Eisenhower’s Twin Warnings: Fresh as Today’s Headlines

 

I like Ike buttonWe live in a moment when both military and civilian “servants” act as masters of us all. President Eisenhower saw this threat clearly 60 years ago but was ignored by both left and right and by both major political parties. According to the presidential archives, Eisenhower conceived his farewell address as a short speech, about 10 minutes long. When he delivered it on television, on Jan. 17, 1961, it took 15 minutes. In 1960, 87% of American households had a television set, so this was experienced as a live address in people’s living rooms. The whole address is worth reading and watching. Sadly, even in the first years after President Eisenhower’s remarks, his memorable phrase “military-industrial complex” swallowed up attention to the other equal danger of which he warned: a civilian technical elite intertwined with government.

Here is President Eisenhower’s farewell address, as delivered. The transcript to the press did not capture Eisenhower’s changes, so I added in his handwritten changes, using italics, and struck through any words he struck through. Square brackets set off my brief remarks and the core of the speech, where the two great threats are identified and explained. The underlined words are original to Eisenhower’s reading copy. The documents are available online at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

Transcript of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address (1961)

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 privilege of addressing you this evening.

[This new introduction was added entirely by hand, a personal note to a powerful new media.]

THREE DAYS from now, after half a 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 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 national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward.

[President Eisenhower faced a Democrat-controlled Congress for his last six years in office.]

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 the many decades of 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 people and among nations.

To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people.

And — Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our own lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

[Note President Eisenhower’s characterization of Americans as free and religious, in contrast to a hostile, atheistic, ruthless, and insidious ideology, communism. He lays out the danger, cautioning that the struggle will be long and not amenable to quick, simple solutions, including a military solution. President Eisenhower had already succeeded in getting “under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance and supported the legislation that added “In God We Trust” to all U.S. coins and paper money. Congress had legislated an annual National Day of Prayer in 1952.]

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 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 defense; 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 which 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 cost and hoped for advantage-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 action of the moment and the national welfare of the future.

Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

The record of many decades long years 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 stress and threat.

But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise.

I mention two only.

*****

[Start 1966 Congressional Record excerpt. Both internal threats were read into the record.]

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 by any of my predecessors in peace time, 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 now 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 more than the net income of all United State corporations.

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 state house, 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 knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

[Everyone knows the shorthand of this first threat. Eisenhower explained it far more subtly than those who throw out the catchphrase. Then he transitions to a second threat, linked by government dollars and industrial demands for new weapons technology. Yet, this second threat is far more than an outgrowth of defense spending. Rather, it feeds off the growth of the permanent bureaucracy with power over all areas of American life, justified by claims of politically neutral expertise, not properly subject to public opinion and legislative supervision. The notion of public administration as a neutral science that ought to be insulated from politics comes into American thought through Woodrow Wilson’s 1887 article, “The Science of Administration.”]

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 over shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields.

In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free new ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research.

Partly because of the huge great 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.

[END 1966 Congressional Record excerpt, with the remark added: “The American Veterans Committee wholeheartedly endorses General Eisenhower’s remarks and intends to use its energy and resources to study the military-industrial complex in its many ramifications for the Nation.” Not one word about the second threat, obscured by the easily remembered phrase. The American Veterans Committee was founded after World War II as a left-of-center alternative to the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was much smaller, especially after it purged its membership roles of all the card-carrying communists. So, the left seized on a center-right president’s remarks in part. Why did conservatives not respond to Eisenhower’s speech with equal concern about the second threat?]

*****

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.

*****

DOWN 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 past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

DISARMAMENT, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.

Together we must learn how to compose difference, 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 peace.

I trust that in that service you find somethings 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 one day 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 Nation’s great goals.

TO ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing inspiration:

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 spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the 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.

Thank you — and goodnight.

As you mull over the realization of the twin threats of which President Eisenhower warned, I leave you with this brief address and news conference by President Truman. Truman says some generals or admirals in every war have ideas that they are bigger than the president and will not be deterred by prior examples of firing, pointing to Lincoln and his generals. Thoroughly postmodern Milley, then, is but the latest in a long line of insubordinate senior military men.

