I recently watched former president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address for the first. In his address, he warns against several different issues that may arise due to the drastic industrial and military changes that were seen following World War II. I found that most, if not all, of his warnings were accurate and relevant to what we are seeing today. I wanted to take some time and really break down his farewell address and discuss the implications of his warnings. For each section, I’ve chosen a quote to review and discuss. I’ve linked the video, as well as the transcript of his speech for reference.
[“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.”]
I’ve included this part of his speech in its entirety because I feel this part should be looked at as a whole. This section really can be summed up with the expression “with great power, comes great responsibility.” As a result of all these wars, America was forced to make drastic changes to its industries. In order to keep up with the enemy, we had to produce military equipment and supplies at a much more rapid and efficient rate. America also had to make technological advancement a top priority. With these driving forces, America grew into a massive economic power with a intimidating military force. Eisenhower acknowledge this impressive change, but warned that we should only use this newfound power to work towards world peace and improve humanity as a whole. Initially, I believe America had that mindset, but looking at the world today, we have failed to keep that a priority. I could be completely off base with that assumption, but I think it’s something most would agree with.
[“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.”]
Here, Eisenhower warns that if America were to assume it were invincible and act hastily or selfishly, the implications would be dire. This warning was not heeded. With wars like Korea and Vietnam, I feel that America over extended itself out of arrogance, and refused to withdraw despite fighting a losing battle. The reasoning for entering these wars may have been for the right reasons; to help countries in need, but it also could have been motivated by the ever increasing threat of communism. The wars following WWII have made it look like America is trying to play world police; to me that shows arrogance and even a lack of comprehension of the effects our actions will have on the world stage.
[“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.”]
I would sum this up as Eisenhower warning us not to over complicate things. The most impressive, complex solutions may not be the best answer. We need to consider many options when tackling a crisis, and chose the most effective. The effects a solution will have on the nation as a whole and the effect it will have on its citizens need to be balanced appropriately.
[“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.”]
Eisenhower was not against being a premiere military force on the world stage. He strongly urged the US to keeps its military force strong, not to conquer, but rather to prevent ‘potential aggressors’. This follows the saying “it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.” Today I see a lot of resistance regarding military spending. People need to realize that we need a strong military presence; not to use offensively, but to have available to defend any threats. Military investments are to improve our security as a nation.
[” We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations..”]
This was as of 1961. I’m willing to bet that gap has decreased significantly in recent years. Investing in our nation’s security creates jobs and economic benefits of its own. This fact should not be overlooked.
[“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.”]
This is the first mention of the military-industrial complex. With the need for a significant military force, we have created an industry that has a huge impact on the economy. Eisenhower warns that if our government were to be influenced by this military-industrial complex, we could lose our liberty in the blink of an eye. The military and industrial sectors make up such a huge portion of our economy, that those in control have all the power. This is why it is imperative for us, as citizens, to ensure the integrity of elected officials. If we elect to office, people influenced by this military-industrial complex, we could potentially be handing over our very freedom. [“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”]
[“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.”]
In this section of his speech Eisenhower points out that technological advancements have been streamlined by the federal government. We no longer have individuals conducting research for the sole purpose of curiosity. Everything now is to further the governments agenda.
[“Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity”]
[“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.”]
The reason for this is because a government contract looks much more appealing than “doing it for fun.”
[“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.”]
This is a similar warning to the military-industrial complex warning. With the government having such a large stake in technology/research, we need to ensure that our elected officials are in full support of our democratic processes and ultimate goal of a free society.
[“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.”]
This is Eisenhower’s warning against taking things for granted. We have a duty to future generations to ensure that they can inherit and continue to grow our democratic society. I believe we as a nation have started to take heed to this warning. I’ve seen a lot of legislation passed in recent years to combat the destruction of our environment and future resources. However, just like the previous warnings, since these are handled primarily by our government, we need to make sure we elect into office those that have our best interests in mind, without hidden agendas.
[“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.”]
These last two quoted hit home the hardest. Eisenhower warns us against the struggles that will arise as a result of increasing diversity. Reading through the news daily should remind us how miserably we are failing in this aspect. Our country has never been more divided. This is a ‘free’ country, everyone should be able to have their own set of opinions/beliefs/culture etc. Given that these do not impose on anyone else’s rights, they should be able to openly express them as well without fear of persecution. All peoples should have the same amount of say in how their nation conducts itself, regardless of social status, wealth, race, beliefs, etc. That is why we choose democracy.
[“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.”]
This is an absolutely amazing close to one of the best speeches I have heard. This is a statement of what democracy stands for. These are the goals every citizen should aspire to. If we are not satisfied with the current state of our country, we should first reflect on our own actions. In a democracy, a country is only as great as the sum of its parts. This is why it is so important to exercise your right to vote. It is the simplest way to contribute, and express what you want. Every individual person in this country has a responsibility to make sure that they exercise their rights as a citizen, to ensure the integrity of those chosen to represent them.
I encourage everyone to listen to his speech in full and interpret what he says for yourselves. I have stated what I believe he was trying to say in his address, however I am by no means an expert. It is important for everyone to review things themselves and not to be easily influenced by what someone else may say. Be willing to stand your ground, but remain open minded as well.