No Country Fears a Strong America Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Less than a month after President Harry S. Truman declared the end of World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed a dinner convocation attended by members of the American Legion. Eisenhower told the audience of military veterans that the United States should maintain the strength of its armed forces. A nation that promotes peace and international law can only be respected when it possesses a strong military, Eisenhower said. The general argued that such a policy would not create a militaristic philosophy among Americans, but would instead continue to promote the traditional and peaceful cultural philosophies the nation has demonstrated since its beginning. Eisenhower reminded the audience of how long it took for the United States to become involved in World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor and suggested that the nation should be prepared to defend itself at all times.

Summary Overview

Less than a month after President Harry S. Truman declared the end of World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed a dinner convocation attended by members of the American Legion. Eisenhower told the audience of military veterans that the United States should maintain the strength of its armed forces. A nation that promotes peace and international law can only be respected when it possesses a strong military, Eisenhower said. The general argued that such a policy would not create a militaristic philosophy among Americans, but would instead continue to promote the traditional and peaceful cultural philosophies the nation has demonstrated since its beginning. Eisenhower reminded the audience of how long it took for the United States to become involved in World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor and suggested that the nation should be prepared to defend itself at all times.

Defining Moment

The latter years of World War II were marked by a number of high-profile events—most notably the invasion of France known as “D-Day.” However, a fact often overlooked is that the United States' entry into the war—prompted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941—took place two years after Germany invaded Poland, prompting England and France to declare war. Even after the United States' official declaration of war, it took several months for US troops to have significant involvement in combat. Among the issues preventing a more timely response were geography (the thousands of miles of ocean between the United States and battlefields in both Europe and the Pacific) and logistics (sending American troops to the optimal locations to engage Axis forces).

When the United States did reach the battlefield, however, the strength of the American armed forces was essential to an Allied victory. Working in partnership largely with English and French forces, US troops contributed heavily to the invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944–January 1945. In the Pacific, after sustaining heavy casualties during the year after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy began securing major victories at Midway and Guadalcanal (in June and August, respectively, of 1942) before dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, bringing the international conflict to a close.

The United States' participation in World War II was also marked by the personalities and leadership of the US armed forces. General George S. Patton, for example, was a charismatic and yet intense officer who almost lost his command after famously slapping two US servicemen who suffered from combat fatigue. Lt. Gen. Eisenhower, viewed by many early in his command as a reluctant leader, privately clashed with President Roosevelt in 1942. Eisenhower, the new commander of the US force in northern Africa, pushed for the United States to cross the English Channel and invade France in concert with the English forces instead of engaging Germany's weaker forces across the Mediterranean.

The overwhelming destruction caused by the two American atomic bombs in Japan, coupled with the performance of the US military in Europe, vaulted the United States to the status of international leader. Following the war's end, the nation's leaders began an assessment of the next step for the United States in light of this new position in the international community. Less than one month after President Truman declared an official end to the war, General Eisenhower was invited to a dinner hosted in Chicago by the National Commanders of the American Legion, where he offered his thoughts on the future of the country's armed forces.

Author Biography

Dwight David Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, on October 14, 1890. He was raised in Abilene, Kansas. Inspired by a childhood friend, who attended the US Naval Academy, Eisenhower gained admittance to the US Military Academy at West Point in 1911, graduating in 1915. In 1926, he graduated from the US Army's Command and General Staff School, leaving as an aide to General John Pershing. Two years later, he graduated from the Army War College and, shortly thereafter, accompanied General Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines. In 1942, he served as the commanding officer of the Army's European theater of operations, eventually leading Operation Torch in North Africa. A year later, he commanded the D-Day invasion of France. In 1952, he entered politics as a moderate Republican, winning the presidential election. He was reelected in 1956, earning his legacy as a prominent face of the Cold War. He retired from public service in 1961 and moved to a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He died on March 28, 1969.