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  1. Jim Chase Member
    Jim Chase
    @JimChase

    Clifford A. Brown:

    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 over shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields.

    In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free new ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research.

    Partly because of the huge great 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.

    More than public policy … the public itself.  Eisenhower may have believed that it was the responsibility of “statesmen” (the politician) to maintain balance, but with the demise of the statesman, well, we can see where that’s leaving us – subject to the state.  So much to unpack in the above section. 

    • #1
  2. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Clifford A. Brown: As you mull over the realization of the twin threats of which President Eisenhower warned

    After Covid, I don’t know which industrial complex (military or technical) have a higher body count.  But I don’t worry about the distinction that much as our technical industrial complex is merging with our military industrial complex to become a single “SkyNet” overlord industrial complex.   Google+Facebook+NSA+Banking+Healthcare all merged into an omniscient and omnipotent political juggernaut.   If you don’t like living BY THEIR rules and working FOR THEIR profits, you are free to live in the woods and eat bugs.  Ike warned us and we ignored him.

    • #2
  3. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    We have met the enemy, and the enemy is the Democrat-Big Media industrial Complex.

    Great find, @cliffordbrown!

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Excellent post, Clifford. I especially liked this comment.

    Clifford A. Brown: 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 cost and hoped for advantage-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 action of the moment and the national welfare of the future.

    There is no such thing as balance anymore. Everything is the extreme, the most of, the hyperbolic statement. Eisenhower was certainly prescient in this speech. Thanks.

    • #4
  5. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    “Thoroughly Postmodern Milley, then, is but the latest in a long line of insuborndinate senior military men.”

    Copy that.  The thing that struck me about Milley’s testimoney was his insistence that one of his duties was to speak with members of our “media”.  So, he willingly gave interviews to the authors of three books that he knew would be hostile to Trump.  This mealy-mouthed explanation was a disgrace.

    • #5
  6. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    From my personal button collection.

    • #6
  7. James Salerno Inactive
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: As you mull over the realization of the twin threats of which President Eisenhower warned

    After Covid, I don’t know which industrial complex (military or technical) have a higher body count. But I don’t worry about the distinction that much as our technical industrial complex is merging with our military industrial complex to become a single “SkyNet” overlord industrial complex. Google+Facebook+NSA+Banking+Healthcare all merged into an omniscient and omnipotent political juggernaut. If you don’t like living BY THEIR rules and working FOR THEIR profits, you are free to live in the woods and eat bugs. Ike warned us and we ignored him.

    It goes back further than Ike. It goes back to day one. The Jeffersonians warned us of the dangers of Hamilton’s mercantalism, which became Clay’s American System, which lead to Lincoln’s unitary state, the Pendleton Act, and all of the mergers of state and corporate interests that fill the infrastructure pork barrels we love and cherish today.

    • #7
  8. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Captain French (View Comment):

    From my personal button collection.

    • #8
  9. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: As you mull over the realization of the twin threats of which President Eisenhower warned

    After Covid, I don’t know which industrial complex (military or technical) have a higher body count. But I don’t worry about the distinction that much as our technical industrial complex is merging with our military industrial complex to become a single “SkyNet” overlord industrial complex. Google+Facebook+NSA+Banking+Healthcare all merged into an omniscient and omnipotent political juggernaut. If you don’t like living BY THEIR rules and working FOR THEIR profits, you are free to live in the woods and eat bugs. Ike warned us and we ignored him.

    It goes back further than Ike. It goes back to day one. The Jeffersonians warned us of the dangers of Hamilton’s mercantalism, which became Clay’s American System, which lead to Lincoln’s unitary state, the Pendleton Act, and all of the mergers of state and corporate interests that fill the infrastructure pork barrels we love and cherish today.

    None of which gets at the threat President Eisenhower identified. This is not the lineage of the administrative state.

    • #9
  10. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Captain French (View Comment):

    From my personal button collection.

    The buttons are from the 1956 election.

    • #10
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