Thursday, August 11, 2005

Nader's Misfired Reference to US Propaganda

Ralph Nader's August 10, 2005, letter of support to the mother of slain US soldier Casey Sheehan refers to a speech by President Dwight D. Eisenchower. Cindy Sheehan is literally camped outside President Bush's ranch in Waco, Texas, (he calls it Crawford, Texas, to avoid the associations with Waco) trying to get an audience with the aloof Commander in Chief who ordered her son into a war on false premises. In his letter referring to Bush, Nader wrote: "Consider bringing to him a copy of President Dwight Eisenhower's famous 'Cross of Iron' speech, delivered in April 1953 before the nation's newspaper editors in Washington, D.C."

Ike's speech was officially titled "Chance for Peace," as it was both a response to the death of Josef Stalin on March 5, 1953, and one of Eisenhower’s first major foreign policy statements after being in office only three months. But because it contains the catchy Cold War line, "Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron," Ike's talk has become known as the "Cross of Iron" speech.

Nader’s reference to this speech is superficial at best, and in doing so he is playing to the pubic’s ignorance. Yes, the speech does outline the high ideals behind democratic governments and the hope for peace through participation in the UN. And the speech has catchy hymns to American decency and goodness. Here’s an example of the high minded humanitarian rhetoric:

“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 in 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 with a half million bushels of wheat.”

But does Nader really want us to believe that this American propaganda is to be taken seriously?

In this speech composed completely of mere rhetoric, Ike had the audacity to say, “We welcome every honest act of peace. We care nothing for mere rhetoric.” The Soviets could have said the same just as straight faced.

Elsewhere I have pointed out that Eisenhower was a moderate Republican of the old conservative school who did hold certain plain ideals to his credit, and I think he really believed that the American people should not have certain right-wing ideological positions shoved down their throats, even though he did not go very far at all in fighting for the ideals he enunciated. As a military man he followed orders to the utmost, but not going one step beyond his orders. As a politician he was a man of compromise all the way. For example, I believe as a man Ike would be very aghast at today’s Republicans, but as a Republican politician he would most likely accept the compromise like any moderate Republican today, and would not publically criticize his fellow Republicans. And of course, while Ike would not want his fellow Americans to have ideas shoved down their throats, Ike had no compunctions against shoving ideas down non-American throats.

So basically, I think Nader’s citing of this speech is unfairly and misleadingly ignoring the cold war doctrines that are embedded in the speech itself. Eisenhower presented the simplistic Cold War formula: the USA is good and the Soviet Union is bad. Ike said the Soviet Union’s “goal was power superiority at all costs.” Ike said the Soviet Union was responsible for the Arms Race, not the USA which was just acting defensively! That, we know, is a crock of crap.

So just because Eisenhower and Bush have some few differences in their approaches to how a president should deal with his enemies, the fact remains that Eisenhower in this speech is mouthing platitudes of political propaganda that should not be taken seriously. In fact if you read the “Chance for Peace (Cross of Iron)” speech I think that you will come to the same conclusion as I did, that it is a speech right out of the same play-book that Bush uses today when he mouths his platitudes saying the USA is bringing freedom to nations in a war on terrorism and that Iran and Korea, and whomever is expedient that day, are nations of evil.

While Ike was telling the world on April 16, 1953, about the peaceful and democratic intentions of the USA, what was the USA doing in the world? The McCarthy hearings were going strong and Ike was silent. On January 7 1953, as one of his last acts in office, President Harry S. Truman announced the US had developed a hydrogen bomb. On February 11, 1953, Ike in one of his first official acts refused the clemency appeal for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. (Wouldn’t that have been a real show of peace and not mere rhetoric?) On May 25, at the Nevada Test Site, the US conducted a nuclear artillery test. The US was neck deep in the Korean War which wouldn’t end until July 27 with a stalemate cease-fire. On August 19 the CIA overthrew the government of Iran and installed the Shah. Also in August 1953 Ike authorized the CIA’s top secret covert operation “PBSUCCESS” with its $2.7 million budget for "psychological warfare and political action" and "subversion," among the other components of a small paramilitary war in Guatemala to overthrow its democratically elected president. So much for Ike’s “Cross of Iron” rhetoric saying “Any nation's right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.” Then by April 1954 Eisenhower would give his famous “domino theory” speech.

I think Nader has made a mistake with this reference. It is one thing to refer to Ike’s personal letters to show how the man privately felt to give some insight into how he acted publically, but it is another thing to be fooled, like Nader seems to be, into suggesting that the propaganda pronouncements of Ike then should be taken any more seriously than the propaganda pronouncements of Bush today. In other words, one doesn’t have to tell Bush to live up to Ike’s speeches, one only has to tell Bush to live up to his own speeches.

Here are some links to interesting info on this speech from the Eisenhower archives.

First, the speech may be read at several websites such as

And both the text and an mp3 audio file are at

The speech was given on April 16, 1953, and at the Eisenhower archives there are communications between Churchill and Ike a few days before the speech.

On April 6, 1953, Ike wrote to Churchill: “I am considering the delivery of a formal speech, with the purpose of setting concretely before the world the peaceful intentions of this country. I would hope to do this in such a way as to delineate, at least in outline, the specific steps or measures that we believe necessary to bring about satisfactory relationships with resultant elimination or lowering of tensions throughout the world. These steps are none other than what our governments have sought in the past. I have been working on such a talk for some days and will soon be in a position to show it to your Ambassador, who will of course communicate with you concerning it. While I do not presume to speak for any government other than our own, it would be useless for me to say anything publicly unless I could feel that our principal allies are in general accord with what I will have to say. I am particularly anxious that this be true of Britain, and I think it also necessary to check with France and, as regards Germany, with Adenauer who arrives here tomorrow.”

When the Ambassador showed Churchill a draft of the speech, it turns out that Churchill thought the speech a little too harsh with its cold war rhetoric and wanted Ike to make it more hopeful. Churchill had been telling Ike that he believed the Soviets were ready for a thaw in relations and wanted Ike to show some hope..

Churchill wrote on April 11, 1953: "It would be a pity if a sudden frost nipped spring in the bud or if this could be alleged even if there was no real spring." He asked whether Eisenhower might combine restatements of resolve "with some balancing expression of hope that we have entered upon a new era. A new hope has I feel been created in the unhappy bewildered world"

Ike replied on April 13, 1953: “Dear Winston: Thank you very much for your prompt reply to my cablegram. I agree with the tenor of your comments and shall certainly strive to make my talk one that will not freeze the tender buds of sprouting decency if indeed they are really coming out.”

Of course Ike didn't appear to strive very hard not to freeze tender buds, since his speech did not do anything but severely criticize the Soviet Union all the while boasting of our own human decency, while at the same time, as stated above, Ike was planning the overthrow of governments throughout the globe from Iran to Guatemala. While lambasting the USSR as an imperialist nation, the USA was also engaging in imperialist conquest through overthrowing govenments and creating vassel nation-states.