Today marks the 60th anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Chance for Peace Speech, which he delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Although often remembered as a man of war, in his book, Ike’s Bluff, Evan Thomas argues that President Eisenhower feared the consequences of an all-out arms race with the Soviet Union, nuclear conflict and excessive spending on defense. He had, according to Thomas, an “overwhelming, single, fixed pre-occupation: the avoidance of war.”
In an attempt to take advantage of Joseph Stalin’s death, Ike delivered the “Chance for Peace” address on April 16, 1953 as a means to reach out to the new leadership in the Soviet Union and to propose disarmament. Couching the consequences of continued tense relations and rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in moral terms, President Eisenhower stated in the speech:
The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can be simply stated.
The worst is atomic war.
The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.
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 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…
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.
To achieve disarmament and to ease tensions, Eisenhower proposed a number of international agreements to be carried out under a practical system of inspections through the United Nations that would limit military and security forces and materials, control nuclear energy for peaceful purposes only, prohibit nuclear weapons, and prohibit other weapons of mass destruction.
The overture to the Soviet Union did not lead to peace and the Cold War in fact deepened during his presidency. At other key moments during his presidency, Ike used brinkmanship to achieve his ends. According to Evan Thomas, “Ike wanted the world to believe that America would go to the brink of nuclear war if it had to — indeed, that the United States would be willing to use nuclear weapons in even a small conflict.” Although Eisenhower had sworn off nuclear weapons by 1957, he never let on publicly or even to his most intimate friends for fear it would undercut his strategy.
For more on Ike’s obfuscatory artisanship and calculated duplicity in foreign affairs, watch the Miller Center Forum with Evan Thomas.