August 31, 2012

Labor Day, September 4, 1950, Ike opens the First Crusade for Freedom for Radio Free Europe

“Labor Day” in the United States is an annual national holiday that celebrates, on the first Monday of September, “the economic and social contribution of workers.“ Below, we will look at Labor Day 1950  and the Crusade for Freedom in support of Radio Free Europe (RFE).

On Labor Day, September 4, 1950, World War II hero Dwight David Eisenhower (“Ike”) passionately called for a Crusade for Freedom in a nation-wide radio broadcast heard over the four major radio networks in the United States (ABC, CBS, NBC and Mutual). The twelve-and-a-half-minute speech also was broadcast on a delayed basis by the Voice of America to an international audience.

Millions of Americans sat before their radios in the evening at 11:15 PM (Eastern Daylight Time), when Eisenhower delivered his prepared speech before an audience of 4,000 at the Denver City Auditorium, Denver, Colorado. Famed opera singer Laurence Melchior provided that evening’s entertainment leading up to the speech.

The next day, Eisenhower’s speech was printed in full, or in excerpts, in newspapers throughout the Untied States. Weekly news magazines Time and Newsweek had been given copies before the radio broadcast so they could include it in the September 4th issues.

This speech has been called "one of the hardest hitting anti-Communist speeches ever given by an American leader." It not only kicked off the Crusade for Freedom campaign in 1950, but also set its tone and provided the base for the decade’s political slogans used in advertising campaigns use to support both the Crusade for Freedom and RFE.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was then president of Columbia University and a director of the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) —the parent organization of RFE. Reportedly, he took four weeks to write the speech, which, in part he said:


Americans are dying in Korea tonight. They are dying for ideals they have been taught to cherish more than life itself; but it will be written and said tonight in Warsaw - in Prague - in Moscow, that they died for American imperialism.

I speak tonight about the Crusade For Freedom. This Crusade is a campaign sponsored by private American citizens to fight the big lie with the big truth. It is a program that has been hailed by President Truman, and others, as an essential step in getting the case for freedom heard by the world's multitudes.

Powerful Communist radio stations incessantly tell the world that we Americans are physically soft and morally corrupt; that we are disunited and confused; that we are selfish and cowardly; that we have nothing to offer the world but imperialism and exploitation.

We need powerful radio stations abroad, operated without government restrictions, to tell in vivid and convincing form about the decency and essential fairness of democracy These stations must tell of our aspirations for peace, our hatred of war, our support of the United Nations and our constant readiness to cooperate with any and all who have these same desires

One such private station Radio Free Europe —is now in operation in Western Germany. It daily brings a message of hope and encouragement to a small part of the European masses.

In this battle for Truth, you and I have a definite part to play during the Crusade. Each of us will have the opportunity to sign the Freedom Scroll It bears a declaration of our faith in Freedom, and of our belief in the dignity of the individual who derives the right of Freedom from God. Each of us, by signing the Scroll, pledges to resist aggression and tyranny wherever they appear on the earth. Its words express what is in all our hearts. Your signature on it will be a blow for liberty.

My friend General Lucius Clay – one of our great Americans – is directing the Crusade for Freedom.  Your contribution, great or small, will help him provide the means of bringing the truth to a region vital to our welfare.

The New York Times reported the next day, “Eisenhower Opens War on “The Big Lie.” At the grass roots level, newspapers reacted positively to the Eisenhower’s speech. Here are four examples:

  • The editor of The Anniston Star, Anniston, Alabama, wrote on September 7, 1950: “Here in Alabama the campaign is getting underway with enthusiasm as people find ‘something to do’ with countering Russian propaganda. The average man and woman long have wanted something concrete to do to help in the bitter struggle. The Crusade for Freedom is the answer.”
  • In another Alabama newspaper, the editor of The Gadsden Times wrote: “Gathering steam this week for an assault on Communist propaganda is what promises to be one of the greatest public expressions in the search for truth ever perpetrated in this country.” 
  • In Greenville, Mississippi, The Delta Democrat-Times editor wrote on September 6, 1950: “He told of a bold new plan to oppose the Soviet “big lie” with an American “big truth” and he rallied behind him the American people. There is no question but what he said is true...No man who benefits from being an American should refuse to give something to this program.”
  • The Independent Record, Helena, Montana, on September 18, 1950, carried a full-page advertisement for the upcoming Crusade for Freedom rally, with a photo of Eisenhower, the full speech, and headlined: “The Korean Situation is no joke ... the Hour is at hand when Freedom faces its greatest crisis ... Read! Act! Think! if you cherish your country, family and friends.  The Commies are ready; ARE YOU?”

The full text of Eisenhower’s 1950 speech can be viewed at Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Eisenhower’s Speeches, Crusade for Freedom, Denver, Colorado, September 4, 1950.

For an excellent detailed content analysis of the speech, see Martin J. Medhurst, Eisenhower and the Crusade for Freedom: the rhetorical origins of a Cold War campaign, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, 1997.

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