I recently came across President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the nation, circa 1961, on a Great Speeches CD. It’s impressive in its predictive power and in its moderation – I think there’s something in it for everyone, a half-century later.
Please note that it’s heavily edited by moderate me – from 2000 words to 800 or so. I’ve tried to retain its essence -- here’s a link to the verbatim transcript so you can judge whether I’ve succeeded. Web Link
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.
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. The Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated to serve the nation’s good, rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. We have been able to do so much together.
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.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. We face a hostile ideology global in scope, ruthless in purpose. Unhappily, the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for sacrifices which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle with liberty the stake.
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, 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.
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. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. 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 our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. 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. 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.
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we 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.
America knows that this world, ever growing smaller, must be 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.
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. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war, I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
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 spiritual blessings.
Thank you, and good night.
So, is there anything in that speech that resonates for you, DX Forum readers? Anything you think he got wrong, in terms of threats and opportunities (obviously, the “hostile ideology” of that day was Communism)? And howsabout that concept of balance in many things? Ike doesn’t get a lot of mention on The Greatest Presidents lists – has he been underestimated as a leader?