On January 17th, 1961, the 34th President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to the nation. This speech has come to be known as the “Military Industrial Complex” speech in which he gave us a few dire warnings regarding a growing threat to democratic government. However, over the course of his military career and his eight years as President, there’s no shortage of speeches and quotes that warned us on many topics. Sadly, we’ve allowed his warnings and advice to fall on deaf ears but the more I read and listen to his speeches, the more I find that “I Like Ike.”
President Eisenhower began by saying: “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.” As we’ve seen in successive administrations and congresses (with certain exceptions such as Reagan and Tip O’Neal) Presidents and Congress rarely work with one another. In fact, we see more of a spectacle that looks more like World Wrestling Entertainment than what we should expect from Washington.
President Eisenhower’s entire farewell speech is worth listening to or reading, and it’s considered one of the most famous Presidential addresses in history. Within a few years, every American could see for themselves that Eisenhower’s warnings had come true as America would be embroiled in the Vietnam War. During this war, defense spending went through the roof, defense contractors made billions, and thousands of Americans were killed and many thousands more were wounded for life. Had anyone other than Eisenhower, a 5-Star General turned two-term President tried to make this pitch, it would have fallen flat and quickly forgotten. Now, nearing 60 years later, it couldn’t have been imagined how right he was.
In January 1961, we were facing a global communist enemy in the Soviet Union, or as Eisenhower put it “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 a call for not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of questions 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 towards permanent peace and human betterment.” He added: “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.”
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, our foes have changed somewhat, albeit, communism is still a threat, especially from China. However, since September 11th, 2001 (9/11) and before we’ve faced the threat of the growing dangers presented by global Islamic extremism. Since 9/11, we’ve been engaged in major conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and numerous other hotspots around the globe. Eisenhower’s statement still echoes today, “Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration.”
As these threats and struggles continue, so too will be the calls for a bigger military, a wider scope for our intelligence community, even at the cost of our own freedoms and liberties. Even though we were warned to exercise good judgment and seek balance and progress as a lack of it eventually leads to imbalance and frustration. But was that really Eisenhower’s only point, albeit we’ve been in an era of perpetual conflict and it seems America has made peace with this. We certainly have a major role to play around the world, but being the world’s policemen and constantly allowing the pitfalls that go with having a large, modern and ever-developing military to suck us in isn’t what the American people should be ok with.
As Eisenhower said, “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.”
In addition to counseling Americans to be vigilant in their monitoring of the military-industrial complex, he warned Americans to exercise restraint in our consumer habits, which we’ve ignored. This has allowed countless American jobs in a variety of sectors to leave our borders, national debt, and inflation to skyrocket and more. Ike also warned us about exploiting our environment as he said: “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.” He added: “We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”
To this day, we occasionally hear people anecdotally use the term “military-industrial complex” while discussing all the ways we ignored Eisenhower’s warnings. Pointing out how we’ve ignored the great General’s warnings is one thing, finding ways to heed them moving forward is another.
Other Important Warnings
As I pointed out, President Eisenhower gave us many warnings outside of his farewell address. One that he and other Presidents have opined is that: “Only Americans can hurt America” to which I agree, sadly, many generations have had groups who’ve done their level best to see this to fruition and today it’s mainstream. Another great point he made was that: “Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.” Albeit, I’m not saying that the Left is always wrong or that the Right is always right, but anyone who retreats to an extreme as a reflex is often one who has decided to ignore facts, reality and commonality between everyone, in other words, it’s reflexive and dehumanizing. Today, in addition to those who seek the extreme, we have many who call for total security, in other words, more government to provide for every need or want a person can come up with. As “Ike” put it: “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”
When anyone calls for more government, they must also realize they’re simultaneously calling for less liberty, given more government and more liberty can’t occupy the same space. More government stands in stark contrast to more liberty or as Eisenhower put it: “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” Another great warning he gave came about after he witnessed the Holocaust whereby he said, “Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses -because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.” Today, with the technology we hold in our hands, we’re getting a lot on the record, but, by in large we’re not getting the right things on the record or we’re allowing the record to be presented through a slanted agenda or from a revisionist standpoint. Think about it, we constantly are seeing videos of Police interacting with the public or gotcha under-cover videos and others that are often presented by those with an agenda that rarely gives us the entire story.
In addition to his warnings regarding the “armaments industry” and societal observations, Eisenhower left us with some philosophical thoughts on specifics topics, such as religion, agriculture, education, voter apathy, peace and more. In July 1953 while speaking to the National Co-Chairmen, Commission of Religious Organizations, National Conference on Christians, and Jews, he said: “The churches of America are citadels of our faith in individual freedom and human dignity. This faith is the living source of all our spiritual strength. And this strength is our matchless armor in our world-wide struggle against the forces of godless tyranny and oppression.” And in March 1955, while speaking at the 11th Annual Washington Conference of the Advertising Council, he said in part: “Now, on our side, we recognize right away that man is not merely an animal, that his life and his ambitions have at the bottom a foundation of spiritual values.” In his day, the “struggle” was against to quote President Reagan the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. Today, we’re seeing that China has filled that position, while at the same time, many within the Democrat Party and others in our own society are waging war on religion and the religious alike.
Today, especially with the problems we face with COVID-19, we’re seeing just how ridiculous and heavy-handed government regulations are when it comes to the agriculture industry. In January 1956 while addressing Congress, President Eisenhower rightly said: “The proper role of government, however, is that of partner with the farmer — never his master. By every possible means, we must develop and promote that partnership — to the end that agriculture may continue to be a sound, enduring foundation for our economy and that farm living may be a profitable and satisfying experience.” On another occasion, he said something that Mike Bloomberg should have realized as Ike put it: “You know, farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.”
When it comes to education, today, we see more indoctrination and teaching feelings over facts. Eisenhower’s view would stand in stark contrast to the modern view taken by many as he put it, in a speech at William and Mary in May 1953, where he said: “The true purpose of education is to prepare young men and women for effective citizenship in a free form of government.” His remarks to the Centennial Celebration Banquet of the National Education Association in Washington, DC in April 1957 would have made the “Bernie Bros” and social justice warriors riot when he said: “It is unwise to make education too cheap. If everything is provided freely, there is a tendency to put no value on anything. Education must always have a certain price on it; even as the very process of learning itself must always require individual effort and initiative.”
I could go on for days, citing quotes that should have served as warnings, instead I’ll leave you with three more warnings we’re currently totally ignoring. When it comes to voter apathy, he said while speaking at a breakfast with the Republican State Chairmen in Denver in September 1955: “Some politician some years ago said that bad officials are elected by good voters who do not vote.” He also felt that we need to be able to adjust our thinking, something we don’t often do or as he put it in August 1956: “The world moves, and ideas that were good once are not always good.”
Finally, given Eisenhower served as the Supreme Allied Commander during the latter part of WWII and the fact we’re engaged in the longest war in America’s history his remarks at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Macmillan in London in August 1959 ring true when he said: “I like to believe that people, in the long run, are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”
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