War and Opportunity Costs


In doing research on the opportunity costs of military spending for “Growing up in the Two Koreas,” I was reminded of the quote below by Dwight Eisenhower. Though I linked to it in that post, I thought it deserved more than that, so I’m highlighting it here. The back story to the speech is that it was written soon after the death of Stalin. Eisenhower thought that presented an opportunity to shift away from wasteful military spending, which could then be applied to other avenues more conducive to peace, better economic conditions, and a healthier population.

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?

[…]

The first great step along this way must be the conclusion of an honorable armistice in Korea.

This means the immediate cessation of hostilities and the prompt initiation of political discussions leading to the holding of free elections in a united Korea.

[…]

We could proceed concurrently with the next great work — the reduction of the burden of armaments now weighing upon the world.

[…]

The details of such disarmament programs are manifestly critical and complex.

Neither the United States nor any other nation can properly claim to possess a perfect, immutable formula. But the formula matters less than the faith — the good faith without which no formula can work justly and effectively.

The fruit of success in all these tasks would present the world with the greatest task, and the greatest opportunity, of all. It is this: the dedication of the energies, the resources, and the imaginations of all peaceful nations to a new kind of war. This would be a declared total war, not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty and need.” 

(“The Chance for Peace,” Apr. 16, 1953).

I cannot imagine how such a statement from a sitting President would be received in today’s political climate. And, despite his later warnings of the influence of the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower was a five-star general. Not exactly a  flower child. 

One thought on “War and Opportunity Costs

  1. Pingback: Contagions Round-up 19: Loads of Links for Year’s End « Contagions

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