A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
The State of Eisenhower's Union
February 14, 2002
A Message for President George W. Bush
What follows are large portions of the text of the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. When it was delivered there was much head-scratching about exactly what Eisenhower meant. However, when viewed in light of the events of today, many passages are prescient and should resonate with all Americans who truly love their country.
I, for one, would certainly have appreciated this speech rather than the jingoistic, "axis of evil" State of Union address that was recently delivered. The continuing question is America’s role in the world. Will we live up to the democratic ideals this country was founded upon, or will we, perhaps like the Roman Empire or even the Soviet Union, simply collapse under our own weight. At the end of the day, the choice will be ours.
* * *
“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 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.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. Itcommands 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 is 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.
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.
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.
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.
A vital element in keeping thepeace 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.
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.
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.
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 theproper meshing of the huge industrial
and military machinery of defense withour peaceful methods and goals,
so that security and liberty may prosper together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 militarystrength. 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.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 sadnessof 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.
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.”
Contributed by BuzzFlash Reader, KJM
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