Address at the Sixth National Assembly of the United Church Women, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Mrs. Wyker, Governor Driscoll, distinguished guests, and representatives of America' s church women:
For the cordiality of your welcome, I am deeply grateful, and I would hope that through this group I could thank each of the citizens of this city who stood along the road as the cavalcade came in from the airport and who were so gracious in their greetings. For every smile I saw, I am truly grateful--if it was meant for me.
At the outset of my talk, I should like to express, first, my appreciation of the honor I feel in speaking before this assemblage. An invitation to occupy this platform would confer distinction upon any man--perhaps I should say any mere man; for you are gathered here in high purpose, inspired by an unshakeable faith in yourselves, in your country and in your God.
I can hardly hope that my words can further your purpose or deepen your three-fold faith.
That faith, immeasurable and imponderable, daily exemplified in millions of American families, is the prune strength of our great Nation. It is the very basis of our society. And it is the most heartening support for those whose obligation is to represent you in the conduct of national affairs, and community affairs.
Though I cannot enhance the spiritual wealth that is yours, perhaps I can, by identifying some of the circumstances of today that emphasize the value of this faith, encourage you to spread its influence into every human activity in every community across our land.
Now, of course, the cynic--the Marxist, or the worshipper of machines and numbers--will scoff that faith is no armor against artillery, that the spirit weakens fast before the blast of the bomb. But your husbands and brothers and fathers can testify that in the terrifying nakedness of the battlefield, the faith and the spirit of men are the keys to survival and victory.
Now, faith is evidently too simple a thing for some to recognize its paramount worth. Yet the present and the future demand men and women who are firm in their faith in our country and unswerving in their service to her. This is true in every basic unit of our political and social life--'m the family, the community, the State, and the Nation.
This audience peculiarly symbolizes the smallest and the most important of these units--the American family. We of America have always recognized that the soundness of our Nation depends primarily upon the quality of our home and family life.
Now, while our homes have witnessed scarcely any of the horrors of the battlefield that are so familiar to citizens of Western Europe, we know that our former unique physical security has almost totally disappeared before the long-range bomber and the destructive power of a single bomb.
Today we are face to face with the most extraordinary physical development of all time--the application of nuclear fission and nuclear fusion to the world's armaments.
These discoveries in the field of science present in themselves no threat to man. Like other scientific developments, they are susceptible to good or evil use, depending upon the intent of the individual or group possessing them.
The mysteries of the atom are known to Russia. Russia's hostility to free government--and to the religious faith on which free government is built--is too well known to require recital here. It is enough for us to know that even before Russia had this awesome knowledge, she by force gained domination over 600 million peoples of the earth. She surrounded them with an Iron Curtain that is an effective obstacle to all intellectual, economic, and spiritual intercourse between the free world and the enslaved world. Now, of these two worlds, the one is compelled by its purpose of world domination, the other by its unbreakable will to preserve its freedom and security to devote these latest discoveries of science to increasing its stockpiles of destructive armaments.
Man's greatest scientific achievement, therefore, cannot yet be made exclusively to serve the advancement of man's welfare and happiness. Instead we are forced to concentrate on building such stores of armaments as can deter any attack against those who want to be free.
Men of faith everywhere must gain a broader understanding of these potentials, both destructive and constructive.
We must certainly make sure that all the world comprehends, in simplest terms, the paramount alternatives of our day. The first of these alternatives is a wasteful and devastating contest in the production of weapons of inconceivable power. The other alternative is a world ever advancing in peace and prosperity through the cooperative effort of its nations and peoples.
The choice that spells terror and death is symbolized by a mushroom cloud floating upward from the release of the mightiest natural power yet uncovered by those who search the physical universe. The energy that it typifies is, at this stage of human knowledge, the unharnessed blast. In its wake we see only sudden and mass destruction, erasure of cities, the possible doom of every nation and society.
This horror must not be.
This titanic force must be reduced to the fruitful service of mankind.
This can come to pass only as one of the results of shaping a firm and just and durable peace.
Such a peace cannot be achieved suddenly by force, by edict, or by treaty. It can come only slowly and tortuously. It will not be won by dark threats or glittering slogans. It will be born only of courage, knowledge, patience, leadership.
To strive faithfully for this peace--even as our science constantly develops new methods of mass destruction--imposes upon us a host of intricate labors. We and our friends in the free world must build, maintain and pay for a military might assuring us reasonable safety from attack. From this position of secure confidence, we must seek to know and respond to the legitimate aspirations and hopes of all peoples. We must arrange trade systems that will provide each with the necessaries of life and opportunity for self-advancement. We must seek to understand and resolve age-old prejudices, ambitions and hatreds that still scar great parts of the whole world. And they must be removed, or at least ameliorated. We must provide machinery and techniques to encourage that peaceful communication and mutual confidence which alone can finally lift the burden of arms from the backs of men.
Now, these are some of the grand labors before us--the tasks and tests and problems that span the world.
For the spirit that will resolve them, however, we need not seek the source in distant places.
I deeply believe that one of the supreme hopes for the world's destiny lies in the American community: in its moral values, in its sense of order and decency, in its cooperative spirit.
We know--and all the world constantly reminds us--that the future well-being of humanity depends directly upon America's leadership.
