Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is an energy and international affairs expert and chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College:
“I’ve always found it rather haunting to watch old footage of my grandfather, Dwight Eisenhower, giving his televised farewell address to the nation on Jan. 17, 1961. The 50-year-old film all but crackles with age as the president makes his earnest, uncoached speech. I was 9 years old at the time, and it wasn’t until years later that I understood the importance of his words or the lasting impact of his message.
Of course, the speech will forever be remembered for Eisenhower’s concerns about a rising “military-industrial complex,” which he described as “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions” with the potential to acquire – whether sought or unsought – “unwarranted influence” in the halls of government.
The notion captured the imagination of scholars, politicians and veterans; the military-industrial complex has been studied, investigated and revisited countless times, including now, at its 50th anniversary. Looking back, it is easy to see the parallels to our era, especially how the complex has expanded since Sept. 11, 2001. In less than 10 years, our military and security expenditures have increased by 119 percent. Even after subtracting the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the budget has grown by 68 percent since 2001. In 2010, the United States is projected to spend at least $700 billion on its defense and security, the most, in real terms, that we’ve spent in any year since World War II.
However, at this time of increased concerns over our fiscal deficit and the national debt, Eisenhower’s farewell words and legacy take on added significance…
… As I see my grandfather’s black-and-white image deliver these words, a simple thought lingers in my mind: This man was speaking for me, for us. We are those grandchildren. We are the great beneficiaries of his generation’s prudence and sacrifice.
Until today, perhaps, we have taken American leadership, dominance and prosperity for granted. In those intervening years, we rarely asked if our policies were sustainable over the long haul. Indeed, it has only been since the catastrophic financial meltdown in 2008 that we’ve begun to think about the generational responsibilities we have for our grandchildren’s prosperity and welfare.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation after presiding over the oft-cited golden days of the 50’s (the model for the ‘give us back our country’ shouters). By today’s margins good old Ike would be the most flippy-floppy wishy-washy liberal east of the Hudson River. We are honored to reproduce his common-sense thoughts that still stand up to today’s much changed standards and methods of scrutiny and analysis, and include the thoughts of Susan Eisenhower, his granddaughter.
Good evening, my fellow Americans.
First, I should like to express my gratitude to the radio and television networks for the opportunities they have given me over the years to bring reports and messages to our nation. My special thanks go to them for the opportunity of addressing you this evening.
Three days from now, after half century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor. This evening, I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.
Like every other – Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.
Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation. My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and finally to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years. In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation good, rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling – on my part – of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.
We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential, and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches, and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.
Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension, or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insiduous [insidious] in method. Unhappily, the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research – these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.
But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs, balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages, balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable, balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual, balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress. Lack of it eventually finds im
balance and frustration. The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their Government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of threat and stress.
But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. Of these, I mention two only.
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known of any of my predecessors in peacetime, or, indeed, by the fighting men of World
War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations – corporations.
Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence –economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowl
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edgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and
military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that
security and liberty may prosper together.
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military
posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In
this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized,
complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or
at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by
task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion,
the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific
discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because
of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually
a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now
hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the
nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power
of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we
must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could
itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and
other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system –
ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we
peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid
the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience
the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material
assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political
and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to
come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.
During the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this
world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of
dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust
and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must
come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected
as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though
scarred by many fast frustrations – past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for
the certain agony of disarmament – of the battlefield.
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.
Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with
intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent, I
confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite
sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering
sadness of war, as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy
this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of
years, I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate
goal has been made. But so much remains to be done. As a private
citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance
along that road.
So, in this, my last good night to you as your President, I thank you for the
many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and in peace.
I trust in that – in that – in that service you find some things worthy. As for the
rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.
You and I, my fellow citizens, need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under
God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving
in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit
of the Nations’ great goals.
To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s
prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races,
all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied
opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom
may experience its few spiritual blessings. Those who have freedom will understand,
also, its heavy responsibility; that all who are insensitive to the needs
of others will learn charity; and that the sources – scourges of poverty, disease,
and ignorance will be made [to] disappear from the earth; and that in the
goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed
by the binding force of mutual respect and love.
Now, on Friday noon, I am to become a private citizen. I am proud to do so. I
look forward to it.
Thank you, and good night.