Why Eisenhower’s “Chance for Peace” Address Still Matters

Seventy years ago this month, on April 16, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave an historic address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors titled “The Chance for Peace.” The speech offered a searing indictment of the policies of nuclear buildups and excessive military spending:

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.

Eisenhower went on to underscore the costs through a series of stark comparisons:

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 50 miles of concrete highway.

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.

Eisenhower made these comparisons in the early years of the Cold War, shortly after the death of Joseph Stalin. As he told his speechwriter at the time, he was “tired…of just plain indictments of the Soviet regime.… [J]ust one thing matters. What have we got to offer the world?” He was looking for a positive alternative to what he described as the “dread road” the world was then on, which in his view could only lead to one of two outcomes: atomic war or immiseration tied to perpetual military buildups. He described the outcome of continuing with the status quo as “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.”

Read the full piece in The Nation.