I say emphatically that this leadership depends no less directly upon the faith, the courage, the love of freedom and the capacity for sacrifice of every American citizen, every American home, every American community.
I wish there were words of mine that could bring this truth home more certainly to each of us. I do not mean merely or only that our government and our leadership is the product of the qualities of each of us multiplied by 160 million. I mean more this: the example we give the world when we talk about noble virtues that are necessary if civilization is to attain that future for which it was designed, and for which obviously the Almighty intended.
We speak of sacrifice. If each of us would search our own memories; how often have we, as we urged economy upon government, local, city or state, urged that something not be given to us? "Don't build us a new post office; we don't need it; ours is good enough. Build it for the other city. Don't give me free postage, make me pay for what it costs to carry the letter."
What I am trying to get at is that America's policies abroad, to have any force, must be the reflection of the attitudes and qualities displayed by our people. No individual--no group of individuals, however brilliant, however eloquent, can possibly do any effective work in leading the world toward peace unless back of them is the mightiest force yet developed on God's footstool, and that is the force of a united America--an America determined to do a real and constructive job.
This means then, that there is a clear and compelling answer to the question in the hearts of all of us: how can we better fit ourselves to be worthy of freedom, to guard its virtues, to enjoy its bounty?
That answer is: by making each life, each home, each community more worthy of the trust it bears for all mankind.
This worthiness will come in the measure that we show ourselves truly convinced that the central facts of human life are human freedom, human fights, human obligations--all expressing that human dignity which is a reflection of man's divine origin and destiny.
Our purpose is to grow even beyond the golden dreams of our forebears--in material wealth, in intellectual stature, in spiritual strength. But to do so, each citizen and every community must match the founders of this Nation in fiery independence, confident optimism, sturdy self-reliance, and we must sustain that capacity for conquering difficulties that has always been a quality of America.
With this spirit, each of you, each of us--like, indeed, every American citizen--can arouse your own community to renewed awareness of the promise of freedom.
With your neighbors, you can join in work that even as it remakes your own town or hamlet helps remake the world.
For it is within your power to reach for, and to attain, that day when you and all your neighbors can proudly say:
"These things-here--in this community--we are faithful to freedom.
"Here in this town, our public schools are staffed and equipped to train our children splendidly, to be free and responsible citizens."
Ladies, not so long ago, I met with a small group of people, and their purpose was to complain to me about certain things in our public school system. And they directed some criticism at school teachers, and what these teachers thought--their policies, the philosophy they were teaching.
And I asked this group one question only. I said: "You recognize a teacher's great opportunity for influencing your children's future, for the planting of good thoughts or bad thoughts, for the teaching of a sound philosophy, or one that is based on falsity. Have you had that teacher in your home? Have you had her, or him, to dinner? Have you taken the trouble to find out for yourself what is the philosophy of these people to whom you are entrusting the most priceless possession you have, your children?"
"Now,"I said, "many people have not been hesitant to join the ranks of the critics and say these teachers are not doing a good job. Then why haven't you done your part of the job--brought them in, talked to them, to see whether you could straighten them out, or get ones of which you approved?"
What I am trying to bring home, my friends, is that as we see difficulties and defects in the body politic, in the social order, we must never attempt, before our own consciences, to dodge our own responsibilities.
And so we can say that, "Our teachers, loyal citizens to their free country, enjoy true freedom of thought, untrammeled by political fashion or expediency."
And we should go on and be able to say, "Here in this city our libraries contain everything that can add to man's enlightenment and understanding--respecting common decency but disdaining any other censorship.
"Here our ministers and Sunday school teachers command the respect that they so justly earn in teaching our sons and our daughters the love of the Almighty.
"Here our hospitals and our clinics give faithful care to all who are sick and cannot help themselves.
"Here in this community, our people--all our people--have the chance to enjoy the arts, to learn, to become intimate friends with the heritage of freedom.
"Here we rely not primarily upon government grant or political panacea but upon our own wisdom and industry to bring us the good and comforting things of life.
"Here we know not the sight or smell of slums that choke the spirit of men.
"Here all of us work to make our processes of government the best, the most honest and the most just, known to any men.
"Here we have welcomed with our hearts new citizens from distant lands, and here we thank them for the strength they have added to our own.
"Here there is true equality of opportunity for work, for education, for enjoyment of all freedom's blessings--for we know that whatever we have and hold is the work and the treasure of men of all races and color and creeds.
"Here, in this community, in short, any free man can be proud to live."
My friends, all that I have tried to express to you rests upon one truth in which I firmly believe. I tried to speak it on the day last January when I took the oath of office as President of the United States. That truth is:
"Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world, must first come to pass in the heart of America."
I know no more plain or pure ideal to which we can pledge our lives.
I know of no other way we can prove worthy of freedom.
For the very great honor of your invitation, my friends, I thank you once more.
Note: The President spoke in the Auditorium in Atlantic City at 11:55 a.m. In his opening words he referred to Mrs. James D. Wyker, President of the United Church Women, National Council of Churches, and to Governor Alfred E. Driscoll of New Jersey.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address at the Sixth National Assembly of the United Church Women, Atlantic City, New Jersey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232112