Historical Document

For any soldier there is always a feeling of special satisfaction in receiving a summons to appear as an honored guest before a convocation of his own country's fighting men. Among all those that have worn their country's uniform in past wars there unfailingly exists a bond, a union, that can scarcely be felt by any one that is not of that band. Moreover, that feeling of brotherhood makes no particular note of the element in which the service of the individual was rendered, land, sea or air. It appears that the warrior who has returned to ways of peace automatically responds to the truism that a country's defenders are—and should be—one. Consequently I have a special pride and high sense of distinction in the honors accorded me today by this great Legion. Those honors I accept as a tribute to the services of 3,000,000 American fighting men that contributed so decisively to the defeat of Hitler and his hordes.

Associated with those Americans in a single Allied command were soldiers of other nations—the majority from the British Empire and large numbers from France. It is therefore particularly gratifying to me that there have appeared before this convention military representatives of those two great peoples, two men who served intimately with me in the Allied Expeditionary Force. This happy circumstance gives me opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Arthur Tedder, Marshal of the Royal Air Force and my deputy during all the operations in northwest Europe. A gallant leader and one of the finest airmen of the world, he was in every sense a true ally and a worthy representative of his country and of the more than 1,000,000 British Empire fighting men of all arms that marched shoulder to shoulder with the Americans through eleven months of bitter campaigning from the Normandy beachhead to final junction with the great Red Army in the heart of Germany.

Every American that served with me in Europe is proud to pay tribute to Sir Arthur Tedder and General Koenig, and to the fighting forces of their two countries. In equal measure we are proud of the magnificent work done by the Red Army and by the Allied forces that battled the long and tortuous way up the Italian peninsula to be present in the last few weeks in the final roundup of the once invincible Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe

Some members of that American Expeditionary Force of World War II are undoubtedly here today. Others of you are the fathers and older friends of the men who so courageously, loyally and successfully carried out the tasks that it was my responsibility to place before them in Europe. But whether of this war or of the one waged with equally brilliant results by the former generation, all of you here have special knowledge of things that our country must clearly understand and cannot afford to forget.

You have seen battle and you have experienced the tests it places upon man's moral and physical endurance, upon his skill and upon his ability to follow and to lead.

You understand, more than others, the indispensable requirement of teamwork upon the battlefield and you have seen the costs of disintegration, when the power derived from complete confidence in the union of the team disappears in the disorganization of purely individual action. In short, you understand and can bear witness to the priceless battlefield value of training. This value has persisted during all wars of history.

A question is: Does it still prevail?

We have just entered upon a scientific age which, in its most fearsome aspects, contains unimaginable threats for civilization. It may be possible that the time will come when the age-old virtues of physical and moral stamina, of courage, of patriotism, and of readiness for self-sacrifice will be meaningless to the nation's preservation. Conceivably—we are told—the day may come when any nation, no matter how small, if guided by perverted thinking, may suddenly unleash upon us or any other, destructive forces against which we would be powerless to defend ourselves. There is implied no limit to the capacity of science to reach the maximum in destructive effect unless that limit be found in the destruction of man himself. When the day of that capability comes, if it does, the only hope for the world as we know it will be complete spiritual regeneration, a strengthening of moral fiber that will place upon all men self-imposed determination to respect the rights of others.

To struggle toward the development of that world spirit is one of the noblest and most necessary efforts to which a man can devote himself. But to participate in that struggle does not, of itself, meet the requirements of today.

Three thousand years of recorded history lie behind us to prove that neither will the day of international order, nor that of complete spiritual regeneration, come suddenly and instantly. A thousand practical considerations always assure that the old gives way only gradually to the new! Although man has recoiled in fear from the introduction of gun powder and, later, explosives of multiplied power, although he has trembled at the advent of the big bomber, of the submarine, the tank, and pilotless missiles capable of reaching across hundreds of miles of distance, he has not yet been able to resolve his deep political and economic issues without recourse to violence. Neither has he sufficiently progressed in the development of moral and spiritual values as to compel him to adhere consistently to the principles inherent in his great historic religions.

