During the Vietnam war, America's younger generation broke from the older, and broke decisively. Student protesters besieged the White House, chanting "Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?" President Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon, fared no better, since his name suggested the clever, if obscene, "Dick Nixon before he dicks you." Mohammed Ali was drafted into the military and refused to go, famously declaring "no VietCong ever called me nigger." Exactly. What quarrel did he have with people halfway around the globe? Bigger concerns back home. If the 'kings' couldn't get along, how did that become his problem?
Back then, you heard a lot about the military-industrial complex, that cozy relationship between big business, the armed forces, and government, each feeding the other, thus facilitating perpetual war. Young people signaled they resented the manipulation, and would no longer stand for it. But where did that expression come from - military-industrial complex? Probably some long-haired, over-educated peacenik?
In fact, for those who believe in stereotypes, it came from the most unlikely of persons: Dwight D Eisenhower, nicknamed Ike, who served as Supreme Commander of Allied Troops during World War II. Afterwards, a grateful United States elected him President in 1952 and again in 1956. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, he cautioned of a growing military-industrial complex.
Now....this is not the type of warning you'd normally expect from a general or President. Patton wouldn't have said it. Nor would George Bush, who landed on that aircraft carrier crowing "Mission Accomplished!" Ike's children said Eisenhower originally intended to warn of a military-industrial-congressional complex, but he dropped the last term, for fear of annoying Congress.
But maybe that warning from the President is not so strange, considering Ike's background. Cruise the internet and you will find sites that describe him as the nation's only Jehovah's Witness President. Here, for example. I mean, it's right there on the internet, so it must be so, but could it really be? Jehovah's Witnesses don't usually join the military, let alone become Supreme Commander of Allied Troops. Nor do they enter politics, let alone become President.
As is often true about things pertaining to us on the internet, it's not true, but there's a grain of truth to it. Ike was raised in a Witness home, or at least, his mom was very active in the faith, though apparently not his dad. When Ike was a boy, his home was used for meetings. Ike and his brother left the Witnesses, but his mother remained active until her death. In the mid-seventies, Modern Maturity magazine ran this quote from Melvin Eisenhower, Ike's brother:
Mother and Father knew the Bible from one end to the other. In fact, Mother was her own concordance: Without using one, she could turn to the particular scriptural passage she wanted. . . . We had an ideal home for I never heard an unkind word between Father and Mother. They lived by the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion. (as quoted in Awake magazine, 4/22/75)
Yeah, that pretty well fits the profile of an active Witness. They usually know that Bible inside out.
During the Presidential election campaigns, Ike wanted to win. So did his handlers. Therefore, he played down his Witness connection, which would surely have sunk his campaign. (See Melvin's quote above, where the faith is cryptically referred to as "the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion." Don't you think he'd just say "Presyterian, if that's what it was? Doesn't it look as though he's trying to avoid mentioning something?) Ike let on he was raised 'Protestant' - a good catch-all term at the time for anything not Catholic or Jewish. I can't fault him for this. I mean, I can just see those political cartoonists skewering a Witness background....frankly, even I would have enjoyed a crack at it. There would be Ike and his wife standing in front of the White House, holding up the Watchtower. The emblazoned cover would cry: Can Presidents Bring Peace? Oh, yeah, they'd have had a field day with it!
Come to think of it, doesn't military-industrial-congressional complex sound a lot like the big business, big government, big military triumvirate that Jehovah's Witnesses used to carry on about? Or was it that big government and big military were combined as one, with the third slot going to big religion? I forget. That terminology (but not the thinking behind it) was dropped decades ago; old-timers still use it, but their numbers are dwindling fast. Ah, well, no matter. Close enough. I'll grant JWs credit for the phrase. As already stated, you'd normally expect a general and President to be cozy with any military-industrial-congressional complex. You wouldn't expect them to warn against it, as if like a prophet.
So maybe that JW background left its mark, after all.
Somehow, this all reminds me of Joel Engardio, another fellow who was raised a Witness, but who left because he wanted to make the world a better place now, rather than want to wait for some intangible God's Kingdom to come around and do it. Mr. Engardio is today a well-respected NPR journalist; a few years ago, he produced a documentary film about us called Knocking, one of the few fair shakes we've ever had from the media. I wrote about it here. (Another, more modest 'shake', is here.)
