Eisenhower would be aghast at Trump's massive military parade plan
Ike believed the president’s job was to contain the influence of the military, not generate uncritical cheering for military power.
Former president Dwight Eisenhower in 1961.
The last Army general to occupy the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would be spinning in his grave if he knew that President Trump, a man who used a medical deferment to avoid combat service in Vietnam, was planning a giant military parade in Washington.
It’s not that Ike disliked a parade. In fact, he was honored with many of them.
After leading the allied forces in Europe to victory in World War II, Eisenhower became the world’s most popular soldier, and cities competed to celebrate him. On June 12, 1945, Ike was hailed by the London crowds and given the Order of Merit by King George VI. Two days later, Parisians thronged the Champs-Elys?es to greet Ike as he rode toward the Arc de Triomphe, where he received a decoration from the French president, Charles de Gaulle.
But nothing matched the parade that greeted Ike in New York City upon his return to the United States.
On June 19, 4 million New Yorkers lined Fifth Avenue and Broadway to welcome the commander home, and they filled the air with ticker-tape and confetti. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia declared a holiday for city employees and urged everyone to go to the streets to cheer this ordinary, humble man who had brought Hitler’s hordes to their knees.
Eisenhower tolerated these parades. He understood that the public needed to celebrate victory after so much shared sacrifice.
But he did not relish this kind of frenzy. Following the London parade, he spoke to the public at the Guildhall, the ancient seat of the city’s mayor. Rather than revel in the euphoria of victory, Eisenhower expressed his “feelings of profound sadness” that so many friends and loyal comrades had not lived to see the day of victory.
Honors and parades, he said, “cannot soothe the anguish of the widow or the orphan whose husband or father will not return.”
When he took the microphone at New York’s City Hall, he sent a similar message. “There is no greater pacifist than the regular officer. Any man who is forced to turn his attention to the horrors of the battlefield, to the grotesque shapes that are left there for the burying squad — he doesn’t want war. He never wants it.” Even in a moment of triumph, Ike wanted to remind the crowd that war was a dirty, bloody business, full of destruction and pain.
As president, Eisenhower sought always to resist using military force.
In 1954, he declined to send Americans to fight in Vietnam, even when the French government appealed for help in their colonial war there. “I cannot conceive of a greater tragedy for America than to get involved now in an all-out war in any part” of Southeast Asia, he told his cabinet.
When the British and French invaded Egypt in 1956 in a half-baked effort to topple President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had recently nationalized the Suez Canal, threatening Europe’s oil supply, Eisenhower refused to intervene on behalf of his allies. Using force there would only inflame anti-American opinion across the Middle East, he insisted.
Eisenhower was hardly a pacifist.
He knew military force needed to be kept in a perpetual state of readiness to deter other nations from threatening American friends and allies. He rattled America’s nuclear weapons more than once, insisting that he would use them to protect embattled outposts like West Berlin or Taiwan. But Eisenhower felt no need to worship the armed forces, or to bask in the glow of military pomp.
Ike’s wariness about the role of the military in a democracy came through crystal clear in his famous Farewell Address. “A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment,” the president acknowledged on Jan.
17, 1961, as he left office. “Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.” But at the same time, the armed services and the “military-industrial complex” should never be given “unwarranted influence” in our democracy. As the armed forces grew larger and more powerful, Eisenhower warned, “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
It is the president’s job to contain the influence of the military, Ike believed, not generate uncritical cheering for military power. As he had done in London and New York, Eisenhower in his final address called for more constructive deeds than war. “America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.” Take it from Ike: Modesty and generosity beat a parade every time.
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- ^ Army general (periodicpresidents.com)
- ^ medical deferment (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ military parade (www.usatoday.com)
- ^ Order of Merit (books.google.com)
- ^ Charles de Gaulle (books.google.com)
- ^ 4 million New Yorkers (books.google.com)
- ^ Trump’s parade: Appearances, not strength, matter to our president (www.usatoday.com)
- ^ Let Trump military parade pass us by (www.usatoday.com)
- ^ profound sadness (www.kshs.org)
- ^ no greater pacifist (books.google.com)
- ^ armistice in the Korean War (www.bbc.com)
- ^ all-out war (books.google.com)
- ^ Suez Canal (history.state.gov)
- ^ intervene on behalf of his allies (www.eiu.edu)
- ^ Bring military parades back to Washington (www.usatoday.com)
- ^ race, justice, media (www.usatoday.com)
- ^ nuclear weapons (www.commondreams.org)
- ^ keeping the peace (mcadams.posc.mu.edu)
- ^ The Age of Eisenhower: (www.amazon.com)