[KB] Speechless: Ike, Burke and NSC-68

HERBERT W. SIMONS hsimons at temple.edu
Wed Nov 18 17:39:12 EST 2009

Thanks, Tom Walker, for this excellent post. For years our military has made
defense spending attractive politically while rendering criticism of it
impolitic if not unsayable. Ike had the credentials to buck the tide, but
even he had to play the anti-communism card.

Garry Wills in *Nixon Agonistes* has some interesting comments on what Ike
thought privately about Nixon and what he felt obligated to say to him
publicly after Checkers: "That's my boy."

On Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 2:32 PM, Tom Walker <timework at telus.net> wrote:

> On the evening of September 23, 1952, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the
> Republican nominee for President of the United States, was scheduled to
> deliver a campaign speech in Cleveland, Ohio. That night however, his
> vice-presidential running mate, Richard M. Nixon, gave his famous
> "Checkers" speech defending himself from charges that he had received
> inappropriate financial gifts. Instead of his originally scheduled
> address, whose topic was inflation and "false prosperity", Eisenhower
> substituted his reaction to Nixon's televised appearance. The text of
> Ike's unspoken speech was published the next day in the Washington Post
> and Eisenhower essentially "the same" speech a month later in Troy, New
> York. But that later version of the speech, coming just a week and a
> half before election day, would have had little impact on framing the
> election campaign.
> The Eisenhower speech's theme of "false prosperity" echoes elements of
> Burke's satirical essay of twenty-two years earlier, "Waste – the future
> of prosperity," which Burke subsequently reprised in a 1958 essay,
> "Borrow. Spend. Buy. Waste. Want." The particular variety of waste that
> Eisenhower condemned in his speech was the Truman administration's
> policy of using massive rearmament spending to stimulate the economy --
> a policy whose single-mindedly cynical deliberateness would be revealed
> in 1975 when National Security Council memorandum 68 (NSC-68) was
> declassified (see especially Fred Block's 1980 Politics and Society
> article, Economic Instability and Military Strength: The Paradoxes of
> the 1950 Rearmament Decision).
> I want to quote resonating paragraphs from Burke's 1930, Ike's 1952
> speech and NSC-68 and also to suggest that a profound amnesia and denial
> about the manifestly wasteful sources of "economic growth" massively
> constrain and distort American political discourse and thought -- both
> popular and academic.
> Burke: "If all our people are to be kept straining at their jobs, the
> duty of the public as wasters becomes obvious...
> "But by expanding this principle, we find even greater encouragement.
> For long we have worried about war, driven by a pre-industrial feeling
> that war is the enemy of mankind. But by the theory of the economic
> value of waste we find that war is the basis of culture. War is our
> great economic safety-valve. For if waste lets up, if people simply
> won't throw out things fast enough to create new needs in keeping with
> the increased output under improved methods of manufacture, we always
> have recourse to the still more thoroughgoing wastage of war. An
> intelligently managed war can leave whole nations to be rebuilt, thus
> providing work at peak productivity for millions of the surviving
> population."
> Ike: "The inflation we suffer is not an accident; it is a policy. It is
> not, as the Administration would have us believe some queer and deadly
> kind of economic bacteria breathed into the atmosphere by Soviet communism.
> "This is the way a recent edi­torial in a great metropolitan newspaper
> put it: "Inflation is the calculated policy of the White House on the
> labor front, the fiscal front, the agricultural front." The point and
> purpose of this policy I have already in­dicated: to fool the people
> with a deceptive prosperity. The method is very simple: to give more
> people more money that is worth less....
> "There is in certain quarters the view that national prosperity depends
> on the production of armaments and that any reduc­tion in arms output
> might biring on another recession. Does this mean, then that the
> continued failure of our foreign policy is the only way to pay for the
> /failure /of our fiscal policy? According to this way of thinking, the
> success of our foreign policy would mean a depression."
> NSC-68: " Furthermore, the United States could achieve a substantial
> absolute increase in output and could thereby increase the allocation of
> resources to a build-up of the economic and military strength of itself
> and its allies without suffering a decline in its real standard of
> living. Industrial production declined by 10 percent between the first
> quarter of 1948 and the last quarter of 1949, and by approximately
> one-fourth between 1944 and 1949. In March 1950 there were approximately
> 4,750,000 unemployed, as compared to 1,070,000 in 1943 and 670,000 in
> 1944. The gross national product declined slowly in 1949 from the peak
> reached in 1948 ($262 billion in 1948 to an annual rate of $256 billion
> in the last six months of 1949), and in terms of constant prices
> declined by about 20 percent between 1944 and 1948.
> "With a high level of economic activity, the United States could soon
> attain a gross national product of $300 billion per year, as was pointed
> out in the President's Economic Report (January 1950). Progress in this
> direction would permit, and might itself be aided by, a buildup of the
> economic and military strength of the United States and the free world;
> furthermore, if a dynamic expansion of the economy were achieved, the
> necessary build-up could be accomplished without a decrease in the
> national standard of living because the required resources could be
> obtained by siphoning off a part of the annual increment in the gross
> national product. These are facts of fundamental importance in
> considering the courses of action open to the United States."
> I would suggest the above reframes the question asked by Juan Zarate and
> cited in the message from Gregory Desilet: "What do we do as a society
> about people who are espousing a radical, violent ideology but who are
> not committing a criminal act?" What do we do when a "radical, violent
> ideology" has become so deeply embedded in our way of life and public
> discourse about prosperity that it has become invisible?
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Herbert W. Simons, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Communication
Dep't of STOC, Weiss Hall 215
Temple University, Philadelphia 19122
Home phone: 215 844 5969
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