Three days prior to John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s famous inaugural address to the nation, Dwight David Eisenhower recited a speech of more somber tone and critical advice. Broadcast through both radio and television during the evening of January 17, 1961, Eisenhower’s farewell address reached a wide public. Citizens listened with respect to their beloved leader, who had brought the nation through years of unmatched prosperity. Rather than compose a jubilant and celebratory capitulation to his years of progress, however, the president exhorted the urgency of diplomatic caution to Americans. The audience reached by Eisenhower during his farewell was witness to a man with sophisticated ethos; Eisenhower’s various facets of experience constructed that ethos. A character built by military expertise, bipartisan politics and diplomatic leadership, Eisenhower channeled—through his address—an odd but profound resentment of an institution in which he was such an integral part.
As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II, Eisenhower orchestrated the largest air and sea invasion in history. The D-Day invasion involved intense negotiations between Allied forces. The invasion also relied upon Eisenhower’s shrewd diplomacy and military strategy. From a man so steeped in military engagement, one would expect a pro-military stance. However, Eisenhower’s experience in the military seems to have solemnized his outlook on war, as he suggests, “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.” Eisenhower is telling the public that military strength is not the key to America’s progress; but that the key lies in initiating peaceful diplomacy. Later on in the address, Eisenhower makes a key point in alerting the public of a bumbling and non-focused foreign policy based on excess. Eisenhower predicates, “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 defenses…may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.” Especially within the context of the Cold War, it is strange to see a Republican president guarding against a “huge increase in newer elements of our defenses.” Later in his address, Eisenhower further delineates his thought process towards national and international affairs of the 1960s.
Not closed-minded in any way towards military downsizing or bipartisan action, Republican president Eisenhower warned against governmental imbalance and the influences of the “military-industrial complex.” Within paragraph ten of his farewell, Eisenhower uses six examples of balance as warning signs against over-expansion—one of them being “the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.” One of the national programs that Eisenhower speaks about is the military. He explains the link between the economics of armament and the politics of war; Eisenhower illustrates that “three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations -- corporations.” The impact of the armament industry upon military decisions and vice versa is the “military-industrial complex” of which Eisenhower warns Americans. As economics became more geared towards armed conflict, Eisenhower promoted a policy of disarmament. Rather than fight the Cold War in a way similar to World War II, Eisenhower saw opportunity to employ diplomacy. His plea to the modern world was that “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.” Judging by the pie chart depicted below, it is apparent that the plea of Eisenhower has not been taken to heart.
Fig. 1. Hellman, Christopher, and Travis Sharp. "U.S. Military Spending vs. the World in 2008." 22 Feb. 2008. HTML file.
Like Eisenhower, the founders of our nation saw a standing army or excess of armament as catalysts for military conflict. Our modern military exists within a model contrasting Eisenhower’s ideals. In FY 2008, 55 cents out of every dollar of discretionary spending went to the military (Cohen). The economic influence is clear: taxpayer dollars flow liberally into military coffers. In 2009, the White House budget plan froze year 2011 federal agency spending; the Pentagon was exempt from the freeze (Cohen). As more money flows to the military, we must realize that one of military’s most dedicated members warned us to settle foreign conflict “not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
Cohen, Michael A. "Arms for the World." Dissent 56.4 (2009): n. pag. eLibrary. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.
Eisenhower, Dwight David. "Farewell Address." 17 Jan. 1961. American Rhetoric. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.
Brinkley, Douglas. "Eisenhower the Dove." American Heritage 52.6 (2001): n. pag. eLibrary. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.
"Dwight D. Eisenhower." The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency. 01 Dec. 2000. eLibrary. Web. 03 Oct. 2010.