Eisenhower is the quintessential American success story, one of seven sons born on the wrong side of the tracks in a small Midwestern town who went on to become a military hero as leader of the Allied forces in Europe during World War Two, worked alongside figures like Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Charles DeGaulle, and served two Presidential terms during a time of both prosperity and unrest.
Those who were part of the Greatest Generation—men and women who fought and won the Second World War—saw “Ike” as one of them and rewarded him with their trust and admiration, overwhelmingly electing him twice to the Presidency. When he left after two terms due to Constitutional limits, one columnist wrote, “Eisenhower could be dead and he could still be reelected.” He was not only the President but a father figure in an “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Father Knows Best” world.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts he gave to the nation was the warning as he left office of “the military-industrial complex” that threatened the well-being of our nation. (He wanted to use the term “military-industrial-congressional complex” but close confidants advised against it.)
This symbiotic relationship among power brokers is one that controlled much of public policy for the latter part of the last century and still does to a great extent today. What I had missed before was a statement made early in his administration that is engraved on the wall next to where he is buried:
“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 a cross of iron.”
Only a military leader, a warrior, one who had seen the tragedy of war could make such a statement with such deep impact.. Unfortunately, we have not heard that message and we continue placing our faith in the wrong things and ignoring the needs of our neighbor. I am reminded of the words of Isaiah 31:1:
‘Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.”
As we think about the selection of the future leader of our country, perhaps we should reevaluate our priorities in light of President Eisenhower’s warning.