President Obama has been compared with a number of former presidents, sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. But on Friday morning, when he spoke in Hiroshima of forging a future “that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted,” he renewed a connection between his presidency and that of a predecessor who finished his service before Obama was born: Dwight David Eisenhower.
The 44th president has, as did the 34th president, used his bully pulpit to speak of what Eisenhower referred to as “the chance for a just peace for all peoples.”
Eisenhower’s presidency began with a speech on the cost of war, when he explained in 1953 that
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 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 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.
Eisenhower’s presidency finished with a speech on the need to strengthen civilian checks and balances against a war-based economy that might warp the domestic and foreign policies of a republic. He opened with a warning from James Madison: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” More than 150 years later, Eisenhower observed that “we annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations,” and counseled that
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.