Introduction

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address is just as significant as his predecessor’s (Document 14). Like Truman, Eisenhower devoted much of the speech to the Cold War, also placing the conflict into its historic context. He then turned to his primary thesis: a multi-faceted warning that the methods the nation chose to wage the Cold War should not undermine the very principles for which the United States stood and a way of life that valued individual liberty and initiative. Although Eisenhower can be criticized for overlooking his administration’s own nurturing of the “military-industrial complex” he warned about through its nuclear weapons policy (Document 12), his speech had profound influence. Just one year later, for example, his warning was taken up and much modified by young activists who founded the Students for a Democratic Society (Document 22).


Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960-61 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1961), 1035-40. Available at https://goo.gl/VZ2UCg.


. . . 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. . . .

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.

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 peoples and among nations. . . .

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. . . .

. . . [T]hreats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. . . .

Study Questions

A. What is the basic purpose of the United States, according to Eisenhower? Why must the nation be careful to avoid big increases in defense spending? What does he mean by a “military-industrial complex”? Why is it a hazard to the nation? Why is so much federal support for corporate and university research also a danger?

B. In what ways does Document 22 echo Eisenhower’s concerns about defense spending? Compare Eisenhower’s speech to Document 42: had Eisenhower’s advice been followed by the time Ronald Reagan speaks on the topic of national security?