Saturday, 15 October 2011

'The first citizen of the world'

Main Street, Denison, Texas
I began to write this post last night, and had to abandon it because the signal was too weak to maintain an internet connection on the island. The subject - the excuse - was the anniversary of a great man's birth, so at first I thought I had missed the boat; but just now I was struck by the absurdity of that idea: the man himself is not here, at least in any corporeal sense, to celebrate or otherwise, since he died in March 1969 - and what's in a date?

That his birthplace was Denison, Texas won't help you with his identity unless, like a lawyer friend of mine in Edinburgh, your special subject is 'Presidents of The United States'. Nor will the fact that he was a military man - just over half the presidents in history were soldiers before they took office (including, incidentally, one of the most colourful, whose father was born an hour from here in County Antrim - Andrew 'Old Hickory' Jackson). If I said that he was responsible for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1962, you might jump to the conclusion that I was talking about John F Kennedy. The oldest president in office? Well, at the time he was  - but he was a mere 70 when he left office, which rules out Ronald Reagan, who was 77.

A few more people than normal may have thought of this man recently, with the Institute of Fiscal Studies' prediction that child poverty in the UK would rise to around a quarter of all children by 2020, and the moral question, as to spending priorities, that that statistic poses, because he once said, 'Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone, it is spending. . . the hopes of its children.' For a career soldier, quite a quote.

He was one of two men considered by Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the job of Supreme Commander, Allied Forces in 1942. The other was General George Marshall; so there you have it - Dwight D (for David) 'Ike' Eisenhower, architect of victory in Europe and judged by historians one of the ten most effective presidents in history, was born in Denison, Texas on 14th October 1890, one hundred and twenty-one years ago . . .yesterday.

When Eisenhower died, Richard Nixon said: 'Some men are considered great because they lead great armies or they lead powerful nations. For eight years now, Dwight Eisenhower has neither commanded an army nor led a nation; and yet he remained through his final days the world's most admired and respected man, truly the first citizen of the world.'

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