Eisenhower’s Farewell Address
The Senate has finally ratified the New START Treaty. This will make the world a little bit safer. It will move us just a little bit further along, toward the ultimate goal of nuclear abolition. The treaty will significantly reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads (to 1,550) and launchers (to 700) that the United States and Russia can deploy. Importantly, it will establish a new inspection and monitoring regime, replacing the program that had lapsed in 2009.
Unfortunately, in large part to gain support for ratification, President Obama has agreed to spend more than 84 billion dollars, over the next ten years, to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal. I have to wonder to what extent this substantial commitment was encouraged by the corporate interests that will benefit from this huge expenditure. I am reminded of the prophetic words of President Eisenhower, warning us that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military-industrial complex.”
It has now been just about fifty years, since President Eisenhower delivered his famous farewell address to the American people, warning us of the influence of the military-industrial complex. The National Archives recently released documents that provide us further insight into Eisenhower’s thoughts on the matter.
One draft of the President’s speech warned of “a permanent war-based industry.” Another draft called for civilian authorities “to avoid measures which would enable any segment of this military-industrial complex to sharpen the focus of its own power at the expense of the sound balance which now prevails.” In early versions of the speech, “military industrial complex” had been presented as, “war-based military-industrial complex” and “vast military-industrial complex.”
In the final version of his speech, delivered on January 17, 1961, Eisenhower warned, “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 process.”
The President stated, “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.”
In the conclusion to his speech, Eisenhower said, “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.”
Abraham Maslow cautioned us, “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” When so much profit is being made from the sale of the various “tools” of war (domestically and through export), I believe we must be especially vigilant to guard against the influence that the military-industrial complex exerts upon our foreign policy, our culture, and our efforts to foster a more peaceful and just society.
For the full text of President Eisenhower’s farewell address, click here.
For links to this speech and dozens of other historically significant speeches, please see the American Rhetoric entry in the Peace and Justice Online Directory of Resources.
Here is a short video of excerpts from Eisenhower’s speech.