Eisenhower’s Famous Farewell Address

Spurred by Aaron O’Connell’s NY Times Op-Ed piece today, I re-read President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address of January, 1961, three days before Jack Kennedy took the reins of state.  We all know of his famous injunction against the military-industrial complex, but what flashed in my eyes, today, the day before another Presidential election, were some of the opening words:

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. 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.

My eyes sparked because “Like every other citizen…” is no longer true.  There are many millions of Americans who wish anything but Godspeed to the President, should it be Obama.  In fact, they would wish him damnation in hell. Millions.

Nor does it seem to be true that there is an expectation to ‘find essential agreement on issues of great moment.’  It was an announced policy, particularly in the House, and supported by the constituents of  those members, to obstruct any agreement, about anything.  That this was the policy was shown several times as several ‘vital issues’ were not resolved, at great peril to the economic health of the nation.

Part IV of the speech is the famous warning:

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.

What is forgotten is  his worry about the impact on research and scientific curiosity:

…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.

America existed in a world, as Eisenhower well knew, of allies and potential allies.  He had seen the terrors of war and knew entering upon them again should not be lightly undertaken.

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 differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.

And on to a wonderful ending:

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.

What a wonderful, thoughtful speech.

I began wondering:  who wrote it? Who initiated it?  As it turns out we, and Eisenhower scholars, recently have come to know much more about this:  several boxes of rough drafts for the speech — twenty-nine in all– written in Eisenhower’s own hand re-appeared.  His brother Milton went over the entire speech, and Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, did not, as it had long been rumored, have anything to do with it.  It was Ike’s idea, and his execution.


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