Teaching With Documents, Volume 2

Contents:

"Out of Fear and Into Peace": President Eisenhower’s Address to the United Nations

According to one of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s biographers, Stephen E. Ambrose, President Eisenhower’s proposal of "Atoms for Peace," made to the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1953, was "the most generous and most serious offer on controlling the arms race ever made by an American President." The immediate response in the U.N. audience to Eisenhower’s surprising proposal in the U.N. assembly was complete silence, followed by rousing cheers. The long-range response was not as encouraging.

In the proposal, Eisenhower cited a U.N. resolution of November 18, 1953, "that the Disarmament Commission study the desirability of establishing a subcommittee consisting of representatives of the powers principally involved, which should seek in private an acceptable solution . . . and report on such a solution to the General Assembly and to the Security Council not later than 1 September 1954." He then proposed that the governments principally involved (the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and the Soviet Union) stockpile normal uranium and fissionable materials and that an International Atomic Energy Agency be set up under the aegis of the United Nations. The International Atomic Energy Agency would impound, store, and protect the materials and devise methods for allocating them for such peaceful pursuits as agriculture, medicine, and electrical energy.

The featured document is the first seven pages of Eisenhower’s "Atoms for Peace" address as printed by the Department of State. It is part of the Publications of the United States Government, Record Group 287, (S 1.71:85) and the holdings of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

Eisenhower begins the speech with praise for the United Nations and introduces a theme of hope, which he uses throughout the address. In a "new language"—"the language of atomic warfare"—he outlines pertinent data about atomic development and military buildup, and he candidly discusses the danger and fear in the world resulting from such a buildup of atomic power. Unwilling to accept a vision of the world doomed to annihilation and destruction, Eisenhower appeals to "mankind’s never-ending quest for peace, and mankind’s God-given capacity to build."

Affirming the willingness of the United States to meet at the conference table, Eisenhower expresses the hope that such meetings will "eventually bring about a free intermingling of the peoples of the East and of the West." The President refers to the record of "deeds of peace’ by nations of the West, then declares U.S. willingness to explore a new avenue of peace.

Eisenhower then makes his dramatic proposal for joint atomic contributions for peaceful pursuits, listing the advantages of such a plan asencouraging worldwide investigation into peacetime uses of fissionable material, diminishing the destructive stockpiles, focusing attention of all peoples on human aspirations rather than on military buildup, and opening a new channel for peaceful discussion.

He concludes the speech with a pledge that the United States will "devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life."

In the days following the speech, there was no substantive reaction from the Soviet Union. In fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency was not even created until 1957. Ambrose echoed a widely held opinion, "A great opportunity was lost!"

As a second effort, during the Geneva summit meeting of July 18-23, 1955, Eisenhower presented another Atoms for Peace plan, along with proposals for cultural exchanges and an "Open Skies" plan for mutual aerial inspection to guarantee against surprise attacks. Although a spirit of cooperation was evident, no agreement was reached. Finally, on March 2, 1956, Eisenhower made a formal proposal to Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin. Stating that, "My ultimate hope is that all production of fissionable materials anywhere in the world will be devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes," Eisenhower repeated his proposal for an Open Skies inspection system with on-site inspection teams to observe military establishments and for the abandonment of fissionable materials used to make bombs. Bulganin refused the proposal.

Eisenhower’s bold efforts to halt nuclear buildup and redirect the momentum toward peaceful pursuits were disappointingly unsuccessful. Note: The remaining pages of this document are available from the education staff of the National Archives and Records Administration, telephone 202-501-6172.

TEACHING ACTIVITIES

1. Introduce the document using the background information given. Provide students with a copy of the speech excerpt and ask them to read it and underline the key words and phrases. Compile this list on the chalkboard and discuss with your students the meanings, the connotations, and the intellectual and emotional effects of these key words and phrases.

2. Ask the students to explain the reaction of the U.N. audience and the response of the Soviets. Then ask them to find out how Eisenhower’s U.N. proposal and response compares to Gorbachev’s 1986 Reykjavik proposal and response in a reverse situation.

3. Direct students to compile data on the nuclear buildup in the United States today and compare it with the data given by Eisenhower in the speech. Ask them to bring up to date Eisenhower’s 1953 list of governments with nuclear capability. Ask them what proposals they would like the current President to make to the United Nations or to the Russians and other principal powers.

4. Ask students to collect recent news stories on the effects of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Discuss with them the advantages and disadvantages of such uses of nuclear power. They might translate their responses into cartoons, editorials, petitions, or posters.

5. Using information in the textbooks and other resources available, ask the students to trace and then record on a time line the events and personalities of atomic military buildup from President Harry S. Truman to the Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

6. Pair the students and ask them to imagine aloud what the world might be like today if the Soviets had accepted Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace proposal. Allow time for the pairs to share their ideas with the rest of the class.


Click the image to view a larger version


Click the image to view a larger version

7. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program provoked considerable controversy. Many people looked upon the proposal as a major blunder because the program would spread the means for producing nuclear weapons worldwide, inevitably to unstable regions. In retrospect, the intent to rely extensively on nuclear power, with its attendant problems of reactor safety and radioactive waste disposal, is also alarming. Ask one or two good students to research the controversy and report on it orally, critiquing the ramifications for both offensive and peaceful uses of nuclear power. Issues deserving attention include

• the development of nuclear weapons in the Third World, in such nations as India;

• the availability of technology and fissionable materials to terrorists; and

• the increased probability of reactor accidents such as those at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

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Chicago: "Out of Fear and Into Peace: President Eisenhower’s Address to the United Nations," Teaching With Documents, Volume 2 in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. Wynell B. Schamel (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, 1998), 224–228. Original Sources, accessed December 12, 2019, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PLVDE9NNLFQZBN1.

MLA: . ""Out of Fear and Into Peace": President Eisenhower’s Address to the United Nations." Teaching With Documents, Volume 2, in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, edited by Wynell B. Schamel, Vol. 2, Washington, D.C., National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, 1998, pp. 224–228. Original Sources. 12 Dec. 2019. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PLVDE9NNLFQZBN1.

Harvard: , '"Out of Fear and Into Peace": President Eisenhower’s Address to the United Nations' in Teaching With Documents, Volume 2. cited in 1998, Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. , National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, Washington, D.C., pp.224–228. Original Sources, retrieved 12 December 2019, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PLVDE9NNLFQZBN1.