Prophet and Profit: USA President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation, Jan 17, 1961

History to me is fascinating and revealing, even if we are, by our nature, doomed to repeat that which is our nature.

Either way, doing the endless, tiring but interesting footnotes for the essay Noam Chomsky On Drugs, A Little Insite on the Hypocrisy of It All, I had a chance to read, for the first time in a long time, the celebrated Farewell Speech of American President Eisenhower from January 17, 1961.

Ironically, his fear of what Big Government could do and sometimes does, has been done in a similar way, it seems to me, by Big Privatization (which is so often subsidized, anyway). Substitute in Ike’s speech the word Federal Government for Big Business—but both work with each other, seemingly for the same goals: control of the market.

I wanted to excerpt a few quotes that are so prescient today—assuming prescient means what I think it does: “relevant and urgent.” Just listen to what ol’ Ike says on the way out of the Oval Office.

Beginning with the famous mention of the Military-Industrial-Complex:

…we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions…

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 Statehouse, 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.

Then Ike mentions the effect of funding certain scientific pursuits, which remind me—although not stated this way here with Ike’s fear more of Governmental subsidy—of the influence of, say, the Big Drug companies on research and University funding.

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.

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.

And then, finally, he speaks of what wounds like sustainability—in the modern world the ned to get off the fossil fuel addiction and use a sustainable, renewable resource:

Another 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, 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.

It sounds like Ike had been going away on weekends with Chief Seattle and Rachel Carson.

Eisenhower finishes:

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.

Quite a speech. The whole speech is here.

Lots of love and food for thought to you,

Pete xo


5 Responses to “Prophet and Profit: USA President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation, Jan 17, 1961”

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    In high school, we had to read the farewell speeches of any five presidents. The thing I remember most vividly is how exhausted, jaded, and used up most of them sounded at the end of their terms, yet many of them were up and accomplishing more within a year. Leading any nation is clearly up there in the top five unforgiving jobs.

    I also liked Eisenhower’s comment about old blackboards in universities being replaced with hundreds of “new electronic computers.? He should only know. How sad that all he warned against in reference to discovery and invention bowing to the almighty dollar has come to pass with a vengeance.

    Two questions:

    First, as you are referencing the essay, could you post some of the more relevant core citations? I can’t speak for others, but it would help me get a better handle on the background information.

    Second, as I watch for typos, skewed logic, etc., would you like me to do so through the eyes of a friend or slip on my editor’s glasses…or both? Whichever you’d like. Don’t fret, so far it looks pretty clean.

    However, I do feel compelled to ask if this sentence:

    “Also, if you see any typos or erros of logic, or repetition, fell free to comment.?

    was as Freudian as it appears.

    Just teasing you. I never forget that if fingers didn’t fly across keyboards faster than their owner’s minds, I’d be out of a job.

    Livin’, lovin’, laughin’,

    P.S. This is spooky/ironic but “prescient? means having or showing knowledge of actions or events before they take place. Like clairvoyant. I had to look it up yesterday.

  2. Lovely Karen,

    Thanks for the note. I’ve been making little changes here and there, and dropping a couple of short spots I couldn’t find references for. And as for that typo-riddled sentence!—where did I write that? Yes, it needs correcting!

    As for footnotes…I’ve just finished doing about 65 footnotes (maybe ten pages) in Word and I could put it on line as a PDF or something, with the whole essay, but I don’t know how post a PDF. Do you know how I can do it? Anyone?

    I could go through the six parts and put the footnotes on the site but that would take forever, and would probably lead me to drugs.

    As for the leading a nation thing, yeah, the worst in some ways. There is an incredible set of I think 5 photos from about 1860-65 of Lincoln through the Civil War and he ages about forty years.

    I’d like to post the footnotes but I’m not sure how to do it!

    Love to you,


  3. Hey Karen,

    I was thinking, if you want to, you can send me your email—or send me an email (I don’t think I have your actual email)—and I can send you back the full essay, with footnotes, references, links etc, as a PDF. That way you can just have it right there for your own referencing.

    Pete xo

  4. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    I’m honored that you would entrust me with a PDF. Thank you.

    Ah, email!

    I think mine is floating around your site somewhere, but I’ll also give you a different one to use. I got a new handheld and the software for it corrupted my Outlook—literally and figuratively.

    To its credit, the company did admit that its software was the problem and has tried to help, unfortunately to no avail. My next rainy-day project is to wipe my hard drive and reinstall everything.

    As a friend of mine once said, “We have the technology, we just can’t make it work.?

    For now I’m using

    Thank you again for your trust.

    Livin’, lovin’, laughin’,

  5. [...] the ghost of former US President Dwight Eisenhower’s speech has risen, all over the world (Eisenhower gave the classic 1961 leaving-office speech on the huge danger of the Military Industrial…). That ghost is floating (fully armed) more and more close to home (and I don’t mean to [...]

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