents and peoples in equal regard and honor. We reject any insinuation that one race or another, one people or another, is in any sense inferior or expendable.

“(9) Respecting the United Nations as the living sign of all people's hope for peace,
we shall strive to make it not merely an eloquent symbol but an effective force. And in our quest for an honorable peace, we shall neither compromise, nor tire, nor ever cease.

“By these rules of conduct, we hope to be known to all peoples.

“By their observance, an earth of peace may become not a vision but a fact.

“This hope—this supreme aspiration—must rule the way we live.”
You can see that this was a mighty, military speech delivered to serve notice to all nations that we were ready and willing to defend ourselves, but that we also meant the entire world only good will and friendship. IKE’s strong statement of support for the United Nations was historically important. Then, as now, a strong right wing element in the nation wanted the UN to be discontinued. Then, IKE reached a crescendo when he said gently, but firmly:

“We must be ready to dare all for our country. For history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”

[To read the speech in its entirety, click here!]

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