The Corner

Eisenhower and the American Character

Weekly Standard literary editor Philip Terzian has just published an interesting book-length essay on FDR and Eisenhower: Architects of Power: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and the American Century. We all grew up hearing that Eisenhower had warned Americans, just before he left office, about the “military-industrial complex.” But I don’t think I’d ever heard before another remarkable Eisenhower statement, one that Terzian reports in his book. It’s from Eisenhower’s first year as president: “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 is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from an iron cross.”

Nobody knew better than Eisenhower — the liberator of Europe from the Nazi tyranny — the need to stand up against aggression and injustice, and the need to honor the nobility and heroism of those who undertake this awful task (whom we ourselves honored just a few days ago, on Memorial Day). But it is bracing to learn how eloquent he could be in expressing another truth, one in tension with the first. As Terzian points out, Eisenhower was a man of the American heartland; and I think that in his courageous life as well as the statement quoted above he speaks for that heartland. We Americans are not afraid of a fight, in defense of our country, of the innocent, of those who have been victimized; but we are not militaristic. We honor the brave, and defend the right; but we do not celebrate war.

Terzian’s book is brief, but filled with insight about two men who shaped the last century.

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