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Updated 07 May 2007

Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

Eisenhower was an excellent president and a great man by any standard. He was right on about American democracy. His foresight is stunning, even today. And he was a Republican--in the Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt molds. He preserved the peace through the Suez crisis by procedures his successors thumbed their noses at, except perhaps John Kennedy and Gerry Ford. As much as Kennedy or Carter, and more than either Nixon, Johnson or the last three incumbents, he worked hard at peace. His words ring ever more true with time. But Americans have short memories. It is time to catch our breath, refresh our memories and recall what made this nation great. Ike's message goes well beyond his title. Read it carefully and see if you agree.

Public Papers of the Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960, p. 1035- 1040

      My fellow Americans:

      Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

      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.

      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.

These words apply in spades in our times. One can look in vain to see any wisdom at all in the Executive branch, too little and much too late in the Congress, and a spotty judiciary comprised of both light and darkness.

      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.

If that were only true now. Extremism, by its very nature and definition excludes most people. By its nature, too, it tends to generate its opposite with which it can then go to war. Each extreme is exclusive and Authoritarian. Neither can provide the wisdom that will ensure the national good.

Ike understood this perfectly, both as an exquisite warrior and president. He crushed Hitler by war; yet he prevented war in the Middle East over the Suez Canal by alert and adroit diplomacy. And he balanced the budget as the Cold War began in earnest. He calmed the nerves of those who otherwise would be at each other's throats.

      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.

Somewhere along the way we lost our way. We were not alone. Just as the Neocons hijacked America, so also the Zionists hijacked Judaism. As a result, the world will never be the same.

      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 people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. 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.

After eloquently defining what America stood for, like the prophet he was, he foretold what would happen if we abandoned what we stood for. And so it came to be!

      Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology -- global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Yet another prophecy come true.

      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.

Is there no end to this man? "recurring temptation" says it all. Again, in the pulsing rhythms of history, we were tempted by the drums of Caesar, to our everlasting detriment. We heard "I am a War President," and we heeded the call of heated emotions over the wisdom provided by history.

      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 actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

Current history is all about breaking these balances - especially those built into our Constitution.

      The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.

To say we merely took our eye off the ball is a gross understatement. We went to sleep! High crimes and misdemeaners have occured at the highest levels. Too many of us still slumber, even as the crimes continue.

      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 peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Remember, this mind-set was in response to Pearl Harbor and the Soviet Nuclear deployments. There seemed there was no other choice at the time. That point hasn't changed much in over six decades.

      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 States corporations.

Yet this man balanced the books on the national debt as no president has since. And the country did perfectly well.

      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.

This was Ike's passion. He was right on too. We now have a private military in this country that is strong enough to topple numerous governments. This army is for hire, not only by the American government, but other governments as well. And when it is on foreign soil, it operates largely beyond the law, and too often follows its own policies, not those of any government.

That Ike did not anticipate that religion would get into American governance reflects his position in history. Today, he would doubtless have much to say, for the dangers he foresaw in the military-industrial complex is there in other sectors of society as well.

      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.

Here we go again, yet another prophecy fulfilled. "Misplaced power" captures the essence of the Neocons in Iraq exactly. The current fight between Bush and the Congress are the first attempt by the American public to right what most now see is a sinking ship.

      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.

We are now doing just what Ike feared we would. He experienced the horror of war first-hand. The venality of politics paled in comparison, but was no less dangerous. One amazing feature of his farewell message is its compelling wisdom and foresight-and that it was written in the twilight of his career. He saw the venality of humanity from all angles. He should be read most carefully. The Republican party in particular needs to recapture his spirit.

      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 overshadowed 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.

While this has not happened, it could. But tragically, the reverse actually happened. Ideologues in government stalled or reversed scientific progress. Climate change and biological research in particular suffer as a result--both to the detriment of society and progress. What also happened is that technology has so changed the ground rules for communicating and conflict that terrorists and governments alike can misuse it to achieve their own ends.

      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.

Not anymore. Our age is one of extremism and base politics, both inside and outside of governament. There is no balance when the top dogs bark "Watch what you say!" as they did early on after 9/11. There is no balance when the top dogs send our youth to war, bury our dead out of sight and neglect our wounded, all in the name of supporting our troops. There is no balance when private armies arise unrestrained by the voting populace and are not held accountable for atrocities or war crimes. This seems worse than what Ike feared.

      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.

Living for today has become a byword in this administration. The powerful seem never to consider history or the down side, are sure they carry the message of God, sure they can remold the world in their own image, but always subservient to American Interests. This is the Neocon line.

      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.

America knew that in Ike's time. But our collective memory is short; memories of our leaders have been shorter still. Instead of avoiding fear, our leaders embrace it as a measure to control you and me along with the rest of the world.

      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.

Once again Ike was right. But the Neocons think otherwise; they prefer the battlefield with all its horror and downsides for humanity. Special interests benefit. Innocents die as "collateral damage;" innocents die in droves from neglect in war-torn areas; children expire en masse from genocide.

      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. 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.

So do we, Ike, and we are glad you are not here to see the social agonies of our times. Why should there be more human slavery today than in your time?

      Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

      So -- in this my last good night to you as your President -- I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

This is your legacy, Ike. We remember you proudly. Your guidance has stood the test of time. We hope to do better by it from this point forward.

      You and I -- my fellow citizens -- need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation's great goals.

      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; 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.

We have the same aspiration on this web site. Probably most people on earth do. We have talked extensively with folks from other continents, other faiths, various ethnicities, numerous walks of life. What we have found is a universal longing for peace, security from violence, comfort in old age, equal educational and economic opportunities and liberty at all times.

You gave us the route, a roadmap, Ike.
It is up to us now to read it and heed it.

The above is not a eulogy; we never met the man personally, nor do we know him except by reputation and his writings. In this life we must find inspration where we find it. We find plenty in this, his last significant essay.

Ike was not a perfect human being. For a prime example, he did not properly recognize Truman's stature. His private life has been documented in a way that would turn off the religious right. But these and other human foibles do not detract from his more critical contributions like: avoiding war over Suez in real time, balancing the budget, and the above fine essay for posterity.


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