April is a month that has always been significant in various religions. Christians celebrate Easter (April 16), which is the renewal of life, the resurrection of a great leader. Passover (April 10-18) is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus, the freedom from slavery under the leadership of a great leader; and the Lailat al Miraj (April 23) is a Muslim holiday that celebrates a great leader's journey from Mecca to Jerusalem where he ascended to heaven.
Moses lead his enslaved people towards freedom in the Exodus in both Biblical and Hebrew texts.
Strangely, all these events seem to have a kind of similar cohesion and natural correlation to each other. So who are America's significant heroes, the Jesus, Moses and Muhammeds, the great leaders who changed the lives of their people for the better?
When I think of great American leaders on this day in April, two people immediately come to mind.
"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a journalist, five-star military General and the 34th President of the United States. After living through World War II, he saw the best and worst of humanity and realised that peace and negotiation were more powerful tactics than the continual funding of the military industrial complex. President Eisenhower established NASA, brokered the peace deal with Korea after President Truman had left Korea in ruins and put an end to McCarthyism - an era in which America's artists, writers, producers and many other critics of the U.S. government had been targetted and blacklisted under Senator Joseph McCarthy.
People protesting against the targetting of artists, producers and filmmakers during the McCarthy era. The practice of blacklisting people who criticised the govt began under President Truman's "loyalty security program" and was subsequently dismantled by President Eisenhower through an executive order.
"Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
A typical classroom during the Eisenhower Era in the 1950s. President Eisenhower established the National Defense Education Act and provided funding for many subjects including science, math, foreign language education, African studies and graduate fellowships.
During President Eisenhower's era, there was considerable economic prosperity. American families living during that era could live comfortably under one income, and they had job security. Public education was primarily free and President Eisenhower established the National Defense Education Act, which provided funding for science and foreign language education, in addition to supporting graduate fellowships to increase the number of graduate-level professionals and university professors. However, at the end of his term, President Eisenhower warned against the continual support and building of the military industrial complex.
"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
"We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
America's current total military spending is nearly twice its GDP.
President Eisenhower believed that out-of-control military spending will "bankrupt" the nation and instill an atmosphere of fear, where people could lose their civil liberties, something he dismantled when govt officials under President Truman began targetting American civilians, primarily artists, writers and journalists who criticised the government during the McCarthy Era. President Eisenhower believed that military spending will not only lead to economic decline, but also towards a kind of moral bankruptcy.
General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)
Another great American leader who also immediately comes to mind in this month of April was also a five-star military General: Douglas MacArthur. He too, understood the nature of war and lived through both World War I and World War II to believe that the ultimate goal of the United States was to engage in diplomacy and preserve the cultural identity of the people of other nations during an era in which President Truman and his advisers were quick to launch nuclear weapons.
"The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war." -General Douglas MacArthur
His disagreements with President Truman, a controversial figure who many historians and academics have criticised as having launched the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki whilst Japan was actively seeking peace and already sought to surrender. President Truman would lead the United States towards a path of "might is right" of jailing innocent civilians under his "loyalty program"; testing the atomic bomb, consequently killing hundreds of thousands of civilians for the purposes to further the goals of the military industrial complex.
The city of Hiroshima in ruins after President Truman detonated the first ever atomic bomb. At the time, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (who was an active military General) said: "The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing ... I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon." (From Eisenhower's memoirs: The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956). Both President Eisenhower and General MacArthur shared the same trajectory for peaceful resolutions.
General MacArthur came from a military family and became the U.S. army's youngest major general. After WWII, General MacArthur was in charge of the reforms in Japan, and he earned the nickname Gajin Shogun (foreign leader) and was the primary driver for protecting the Japanese Emperor from being indicted on war crimes, and instead lead his team and staff towards a peaceful occupation and rehabilitation of Japan, by preserving its cultural identity and history.
"Could I have but a line a century hence crediting a contribution to the advance of peace, I would gladly yield every honor which has been accorded me in war." -General Douglas MacArthur
General MacArthur also believed that during the Korean War, the people of Korea should be reunited - as it was their desire and their wish to do so. However, during the U.S. and Russian intervention to utilise Korea as a strategic, political access point to greater Asia, Korea had been divided in two - North and South, and left in perpetual chaos. General MacArthur's disagreement with President Truman to reunify the people of Korea lead directly to his early retirement.
General MacArthur (left) and President Truman (right). The two men did not get along.
What these two five-star military generals have taught us regarding American history is that the federal government's collaboration with an alliance of military contractors was most vulnerable to an abuse of power. President Eisenhower warned American citizens that only an "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" can counteract the military industrial complex with peaceful methods and goals.
"Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear - kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor - with the cry of grave national emergency." General Douglas MacArthur
When we examine our recent history - in regards to the Iraq War, Afghanistan, and currently our actions against Syria, we can see that what President Eisenhower and General MacArthur had warned of has indeed come to fruition.
Soldiers watch burn pits in Iraq. Burn pits are holes dug into the ground to burn everything from dead bodies to wasteful chemicals. These burn pits are linked to respiratory illnesses and cancer in American soldiers.
"Our country is now geared to an arms economy bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and an incessant propaganda of fear." General Douglas MacArthur
Whereas, these continual wars have left the American and British economies in great deficit, the companies who have profited from wars have been military defense contractors. Perhaps we need a reminder of what nearly happened during the financial crisis of 2008, when we were close to a complete global breakdown of our financial institutions to draw attention to what some of the economical consequences of war may be, through continual skyrocketing military spending to fund the military industrial complex.
President Donald Trump playing golf on holiday in Florida. President Trump has never served in the military and received five deferments to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. Most members of the U.S. Congress and House of Representatives have also never served in the military and have little to no direct military experience yet have ratified multiple bills for the advent of war.
It is easy to declare war and launch missiles when one has never been in a war. It is easy for politicians who have mainly lead privileged lives to agree to more military funding and declare wars on other nations, to send drones to kill innocent citizens, to launch multi-million dollar Tomahawk cruise missiles with a trigger-happy finger from the comfort of a luxury office whilst sipping on wines after a catered lunch. However, great American leaders, and decorated military generals who did live through the atrocities of war know better, and that the way towards American economic prosperity, to make America Great Again, is through the diplomacy of peace, to invest in its people and education.
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signified, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
What kind of a nation ignores its youth, its elderly and the poor? What kind of a nation can't provide health care for its poorest members? What kind of a nation utilises the propaganda tactics of fear to launch wars on other nations? Those are not the actions of a great nation. America's great story has always been about finding a refuge from war, of seeking opportunity, of paving new paths from the tyranny of other governments. America's great story has always been about the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone.
"America has evolved a model for this new free world... America has demonstrated that peoples of the East and peoples of the West may walk side by side in mutual respect and with mutual benefit." -General Douglas MacArthur
Zen Circles is an art form that is practiced amongst Zen Buddhists. It symbolizes absolute spiritual enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void. It signifies the idea that everything comes full circle, in that what we choose to invest in will come back to us.
The way towards making America great again is to continue that story, through the building of bridges, roads, ports and transportation links, to help build new trading routes, and to actively pursue a path towards peace through diplomatic relations. The way to make America great again is through a new era of economic prosperity through open trade with other nations. The way to make America great again is through support of our innovators: the scientists, artists, writers, engineers, teachers and architects who want to build bridges and roads, not missiles.
By Sierra Choi