We come then to this: We dwell in a world in which the possibilities of destruction are so great as to terrify peoples everywhere. Yet we must still acknowledge human weaknesses within ourselves and others. It is with this world that we must now concern ourselves, even as we reach toward and strive for a better one. I see no incompatibility between enlisting ourselves under the banner of peace based upon international co-operation and common appreciation of human value on the one hand and, on the other, the effort to make certain that our beloved country shall not become, the victim of predatory force. It is idle to say that our nation can never be endangered. Pearl Harbor should have effectively dispelled that delusion. It is equally idle to say that reasonable preparation to care for ourselves constitutes unwarranted suspicion of those who have been and whom we are glad to class as friends. We call war an emergency, and it is just that. Like all emergencies, it usually comes, at least to us, unexpectedly, and from quarters that are not revealed until too late.

From the time that Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 up until the moment when we were attacked in 1941, we had a few far-seeing statesmen that constantly pointed out to us the danger building up in Asia and Europe to ourselves and to our way of living.

Because we entertained no thought of aggressive war it was difficult, indeed, for us to ascribe to any other such a motive. And though, eventually we became sufficiently alarmed to undertake increased measures of preparation, Pearl Harbor Day found us with a pitifully small air force, an inadequate fleet, and a poorly equipped and badly trained Army.

To be strong nationally is not a sin, it is a necessity! We must be strong first to defend ourselves, secondly, to give the necessary dignity and influence to the words of our leaders as they labor to perfect machinery by which the world may settle its difficulties legally and peaceably, rather than illegally and by force. A weakling, particularly a rich and opulent weakling, seeking peaceable solution of a difficulty, is likely to invite contempt; but the same plea from the strong is listened to most respectfully.

We, as soldiers and veterans, bear the conviction that, given the latest and plentiful equipment, strength still springs from unity, from stamina, from teamwork and from perfected technique. These result from training! And training requires time! The minimum is a year!

With your knowledge of the difference between trained and untrained men in battle, what greater boon, what greater privilege could be given to all our young men than a degree of training which in emergency will allow them quickly to be integrated into the forces that may have to stand between our country and a thousand Buchenwalds? Even though we should become the victims of sudden and devastating raids, does anyone imagine that America would abjectly sue for peace at the price of surrendering the traditions of free life that have made her great?

Moreover, does anyone imagine that, even under these conditions, trained and disciplined men, ready to fight the conflagrations, to rescue the wounded and to rally instantly behind their leaders, would not be more valuable than an equal number of equally brave and courageous men that had no modicum of training?

A reasonable period of peacetime experience in teamwork, in the development of mutual confidence, in perfected technique of weapons, and in coming to comprehend the leadership and organization that are inherent in intelligent military instruction, would provide for our young men an opportunity they deserve, and would do much to give our nation justified confidence in the matter of national security.

We are still congratulating ourselves and giving thanks to the Almighty for the great victories that this year have crowned our efforts in both hemispheres. Yet let us not forget the circumstances of the early months of that war. From Dec. 7, 1941, it was eight months before we made our first relatively small counter-move, in the bitter Guadalcanal campaign of the western Pacific. It was eleven months before we attacked with our first few divisions in North Africa, and these, because of the circumstances of that year, were only sketchily trained. It was almost exactly two and one-half years from the day the Japs treacherously attacked us before we made our decisive move in Europe to cross the Channel. And it was several months more before we became strong enough in the Pacific to move definitely against the Philippines. The time we needed was gained for us by the courage of the British Empire, the sacrifices of Russia, and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the selfless devotion of the initially few American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in the Pacific theater. Thus, in two world wars, we have been dependent upon friends to protect us while we, over a period of many months, devoted feverish attention to repairing the woeful states of unpreparedness in which the outbreak of hostilities found us.

Let us now resolve to be reasonably forehanded in this matter, so far as it is possible for a peaceful citizenry to be.