Did Eisenhower, too, leave the Witnesses because he wanted to make the world a better place now, and not later? After all, it seemed to most of the free world that civilization was at stake during the 2nd World War. World War I was billed as the war to end all wars. Alright, it hadn't turned out that way, but maybe one more try would do it. Besides, what choice was there? One had to respond to aggressors. Such was popular sentiment.
If so, Ike must, at least sometimes, have had second thoughts about the pathway to a better world. In the wake of the battle of Normandy, wasn't it he who wrote, 'one could walk hundreds of yards and step upon nothing but rotting human flesh'? And from his farewell 'military-industrial complex' address to the nation:
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war -- as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years -- I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
Yeah, don't we all. Does anyone think, though, that through human efforts, it's any closer in 2009 than it was in 1961?
The Oct 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a WWII soldier who became one of Jehovah's Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to speak with his superiors about his new-found neutrality went nowhere. So this fellow wrote Eisenhower's mom! Sometimes you have to do that.
One especially testy exchange turned around quickly:
As I entered the headquarters tent, where all the “top brass” had gathered, I didn’t salute.
One of the officers said: “Don’t you salute your superiors?”
Respectfully, I gave my reasons, based on my understanding of the Bible. At that the officer said: “General Eisenhower ought to line you Jehovah’s Witnesses up and shoot you all!”
“Do you think he would shoot his own mother, Sir?” I asked.
“What do you mean by that?” he shot back.
Reaching in my pocket and taking out Sister Eisenhower’s letter, I handed it to him. “I just received this letter from the General’s mother while waiting for you to call me.”
As he read the letter, which you see reproduced on the opposite page, the other officers also gathered around to look at it. Thoughtfully, and with a greatly changed attitude, he handed it back to me. “Get back to ranks,” he said, “I don’t want to get mixed up with the General’s mother.”
Mr. Richard Boeckel.
A friend returning from the United Announcers Convention of Jehovah’s witnesses, informs me of meeting you there. I rejoice with you in your privilege of attending such convention.
It has been my good fortune many times in the years gone by to attend these meetings of those faithfully proclaiming the name of Jehovah and his glorious Kingdom which shortly now will pour out its rich blessings over all the earth.
My friend informs me of your desire to have a word from General Eisenhower’s mother whom you have been told is one of the witnesses of Jehovah. I am indeed such and what a glorious privilege it has been in association with those of the present time and with those on back through the annals of Biblical history even to Abel.
Generally I have refused such requests because of my desire to avoid all publicity. However, because you are a person of good will towards Jehovah God and his glorious Theocracy I am very happy to write you.
I have been blessed with seven sons of which five are living, all being very good to their mother and I am constrained to believe are very fine in the eyes of those who have learned to know them.
It was always my desire and my effort to raise my boys in the knowledge of and to reverence their Creator. My prayer is that they all may anchor their hope in the New World, the central feature of which is the Kingdom for which all good people have been praying the past two thousand years.
I feel that Dwight my third son will always strive to do his duty with integrity as he sees such duty. I mention him in particular because of your expressed interest in him.
And so as the mother of General Eisenhower and as a witness of and for the Great Jehovah of Hosts (I have been such the past 49 years) I am pleased to write you and to urge you to faithfulness as a companion of and servant with those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus”.
There can be no doubt that what is now called the post-war period is the “one hour” mentioned at Revelation chapters 17 and 18. Ten here being a symbol not of just ten nations but rather of the whole number or all of the nations, then if we have a real League of Nations acting efficiently as a super guide to the nations of earth at the close of this war that should be ample proof.
Surely this portends that very soon the glorious Theocracy, the long promised Kingdom of Jehovah the Great God and of his Son the everlasting King will rule the entire earth and pour out manifold blessings upon all peoples who are of good will towards Him. All others will be removed.
Again may I urge your ever faithfulness to these the “Higher Powers” and to the New World now so very near.
Respectfully your in hope of and as a fighter for the New World,
Ida E. Eisenhower