Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eisenhower and What We Stand For

Been reading Michael Korda's biography of Eisenhower these past few weeks. It's an OK book about a most interesting figure. I was struck by Korda's account of Eisenhower's speech at Guildhall, London upon being honored for his leadership of the Allied armies. I was so taken by the excerpts, that I went online to see if I could find the text of the speech.

I found the site of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which contains all of Ike's speeches. This led to a couple of hours of perusing through trivia and treasure. But to the point... the Guildhall speech:

Ike's speech there touched upon something that has been skirting in my mind on and off this fall: what is it that we stand for (of course there are also times when we must clarify what we will stand against). After some surprisingly eloquent words (from a man who as president would mangle English syntax with obtuse and flaccid politico-speak) about English/American differences, he gives us this gem about the ties that bind England and America:

Yet kinship among nations is not determined in such measurements as proximity of size and age. Rather we should turn to those inner things--call them what you will--I mean those intangibles that are the real treasures free men possess.

To preserve his freedom of worship, his equality before law, his liberty to speak and act as he sees fit, subject only to provisions that he trespass not upon similar rights of others--a Londoner will fight. So will a citizen of Abilene.

When we consider these things, then the valley of the Thames draws closer to the farms of Kansas and the plains of Texas.

To my mind it is clear that when two peoples will face the tragedies of war to defend the same spiritual values, the same treasured rights, then in the deepest sense those two are truly related. So even as I proclaim my undying Americanism, I am bold enough and exceedingly proud to claim the basis of kinship to you of London.

From there he speaks at length of the courage of the British during the war, the hospitality of Londoners, the challenges of bringing the two peoples together, and their eventual triumph over Nazi aggression. As he brings his speech to a close, he gives us yet more treasure:

My most cherished hope is that after Japan joins the Nazis in utter defeat, neither my country nor yours need ever again summon its sons and daughters from their peaceful pursuits to face the tragedies of battle. But--a fact important for both of us to remember--neither London nor Abilene, sisters under the skin, will sell her birthright for physical safety, her liberty for mere existence.

No petty differences in the world of trade, traditions or national pride should ever blind us to our identities in priceless values.

If we keep our eyes on this guidepost, then no difficulties along our path of mutual co-operation can ever be insurmountable. Moreover, when this truth has permeated to the remotest hamlet and heart of all peoples, then indeed may we beat our swords into plowshares and all nations can enjoy the fruitfulness of the earth.

Now there are statements that call for reflection. Perhaps Eisenhower, in his dealings with Stalin, had already glimpsed the ideological struggle that was to come in the cold war. But in any case, he saw fit not to use victory in Europe as an occasion for back-slapping and chest thumping. Rather he called for the Allies to remember ideals: freedom of worship, speech, equality before law. Let these spiritual truths be our guidepost, he says.

Fine thoughts indeed.