Memorial Day 1955 — And Today

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

W.J. Astore

How far we’ve come as a country.  Consider the following proclamation by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for Memorial Day in 1955:

“Whereas Memorial Day each year serves as a solemn reminder of the scourge of war and its bitter aftermath of sorrow; and Whereas this day has traditionally been devoted to paying homage to loved ones who lie in hallowed graves throughout the land… I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, Monday, the thirtieth of May, 1955, as a day of Nation-wide prayer for permanent peace.”

Permanent peace?  What was that hippie peacenik president smoking?

I find it remarkable that talk of peace in America has almost completely disappeared from our public discourse.  Permanent war is instead seen as inevitable, the price of confronting evildoers around the world.

Yes, I know Ike’s record as president wasn’t perfect.  But compared to today’s presidents, whether Barack “Kill List” Obama or Donald “Make Genocidal Threats” Trump, Ike was positively pacific.

Memorial Day, as Ike said, is a time for us all to remember the sacrifices of those who fought and died for this country.  But it’s also a time, as Ike said, to work to eliminate the scourge of war.  For the best way to honor our war dead is to work to ensure their ranks aren’t expanded.

Sadly, as Colonel (retired) Andrew Bacevich notes at, those ranks do keep expanding.  The names of our latest war dead are memorialized on a little-known wall in Marseilles, Illinois (including the name of Bacevich’s son, who died serving in Iraq).  Like Ike, Bacevich knows the costs of war, and like Ike he’s not taken in by patriotic talk about noble sacrifices for “freedom.”  As he puts it:

Those whose names are engraved on the wall in Marseilles died in service to their country. Of that there is no doubt. Whether they died to advance the cause of freedom or even the wellbeing of the United States is another matter entirely. Terms that might more accurately convey why these wars began and why they have persisted for so long include oil, dominion, hubris, a continuing and stubborn refusal among policymakers to own up to their own stupendous folly, and the collective negligence of citizens who have become oblivious to where American troops happen to be fighting at any given moment and why. Some might add to the above list an inability to distinguish between our own interests and those of putative allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Those are strong words that all Americans should consider this Memorial Day weekend.  As we consider them, let’s also recall Ike’s 1955 prayer for peace.  And, even better, let’s act on it.

Read the rest of Andrew Bacevich’s article here at TomDispatch.

Part of the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall in Marseilles, Illinois

6 thoughts on “Memorial Day 1955 — And Today

  1. I was born shortly after Ike’s speech. How far the USA has gone since then. It angers and disgusts me to think about what the country has become. So sad.


  2. “Send in thatroops!”

    Oh, it’s all so very, very easy and we here in America have become slaves the concept of “easy”. TV shows run for about 40 minutes out of an hour and in that time period, a story is briefed and a warm, and fuzzy “victory” ending is presented. (the rest of those minutes in an hour? why commercials, of course!)

    And of course there can never be a meaningful discussion about the difference between TV fiction and the reality, now can there be. After all, our wars are all fought not by “our boys”, but by those faceless “volunteers”. Most people have no skin in the game. Not many people even know when an American soldier is killed, fewer care nor are mildly interested in the whys.

    With only about two or three percent of the population of this nation even vaguely connected to military service, the obvious and easy answer to any vexing question that some ignoramus in in some public office in Washington poses, is to just “send in thatroops!”

    Good ole ‘merican soldiers’ll sort everything out! Right?

    OKAY! That’s settled, now lets turn on the tub and watch “Seals”! (Not to worry: no flag draped coffins will be shown in prime time.)


  3. I was born in 1955 so I’ve seen firsthand the lion-share of american history since then, and I think the way we’ve changed since then is our can do spirit has taken a hit it hasn’t recovered from since the end of Ike’s Presidency and JFK’s. as well. There seemed to be so much more optimism back then as a kid growing up now I see so much more cynicism. The country needs to get back on track. Ike started the Interstate Highway system now we need to repair same infrastructure and stop this wasteful spending on upgrading the nuclear triad. Now that we’re in the computer age it seemed when I was a kid seeing how the World should have turned out in picture books & magazines like Popular Science– it never happened. Other than a slight improvement in devices to make living easier… It is time we took the lead on the Environment, Peace instead of military solutions, and since our system won over the Soviet Union after all start to show the World a better way!.

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  4. ironic, very recently i mentioned i had yet to read about the way democracies are at a disadvantage to authoritarian forms of governments regarding the decision to wage war. Dr. Thornton took care of my situational illiteracy on the matter.

    i met Dr. Thornton once. it was the last time Dr. Hanson had one of his South Sierra wilderness hikes. i mentioned to Dr. Thornton how Plato was not required study for engineering students. after reading so many references to Plato’s “ The Republic “ i broke down and read it a few years back.

    i stated to Dr. Thornton, “ i thought it was a bunch of nonsense “.

    he nodded and replied, “ well, it was “.

    holding hands and singing kumbaya only works when … well after awhile it won’t. the problem with total war is so many die. so how do you prevent it ? should we enlighten the world our newest best solution is to have grade school teachers tell little boys they can be little girls ?


  5. I was born in 1948, so I can remember the 1950’s. I lived in a suburb of Chicago on the South Side. We had our Memorial Day Parade down the main street. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Little League, various clubs like Kiwanis, etc., American Legion and VFW. All of us coming together to honor the dead veterans and those that still were alive. None of that over the top Warrior Cult crap.

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  6. I cannot remember a Republican mentioning Ike in 40 years. Truth be told conservative Republicans despised him. Eventually the most rabid of them, the John Birch Society, whose descendants are now the mainstream, said he was a Communist or Communist sympathizer. Back in 53 millions of ex GI’s were well aware that war was a scourge. It is always the young, mostly boys and men, and the faux tough who idolize it.

    I believe all societies and political cultures eventually build up a lust for blood and war. No matter that we have been in war of one kind or another since WWII and never won a single one, except the absurdity that was Grenada, and that we have killed probably 2 million non combatants, virtually all Conservatives feel cheated. That we have not made our enemies shed enough blood. Or to be a little less literal, to incinerate them in nuclear fire.


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