Inaugural Address of Dwight Eisenhower
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Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his first inaugural address on Tuesday, 20 January 1953. He began with a prayer for guidance from God and for bipartisan cooperation. Since he was the first Republican president in twenty years, he clearly worried about his ability to bring the parties together.
As a general and as the leader of a country that was still recovering from WWII and was facing an ever more clear Cold War, Eisenhower naturally framed large parts of his speech in terms of battle. He urged Americans to see their everyday lives as a contribution to the “war effort” of defending and promoting freedom and peace around the world. Since most of the public would have lived through the War and participated in it either as soldiers or as part of the domestic effort, this appeal echoed the values of the electorate and reframes them in a way that served the changing needs of the country.
Eisenhower makes several references to America’s exceptional position in the world as an ideal of freedom and the leader on the global stage. In doing so, he reinforces the American people’s sense of specialness and imposes on them a democratic noblesse oblige. He also links American success to economic power and the hard work of its citizens.
The only surprising element of the speech comes in the repeated emphasis he places on the importance of treating all races as equals.
Dwight D. Eisenhower first emerged at the forefront of public life in the United States during the World War II campaign against fascism. Ranking as a “mere” colonel at the outbreak of the Second World War, he was a five-star general and an acclaimed American war hero by the end of the conflict. Eisenhower later served two terms as president, from 1853 to 1961. Partly because of his status as a war hero, he enjoyed tremendous popularity among the American people, winning in 1952 the largest number of votes ever cast until then for a presidential candidate, and beating his own record in the 1956 election. Ironically, Eisenhower had initially been highly reluctant to run for the presidency, repeatedly rejecting proposals for him to campaign for the office. Eisenhower decided to try for the presidency only after leading Republicans had nominated him and a grassroots campaign grew in strength behind the famous “we like Ike” banner. Apart from his awareness of his immense popularity among many Americans and his desire to work for world stability and peace as a leader rather than as an observer, the decision to run was inspired by Eisenhower’s deep fear that a victory for either the Democrats or isolationist Republican Senator Robert A. Taft would lead to disaster for his vision of postwar peace and order.
Despite, and probably because of, his heroic service during World War II, Eisenhower’s antiwar philosophy was already forming by the time this horrible conflict finally ended in 1945. Although it is always uncertain how war heroes will react to peace, Eisenhower ranked high among the rare breed of heroes who could embrace peace as unhesitatingly and energetically as he had gone to war. Immediately after the conclusion of the Second World War, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered numerous speeches in which he conferred symbolic meanings onto the war and the era that followed and urged the world to engage in an unceasing struggle to protect civilization and build a lasting global peace. Although Eisenhower proffered a number of seemingly distinct conceptualizations of peace during this period, all were fundamentally grounded in the vision of peace as a state marked primarily by order and stability.
Unfortunately, Eisenhower’s astute understandings of the global realities around him also led him to envision “peace” as a rather precarious state in which civilization must ceaselessly struggle to save itself from chaos. Eisenhower began his presidential career at a Problematic time due to the following:
- When arms control negotiations with the Soviet bloc had reached their lowest point in the postwar era.
- Many influential voices were extremely skeptical about the potential for progress on the international regulation of armaments.
- Eisenhower also understood well that World War II had fundamentally changed the world and that the vision of peace that came after the conflict would inevitably be fundamentally different from the vision of peace that had preceded it.
- Much to his own regret, therefore, he was compelled to conclude that civilization’s struggle against disorder would not, and could not, ever end.