President Eisenhower’s ‘Cross of iron’ speech,

ANZAC Day, Dawn Parade, Waiheke Island

We gather here once again this morning – as is our custom – to keep vigil and bear witness to the fallen. To remember not only their great sacrifice but also the grief of families who lost loved ones and permanently scarred by the tragedy of war. On ANZAC Day we also remember and honour all those men and women who served and are serving their country. Our pride in their valour and sacrifice has never been to glorify war itself.

At ANZAC Day last year we recalled the heroic Ormond Burton. An idealistic young Aucklander, who served as a stretcher bearer at Gallipoli in 1915, who went on to serve for three more years in the infantry, fighting on the western front in France and Belgium.  Wounded three times but always returning to the front, he was decorated with the Military Medal and the French Médaille d’honneur. At the end of the war, returning to New Zealand, steeled by the suffering he had witnessed, he became a most resolute Christian pacifist, who willingly went to prison for his principles and became a life-long campaigner against war. Burton came to the conclusion that war was anti-life, an abomination, the sinful destruction of God’s holy creation.

As once again we find ourselves under the shadow of war, I want to speak this morning of another man, another soldier, a contemporary of Ormond Burton as it happens, but an American who rose to fame in the second World War. That man was General Dwight D Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied Forces and after the war the US Army chief of Staff and the first supreme commander of NATO.  Massively popular, and known as ‘Ike’, in 1953 he was elected president of the United States and in 1956 re-elected for a second term.

General Eisenhower Supreme Commander Allied forces talks to U.S. paratroopers of the 101 Airborne preparing to go into battle on the eve of D Day, June 1944.

His address as President to the American people made on the 16 April 1953. became famous as the Cross of Iron speech. I want to share some extracts of this speech with you this morning because I believe its message is as relevant – perhaps even more so – as when President Eisenhower first gave it. And even more powerful because it came from a soldier, a five-star general, a high military commander:

President Dwight D Eisenhower taken during his first term, 1953. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“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 is 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 fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953.

This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace. It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty. It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men: Is there no other way the world may live?” 

And that is the question that too few world leaders today seem interested in answering. Tragically it seems the present generation of political leaders, who fortunately have been spared personal experience of the horror of war, seem oblivious to the growing risk of a general war, and careless of its consequences. 

Instead across the globe we see devastating wars and imminent wars. In 2023 global military expenditure increased to over 2.44 trillion dollars, up 6.8% in one year. Those are resources that could be devoted to building a prosperous world civilisation for all – and to protecting the planet’s fragile environment.  The mainstream news media, rather than warning the public of the rising danger, instead competes with itself in its careless belligerence. Perhaps this is why no-one in authority has the courage to talk of peace. So instead of peace treaties, there is the frantic building of military alliances. So instead of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, there is an arms race. Instead of the recognition of common humanity, there is the demonisation of nominated enemies – against whom presumably our young people could be sent to fight and die.

The Dove of Peace has torn its wing and lies struggling on the ground. We find ourselves not only under the shadow of war – but the shadow of a nuclear war which would destroy human civilisation and most life on this planet.

At ANZAC Day remembering the great sacrifices of the fallen and the suffering of their loved ones – we also have the fervent hope that their sacrifices to build a better world were not in vain. 

Reflecting on that speech of President Eisenhower made 71 years ago. We can only hope for leaders with his wisdom, humanity and courage; and in his words pray for ‘a turning towards a just and lasting peace’; to rescue suffering humanity from this cross of iron.

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