There is another aspect to this question that deserves attention. Based upon numberless contacts with many people of other nations, I hold the conviction that no other country fears a strong America, no decent preparations of our own will be regarded suspiciously by others, because we are trusted. Indeed, I am convinced that others would interpret any return of ours to our former levels of unpreparedness as an intention to return to what we thought was isolation. They view with concern what they regard as our unseemly haste in disintegration of the mighty forces that did so much to bring Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito to their deaths or to their knees, A respectably strong America means to others a willingness on our part to bear our full share of the burdens of preserving peace—not an intention to resort to force for our own enrichment or advantage.

I know of no more sincere pacifists than American soldiers and veterans. No one could wish more passionately than they for the assurance that no longer need we devote any of our time and treasure to the maintenance of organizations whose very purpose is, and should be, negative rather than to constructive development of our country. No consideration of rank, renown, regard or personal advancement has the slightest weight with any officer of my acquaintance, as compared to his concern for peace and his country's welfare. Moreover, this problem does not primarily belong to the active soldier, except in an advisory capacity. The fighting forces of this country belong to you, our nation's citizens and voters. Your responsibilities are great—and the broader and deeper your knowledge on the requirements of security the more it devolves upon you to give to others that same understanding of the issue here involved.

I am told that the purpose of training all our youth, for their own good and for that of the country, is opposed by many of those to whom we have a right to look for spiritual and educational leadership. If this is true, I feel that it must arise from a reluctance to face realities, to study our own history, a history that amply provides the futility of chronic weakness and lack of training in preserving the peace. There appears to be a failure to understand that if we trust our own motives then our strength can never be that of the bully, but of the peacemaker. If we sincerely believe, as I believe, that the America of the future will be true to our traditions of the past; that we will respect the rights of others and be considerate of the weak; that we will work to increase the fruitfulness of the earth but will not steal from others to satisfy a desire of our own; that so far as it is given for mortals to do, we will act in the international field in the spirit of the golden rule—if we have faith in these things, then we and the world will be advantaged by our strength.

This country can never be militaristic in its thinking—and to pretend that a year of training will develop such a national philosophy can but be answered by yourselves. You—all of you—have military training—do you feel militaristic? Do you feel inclined to urge one country to adhere to a policy of aggressive war? I am perfectly satisfied—I leave that answer to you.

So, why should not we give our sons opportunity in time of peace so to prepare themselves that in the event of war they may, at a minimum risk to themselves, serve their nation as brilliantly, effectively and successfully, but with less delay, than you of World Wars I and II have already done. For in the event of another war it could well be that we would be the first rather than the last to be attacked.

With this great arsenal of democracy destroyed or defeated, while it was still unready and therefore weak, the aggressive assaults on other peace-loving nations would be less hazardous. But if we are strong—there will be given this hypothetical Hitler of the future no advantage in singling us out first for attack, and so he may be deterred by the lessons of two world wars from attempting any resort to force.

A strong America is a trained and an integrated America. Nowhere is that integration more necessary than in our armed forces. We must not think, primarily, in terms of ground forces, naval forces, air forces. We must think in terms of coordinated action. Every consideration of efficiency, economy and progress in research demands the closest possible unity among all our fighting forces, all the way from bottom to top. This great and necessary purpose, I believe, can be best achieved by unified control at the top.

And now, once more, may I say that the American and Allied forces that I had the high privilege to lead in Europe, join with you and with me in the devout hope that never again will the children of America be summoned from their peaceful pursuits to face the purgatory of battle.

You, here, can be an effective force in assuring realization of that hope.

Document Analysis

Eisenhower uses the platform provided to him by the American Legion to praise not only the Allied victory in World War II, but also the spirit and camaraderie of American military veterans. These men, Eisenhower says, are part of an organization that was dedicated both to defending the United States and to promoting international peace. Eisenhower tells his audience that the United States must continue to be prepared to protect itself—through war, if necessary—while promoting the traditional American values of freedom, democracy, and peace. Such a policy is not inherently militaristic, he argues. Instead, a strong, well-trained, and organized military lends a high degree of legitimacy to the United States as it seeks to become a world leader in the postwar era.

