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I'm a native-level English speaker but the meaning of this phrase is not obvious to me.

Context (emphasis mine):

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 are not clothed.

My first guess is that it means the theft is final because it destroys economic value irreversibly, but I'm not sure whether it's correct. Another guess is that it means that it will be judged as theft in the eyes of God (i.e., the final judgement).

  • It's an allusion to Guns and Butter. – Mick Oct 21 '16 at 22:29
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    The bottom line is that every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired represents a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 21 '16 at 22:34
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Eisenhower meant "in the final analysis" or "when you get right down to it".

  • Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final analysis, a theft from...

"in the final analysis"- - in truth; when all the facts are known; when the truth becomes known. (Usually used when someone is speculating about what the final outcome will be.)

"In the final analysis, it is usually the children who suffer most in a situation like this. In the last analysis, you simply do not want to do as you are told!"

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I think that your understanding (final paragraph of OP) of the phrase-in-context, "in the final sense", falls short of what Eisenhower intended you to understand by his statement. If we think of this phrase as conveying the notion that spending billions of dollars on weapons of war will ultimately deprive needy people of food and clothing then there is no need to complicate matters by ascribing economic loss and/or God's judgement to his statement.

President/General Eisenhower invites us to think about an alternative existence, a Utopian world, where universal peace reigns and a country's money is better spent on feeding the hungry and clothing the poor than on weapons intended for use in defense or waging war. The word "theft" is used metaphorically.

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