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A Labor Day speech from many years ago by a non-president named Dwight Eisenhower

September 6, 2010 |  5:10 am


President Dwight Eisenhower at his Oval Office Desk

Sixty Labor Days ago Monday, not-yet Republican President Dwight Eisenhower spoke in Denver. It was not a political speech, as most of today's public remarks will be -- President Obama at a Milwaukee union festival and VP Joe Biden in Toledo.

Like this year, 1950 was a midterm-election year during a war presided over by a Democratic president who had been a U.S. senator. President Harry Truman's popularity had just started to dip and would later crash over the three-year-long Asian conflict in Korea, causing the ex-vice president to abandon his reelection campaign for 1952.

Sixteen years later, another former senator and Democratic president and vice president, Lyndon Johnson, was also forced to abandon his reelection plans due to opposition to another Asian war in Vietnam. The Ticket examined the effect of unpopular wars on presidential popularity in this item the other day.

Not surprisingly for that mid-20th-century time but in marked contrast to today, Ike's Colorado speech focused on freedoms endangered then by communist expansionism, especially in....

... Europe. It was an early augur of the dramatic -- and sometimes chilling -- days of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union. And it was a time when many public issues seemed clearer than modern ones.

Eisenhower, as several Ticket readers may recall, had been the supreme Allied commander of Allied troops during the climactic years of World War II in Europe. (See video below of his address to Allied troops on the eve of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Europe.)

We're republishing Eisenhower's full speech here below, as we often do with formal texts, to give readers a feel for those different times and the issues that national leaders felt compelled to comment on. (More information at the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Dwight D. Eisenhower's 'Crusade for Freedom' Speech, Denver, Colorado, September 4, 1950 

Americans are dying in Korea tonight. They are dying for ideals they have been taught to cherish more than life itself; but it will be written and said tonight in Warsaw - in Prague - in Moscow, that they died for American imperialism.

Unfortunately, millions of people will believe this devilish libel against American soldiers, who have taken up arms in defense of liberty - a second time in a tormented decade. Those millions will hear no other version but a hissing, hating tirade against America. We think it incredible that such poison be swallowed! But those people, behind and beyond the Iron curtain, have seen so much political wickedness and cold blooded betrayal - such Godless depravity in government - that they find it harder to believe in our peaceful intent and decent motives than in the calculated and clever lies that Communism is spreading every hour, every day, through every broadcast and newspaper that it controls.

This slander against our purposes and our men in Korea is merely one example of the campaign of hatred that is being waged against America and freedom around the globe. We face not only ruthless men, but also lies and misconceptions intended to rob us of our resolution and faith within, and of our friends throughout the world. Communists teach that America is a vicious enemy of humanity. They have embarked upon an aggressive campaign to destroy free government - as in the young republic of Korea - because regimentation cannot face the peaceful competition of free enterprise.General Eisenhower talks with allied paratroopers on the eve of D-Day June 6, 1944

The Communist leaders believe that, unless they destroy our system, their own subjects, gradually gaining an understanding of the blessings and opportunities of liberty, will repudiate Communism and tear its dictators from their positions of power.

They know that free labor and management consistently out-produce Communism in the material things that humans need and want, and hold our a superior appeal to man’s spiritual aspirations.

They know that, for the mass of humanity, America has come to symbolize freedom, opportunity, human happiness. They have a mortal fear that this knowledge will penetrate eventually to their own people and others in the world.

Communistic aggression, inspired by fear, carries with it the venom of those who feel themselves to be inferior; this accounts for the depth of their hatred, and the intensity of their thirst for power!

To destroy human liberty and to control the world, the Communists use every conceivable weapon - subversion, bribery, corruption, military attack! Of all these, none is more insidious than propaganda.

Spurred by this threat to our very existence, I speak tonight - as another private citizen, not as an officer of the Army - about the Crusade of freedom. This crusade is a campaign sponsored by private American citizens to fight the big lie with the big truth. It is a program that has been hailed by President Truman and others as an essential step in getting the case for freedom heard by the world’s multitudes. Powerful Communist radio stations incessantly tell the world that we Americans are physically soft and morally corrupt; that we are disunited and confused; that we are selfish and cowardly; that we have nothing to offer the world but imperialism and exploitation.

To combat these broadcasts the government has established a radio program called the “Voice of America” which has brilliantly served the cause of freedom, but the Communist stations overpower it and outflank it with a daily coverage that neglects no wave length of dialect, no prejudice or local aspiration. Weaving a fantastic pattern of lies and twisted fact, they confound the listener into believing that we are war-mongers - that America invaded North Korea - that a Russian invented the airplane - that the Soviets, unaided, won World War II - and that the secret police and slave camps of Communism offer humanity brighter hope for the future than do self government and free enterprise.

We need powerful radio stations abroad, operated without government restrictions, to tell in vivid and convincing form about the decency and essential fairness of democracy. These stations must tell of our aspirations for peace, our hatred of war, our support of the United Nations, and our constant readiness to cooperate with all who have these same desires. Only then can we counteract the Communist deceits that are being spread with every weather, crop and news report.

One such private station, Radio Free Europe, is now in operation in western Germany. It daily brings....

... a message of hope and encouragement to a small part of the masses of Europe.

