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I Like Ike

February 7, 2007

My hero when I was growing up was Dwight D. Eisenhower. His nickname was so famous, that’s all he had to put on his hugely popular presidential campaign buttons—“I Like Ike.” Like Ike, I wanted to attend West Point and become a famous general. With that glorious goal in mind, I paid little attention to what Eisenhower said as president.

I didn’t give it a thought when our revered World War II hero vowed in 1952 to go to Korea if elected president and stop the stalemated war over there. But then, I was only 9 at the time. If I overheard his “I Shall Go to Korea” speech on the radio, I quite likely only absorbed the first part of Ike’s ringing declaration of why he was running for president: “A soldier all my life, I have enlisted in the greatest cause of my life—the cause of peace.”

Nor did I take note when Ike refused, four years later, to support Britain, France and Israel’s invasion of Egypt in the Suez Crisis. By then, I was a freshman in high school and aiming to join the Army as soon as I was old enough. I don’t recall thinking about, or discussing in class, Ike’s statement about the Suez Crisis—“we do not accept the use of force as a wise or proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes”—and his no-nonsense diplomatic moves to stop that war.

Indeed, for all my civic preparation in high school, Boy Scouts and the American Legion Boys State program to be a model citizen, a major theme of the Eisenhower era, I had no idea what Ike was about. Eager to emulate his military career, I tuned out what he had to say about current affairs, even though his points were based on his military experience.

I certainly didn’t take in Ike’s Farewell Address, as he stepped down from his second term as president, in January 1961. As a high school senior about to turn 18, I was tightly focused on getting into West Point. Good old Eisenhower’s era was over. Now it was my turn to conquer the world. Like so many others who soon after marched off to wage a disastrous war in Indochina, I didn’t pay attention to Ike’s urgent message to America and the world:

"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.

"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

"Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose difference, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war-as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years-I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

"We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love."

Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961.

Selected Works

Poetry
A tonic spray of poetry, verses that a Vietnam war veteran lives by.
Prose
A pragmatic, common-sense handbook for civic action at the community and international levels.