The United States Rejects
the Use of Force in 1956
(October 31, 1956)
Excerpts of speech by President Dwight Eisenhower:
My Fellow Americans:
Tonight I report to you as your President.
We all realize that the full and free debate of a political campaign surrounds us. But the events and issues I wish to place before you this evening have no connection whatsoever with matters of partisanship. They are concerns of every Americanhis present and his future.
I wish, therefore, to give you a report of essential facts so that youwhether belonging to either one of our two great parties, or to neithermay give thoughtful and informed consideration to this swiftly changing world scene.
The changes of which I speak have come in two areas of the worldEastern Europe and the Mid-East.
[At this point the President spoke of events in Eastern Europe.]
I now turn to that other part of the world where, at this moment, the situation is somber. It is not a situation that calls for extravagant fear or hysteria. But it invites our most serious concern.
I speak, of course, of the Middle East. This ancient crossroads of the world was, as we all know, an area long subject to colonial rule. This rule ended after World War II, when all countries there won full independence. Out of the Palestinian mandated territory was born the new State of Israel.
These historic changes could not, however, instantly banish animosities born of the ages. Israel and her Arab neighbors soon found themselves at war with one another. And the Arab nations showed continuing anger toward their former colonial rulers, notably France and Great Britain.
The United Statesthrough all the years since the close of World War IIhas labored tirelessly to bring peace and stability to this area.
We have considered it a basic matter of United States policy to support the new State of Israel andat the same timeto strengthen our bonds both with Israel and with the Arab countries. But, unfortunately through all these years, passion in the area threatened to prevail over peaceful purposes, and in one form or another, there has been almost continuous fighting.
This situation recently was aggravated by Egyptian policy including rearmament with Communist weapons. We felt this to be a misguided policy on the part of the Government of Egypt. The State of Israel, at the same time, felt increasing anxiety for its safety. And Great Britain and France feared more and more that Egyptian policies threatened their "life line" of the Suez Canal.
These matters came to a crisis on July 26th of this year, when the Egyptian Government seized the Universal Suez Canal Company. For ninety yearsever since the inauguration of the Canalthat Company has operated the Canal, largely under British and French technical supervision.
Now there were some among our allies who urged an immediate reaction to this event by use of force. We insistently urged otherwise, and our wish prevailed through a long succession of conferences and negotiations for weekseven monthswith participation by the United Nations. And there, in the United Nations, only a short while ago, on the basis of agreed principles, it seemed that an acceptable accord was within our reach.
But the direct relations of Egypt with both Israel and France kept worsening to a point at which first Israelthen Franceand Great Britain alsodetermined that, in their judgment, there could be no protection of their vital interests, without resort to force.
Upon this decision, events followed swiftly. On Sunday [October 29] the Israeli Government ordered total mobilization. On Monday, their armed forces penetrated deeply into Egypt and to the vicinity of the Suez Canal, nearly one hundred miles away. And on Tuesday, the British and French Governments delivered a 12-hour ultimatum to Israel and Egyptnow followed up by armed attack against Egypt.
The United States was not consulted in any way about any phase of these actions. Nor were we informed of them in advance.
As it is the manifest right of any of these nations to take such decisions and actions, it is likewise our rightif our judgment so dictatesto dissent. We believe these actions to have been taken in error. For we do not accept the use of force as a wise or proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes.
To say thisin this particular instanceis in no way to minimize our friendship with these nationsnor our determination to maintain those friendships.
And we are fully aware of the grave anxieties of Israel, of Britain and of France. We know that they have been subjected to grave and repeated provocations.
The present fact, nonetheless, seems clear: the action taken can scarcely be reconciled with the principles and purposes of the United Nations to which we have all subscribed. And, beyond this, we are forced to doubt that resort to force and war will for long serve the permanent interest of the attacking nations.
Nowwe must look to the future.
In the circumstances I have described, there will be no United States involvement in these present hostilities. I therefore have no plan to call the Congress in Special Session. Of course, we shall continue to keep in contact with Congressional leaders of both parties.
I assure you, your government will remain alert to every possibility of this situation, and keep in close contact and coordination with the Legislative Branch of this government.
At the same time it isand it will remainthe dedicated purpose of your government to do all in its power to localize the fighting and to end the conflict.
We took our first measure in this action yesterday. We went to the United Nations with a request that the forces of Israel return to their own land and that hostilities in the area be brought to a close. This proposal was not adopted because it was vetoed by Great Britain and by France.
The processes of the United Nations, however, are not exhausted. It is our hope and intent that this matter will be brought before the United Nations General Assembly. Therewith no veto operatingthe opinion of the world can be brought to bear in our quest for a just end to this tormenting problem. In the past the United Nations has proved able to find a way to end bloodshed. We believe it can and that it will do so again.
My fellow citizens, as I review the march of world events in recent years, I am ever more deeply convinced that the processes of the United Nations represents the soundest hope for peace in the world. For this very reason, I believe that the processes of the United Nations need further to be developed and strengthened. I speak particularly of increasing its ability to secure justice under international law,
In all the recent troubles in the Middle East, there have indeed been injustices suffered by all nations involved. But I do not believe that another instrument of injusticewaris the remedy for these wrongs.
There can be no peacewithout law. And there can be no lawif we were to invoke one code of international conduct for those who oppose usand another for our friends.
The society of nations has been slow in developing means to apply this truth.
But the passionate longing for peaceon the part of all peoples of the earth compels us to speed our search for new and more effective instruments of justice.
The peace we seek and need means much more than mere absence of war. It means the acceptance of law, and the fostering of justice, in all the world.
To our principles guiding us in this quest we must stand fast. In so doing we can honor the hopes of all men for a world in which peace will truly and justly reign.