Tuesday marked the 62nd anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address, which warned of influences that would create imminent threats that would undermine U.S. principles.
Eisenhower, a veteran of both world wars — becoming a five-star general in 1944 — gained notoriety as commanding general of Allied forces in Europe during World War II.
According to the White House website, Eisenhower became president of Columbia University and later left to assume supreme command of the new assembly of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces in 1951, though a treaty for the creation of the organization was signed in 1949. It was not until 1952 that he was persuaded to run for president of the United States.
From there, the 34th president worked to reduce strains of conflict during the Cold War and, in 1953, brought about the signing of an armistice that would end combat operations and leave the Korean Peninsula divided between North and South Korea. Relations with the Soviet Union changed after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953.
In 1955, Eisenhower met with the British, French and Russian governments in Geneva, Switzerland, where the president proposed the U.S. and Russia exchange blueprints of military posts and provided aerial photography. According to the White House website, the Russians accepted the proposal.
Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in September 1955, but then recovered in February 1956 to win his reelection in November. While focusing on domestic policy, Eisenhower stressed having a balanced budget. The Republican president intervened as the desegregation of schools began when he sent armed forces to Little Rock, Arkansas, to uphold the compliance of federal court orders.
“I do not believe that all of these problems can be solved just by a new law, or something that someone says, with teeth in it. For example, when we got into the Little Rock thing, it was not my province to talk about segregation or desegregation. I had the job of supporting a federal court that had issued a proper order under the Constitution, and where compliance was prevented by action that was unlawful.” The President’s News Conference of March, 26, 1958.
“I believe that the United States as a government, if it is going to be true to its own founding documents, does have the job of working toward that time when there is no discrimination made on such inconsequential reason as race, color, or religion.” The President’s News Conference of May 13, 1959.
But it was not until Jan. 17, 1961, that Eisenhower delivered his farewell address that gave a dire warning.
Excerpts from his speech:
“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 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 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.”
Eisenhower’s speech is spurred during the global rise of Marxism and Communism. Not to mention the utter stress of overcompensating the need to justify reason — especially an altruistic nature.
“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.”
Eisenhower’s point on the country’s national defense appears to have come true, given funds going not only to our own country but expanded to allies and other countries for the sake of security. Or, like the constant flow of our country’s budget going toward the defense of Ukraine, which is a proxy war for us and NATO against Russia. But even with this, NATO has grown very powerful and could be considered the very industrial military complex Eisenhower warned us of.
“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 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 over shadowed 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.
“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.”
Though I cannot fully express my thoughts without taking up so much space in this column, I encourage everyone to watch Eisenhower’s full speech.