Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage (Isaiah 2:3-4) transports me to Washington, DC, April 16, 1953, for the annual meeting of the Association of Newspaper Editors. Sounds like a yawner, until you realize that this is the forum for the first public speech and eventually the most quoted speech of the newly elected President, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Before I share some quotes from his historic “Chance for Peace” presentation, let me remind you that this was no 60s hippie radical talking. President Eisenhower was one of the most beloved and respected military leaders of our nation, a five-star general who led us through the European Theatre of World War II and won election on the Republican ticket in 1952. Here’s some of what he said to the newspaper editors that day:
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. . . This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace. . . The fruit of success in all these tasks would present the world with the greatest task, and the greatest opportunity, of all. It is this: the dedication of the energies, the resources, and the imaginations of all peaceful nations to a new kind of war. This would be a declared total war, not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty and need. The peace we seek, founded upon decent trust and cooperative effort among nations, can be fortified, not by weapons of war but by wheat and by cotton, by milk and by wool, by meat and timber and rice. These are words that translate into every language on earth. These are the needs that challenge this world in arms. . . We are prepared to reaffirm, with the most concrete evidence, our readiness to help build a world in which all peoples can be productive and prosperous. . . The purposes of this great work would be to help other peoples to develop the undeveloped areas of the world, to stimulate profitable and fair world trade, to assist all peoples to know the blessings of productive freedom. The monuments to this new war would be roads and schools, hospitals and homes, food and health. We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving the needs, rather than the fears, of the world. . . These proposals. . . aspire to this: the lifting, from the backs and from the hearts of men, of their burden of arms and of fears, so that they may find before them a golden age of freedom and of peace. End of speech.
The prophet Isaiah presaged the crisis and conviction President Eisenhower described when he made reference to the hope of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. It is one of the earliest and most eloquent and poetic expressions of the classic “guns versus butter” debate. It speaks to the clear reality Israel faced as it abandoned faith in God and grew into a powerful nation – they had invested tremendous resources into the arms they felt necessary to provide security, and those resources were drained from the food-producing sector of the economy. They had too long beaten their plowshares into swords, and in the end whatever military security they bought came at the steep price of an intense insecurity experienced by the hungry and desperate across the land. Many people feel that calls for peace like those we read in Isaiah or in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by fantasies, applicable only to a future reign of God. But for all the folks who associate food security and disarmament with head-in-the-clouds pipe dreams, remember that it was also the dream smoked by a strategic war hero turned Republican President.
Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.