Eisenhower begins his speech by paying homage to the veterans before him as well as to the entire Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) that, in concert, defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan in Europe and the South Pacific. Every serviceman who took part in the war, he says, has seen battle and the benefits of his training to surviving on the battlefield. Despite the fact that the atomic bomb and pilotless missiles signal a new era in military technology, he says, it is the experience and knowledge of every survivor of World War II that will help the rest of the world appreciate the moral value of peace. However, Eisenhower cautions, not every nation or society will share this perspective. Indeed, the world saw such belligerence in the form of the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor, he suggests. War is an emergency, and “like all emergencies, it usually comes, at least to us, unexpectedly.”

It is, therefore, imperative that the US military continue to recruit, train, and enhance its armed forces, Eisenhower says. He reminds the audience that the United States was not only caught by surprise by the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet, but it was also slow to react in both the European and Pacific theaters even after the declaration of war had been issued. The United States was only successful because of the assistance of Britain, France, and the other Allies, he argues. When the emergency of war occurs in the future, the United States should learn from this experience and ensure that its armed forces are well-trained, organized, and prepared to respond with great vigor and strength.

Eisenhower says that, in addition to giving security to the nation, a strong military—which is “not a sin,… [but] a necessity”—lends credibility to a country that looks to confront would-be aggressors on the international diplomatic stage, effectively deterring them from considering attacking it. The United States' strength “can never be that of the bully.” The United States has a reputation in the world as a defender of the weak and a promoter of peace and democracy. Strengthening the armed forces, he argues, will not generate a culture of militarism; throughout American history, the reasonable actions of US soldiers and sailors prove that investment in enhanced military training does not lead to militarism. Rather, he assures, it is a prudent and sensible policy that protects the interests of the United States, both at home and abroad.

Essential Themes

Eisenhower arrived at the 1945 American Legion dinner with a celebratory eye on the American victory in World War II a month earlier and a cautionary eye toward the future. Eisenhower lauded his audience as well as the entire military (and the Allies), honoring their dedication and unity to preserving the United States and international peace. He also stressed the importance of the United States maintaining its military might, not only to avoid being caught unprepared again, but also to better keep the peace and to back up its authority as a major world power. The speech implied that no country that was truly a US ally would feel threatened by the country continuing to build the strength of its armed forces and emphasized that this would not encourage aggressive or militaristic behavior on the part of the United States.

The idea of the United States as international peacekeeper has remained a part of the country's self-image and building and maintaining a strong military has remained a major concern. Though Eisenhower eventually came to be critical of the military-industrial complex, devoting his final speech from the White House to warning of what he considered the dangers of its growing influence, the United States continues to devote significant resources to its armed forces.

In his farewell speech, President Eisenhower notes the end of World War II marked a turning point in the American conception of the military establishment and its role in peacetime. At the time, there was no permanent armaments industry, and there had generally been less focus on building national defense outside of wartime. However, as many in the government and armed forces felt that they had been caught unprepared by World War II, they began to believe that this model was no longer viable and that the nation should maintain a constant state of readiness for war. Thus, Eisenhower's 1945 speech illustrates a change in thought that would continue to affect US government policy for decades to come.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Atkinson, Rick. “Ike's Dark Days.” US News and World Report 133.16 (2002): 42. Print.
  • Darby, Jean. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century, 2004. Print.
  • “The Eisenhower Presidency, 1953–1961.” Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home. Natl. Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.
  • Freidel, Frank, & Hugh Sidey. “Dwight D. Eisenhower.” White House. United States Govt., 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.
  • “A Life in Brief: Dwight David Eisenhower.” Miller Center. U of Virginia, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.
  • Norton, Richard. “Rivals, Victors: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and the Partnership that Drove the Allied Conquest in Europe.” Naval War College Review, 65.2 (2012): 178–80. Print.
  • “World War II Time Line.” National Geographic. National Geographic Soc., 2001. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.
Categories: History