The Crusade for Freedom will provide for the expansion of Radio Free Europe into a network of stations. They will be given the simplest, clearest charter in the world: “Tell the Truth.” For it is certain that all the specious promises of Communism to the needy, the unhappy, the frustrated, the down-trodden, cannot stand against the proven record of democracy and its day-by-day progress in the betterment of all mankind. The tones of the Freedom Bell, symbol of the Crusade, will echo through vast areas now under blackout.

In this Battle for Truth, you and I have a definite part to play. During the Crusade, each of us will have the opportunity to sign the Freedom Scroll. It bears a declaration of our faith in freedom, and of our belief in the dignity of the individual, who derives the right of freedom from God. Each of us, by signing the Scroll, pledges to resist aggression and tyranny wherever they appear on Earth. Its words express what is in all our hearts. Your signature on it will be a blow for liberty.

My friend General Lucius Clay - one of our great Americans - is directing the Crusade for Freedom. Your contribution, great or small, will help him provide the means of bringing the truth to a region vital to our welfare.

Even we, ourselves, sometimes overlook or forget factors of the utmost importance in the global situation, and which have direct bearing on our own security and prosperity.
Most of us have been enjoying a long weekend, terminating in this day dedicated to free American labor. How depressing it is to realize that on this Labor Day, 1950, one third of the human race works in virtual bondage. In the totalitarian countries, the individual has no right that the state is bound to respect.

His occupation is selected by his masters; his livelihood is fixed, by decree, at the minimum which will give him strength to work another day; his pleasures and his thoughts are restricted to those of glorifying the bonds that hold him in servitude.

Because representative labor leaders of America know the record of Communism in beating down labor, they have long been in the forefront of those fighting the spread of this vicious doctrine. But Communism goes further than the exploitation of labor. Unless the individual accepts the governmental mastery of his life and soul, he can be convicted without trial; he can be executed without right of appeal; he can be banished to live out his life in a slave camp.

The people behind the Iron curtain have no concept of a free press, or free discussion; or of our right to a church of our own choosing, or any church at all. Their schools and periodicals are little more than propaganda mills. The people know nothing except that which their government says they should know, and, the effort to learn more is punished promptly and without mercy.

This is what the Soviet planners contemplate for all the world, including America.

We must meet this threat with courage and firmness. Unless we look, with clear and understanding eyes, at the World situation of today, and unless we meet, with dynamic purpose the issues confronting us, then we will lose the American birthright. The system of government established by our forefathers will disappear; the sacrifices of American patriots will have been in vain. The world will go back to the days of master and slaves - of darkness, ignorance and savagery.

The American record, from Washington to the day of disaster, would be only a blank page in history. We - American citizens - can assure that this will never happen to us if the fervor of our devotion to freedom and country is equal to the seriousness of the threat. Amid these dangers, personal participation by each in public deliberation and activity is necessary to our safety. Each must make it his responsibility to see that we remain strong - morally, intellectually, materially. Our material strength must comprise a healthy, devoted and prosperous population, high productivity, financial stability, and such military power as can meet aggression on respectable terms.

Young and old - business, labor, professional men - 150 million of us - must rally as one man behind our country and freedom! America is exactly as strong as the initiative, courage, understanding and loyalty of the individual citizen!

The die has been cast in Asia but we are in no limited conflict, Free Europe, struggling for moral and economic recovery, is still a tempting target for predatory military force. We must give real support to all aspects of the military aid program and re-examine, at once, our troop strengths in critical areas.

All this means that we must tighten our belts, both nationally and individually. We must insist upon facing up to the task of paying for the accomplishment of these vital measures, else the Soviets will take heart from their success in bringing us further inflation and closer to economic ruin.

We must have efficiency and economy in all governmental expenditures, and we must concentrate all our resources to assure victory in this bitter, and probably prolonged struggle! Until it is won we must practice Spartan frugality in all nonessential matters, so that we may make the greatest possible contribution to the defense of our way of life. All lesser considerations must wait; we cannot tolerate politics as usual any more than we can tolerate business as usual. We must get tough - tough with ourselves.

Success in such national crises always requires some temporary and partial surrender of individual freedom. But the surrender must be our specific decision, and it must be only partial and only temporary! And it must be insured that when the crisis has passed, each of us will then possess every right, every privilege, every responsibility and every authority that now resides in an American citizen. It would do no good to defend our liberties against Communistic aggression and lose them to our own greed, blindness or shiftless reliance on bureaucracy and the federal Treasury.

In the dangers and trials ahead, our ultimate security lies in the dynamic purpose, the simple courage and unshakable unity of the United States and the free world, a unity that depends upon common understanding of and common veneration of freedom. But these can live only where there is access to the truth. Thus truth becomes our most formidable weapon, a weapon that each of us can help forge through the Crusade for Freedom.

And let us never forget that for those who have lost freedom there is no price or cost or sacrifice that can even faintly reflect its value. But it is still the core of America’s boundless heritage. It will remain so for as long as we, plain American citizens, are ever ready to guard it with vigilance and defend it with fortitude and faith! Thank you very much. ####

Related Item:

The official end of World War II (video)

Photos, from top: Eisenhower at his Oval Office desk. Credit: Associated Press. Eisenhower talks with Allied paratroopers on the eve of D-Day, June 6, 1944. Credit: Library of Congress