Saturday, June 30, 2007


"Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends."

"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity." -Dwight D. Eisenhower

I often assume that literate, politically minded folks, even those my own age, are familiar with Eisenhower's farewell address (a transcript can be found here, among many, many other places). It occurred to me recently that often this is in fact, and unfortunately, not true.

There are vast differences in how much background knowledge a wannabe wonk like me can assume of one discussant or another, and I frequently wish that there was some reliably citable bedrock of political or general discourse. I leave it the the humanists to compile the list (lord knows they have tried, and I will probably come up quite short on many lists), but I submit that Eisenhower's speech should added to the canon of political wisdom. Ditto a few speeches by TR. Maybe we'll call this definitive tome "No Citizen Left Behind." No. No we won't.

In any case, while the term "military-industrial complex" has been established in the political lexicon and most of those who use it are familiar with the famously scornful admonitions yoked to its coinage, much of the remainder of the speech seems to have been lost to relative obscurity. What a shame. Here are some of my favorite parts of the address, selected for their prophetic contemporary relevance.

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.

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 the newer elements of our defenses; 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 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 the cost and hoped for advantages - 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 the 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.


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 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.


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, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking 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.

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.

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.

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.

Eisenhower appears to have been the consummate pacifist. Proclamations like these would be derided and dismissed by today's conservatives as the blathering claptrap of weak, whiny, limp-wristed, pencil-necked, tree-hugging*, liberal hippy cowards. Tell it to Ike, chickenhawks.

*I'm not sure why the anti-environmentalist epithet always seems to show up in conversations invective that has nothing to do with green politics. But I guess if you're going to stoop to name-calling, you might as well pile it on thick.

More quotations from Ike.

The entire "Cross of Iron" speech.

PS: I also came across this quote that I couldn't resist commenting on:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
He's right about who they are, I only wish that they were actually negligible, and that such an idea truly would be their political demise.