I recently saw the documentary “Why We Fight” on the history of conflict in the United States, mainly focusing on defense policies during the Bush administration. I anticipated that I would gain a greater understanding of defensive policies by watching the film. What I didn’t anticipate was finding reason upon reason to love President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The film draws on his farewell address to the nation in 1961. It is one of the most progressive and necessary addresses to our nation, one that remains incredibly relevant today. In fact, it may be more relevant now than ever before. In address, Eisenhower conveys his concern for a nation, “giddy with prosperity, infatuated with youth and glamour and aiming increasingly for the easy life.” His address was based on great concern for the future and a desire to direct the nation to safer ground.
Eisenhower didn’t mince words when he called the U.S. out on its “impulse to live only for today” and the detrimental consequences this could have for future generations. It is funny to compare resource management at the time he issued his warning with our current situation. What would he say about our consumption boom and how our cows on their way to slaughter are better fed than are one billion of our fellow human beings? Whether in resource use or technology, Eisenhower valued balance as a way to sustain democracy for the future.
As a Republican president and the only president in the 20th century to be a general, the most surprising statements Eisenhower made were in regard to defense. He warned against the corruption that can easily result from the kind of “military-industrial complex” a term he coined that the nation had accumulated at his time and has continued to build upon ever since.
“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,” he said. At a time when drones are becoming a reality, war is becoming faster-paced and everything defense-related seems out of balance and control, these words ring especially true.
Eisenhower’s address can be summed up in the statement he made towards the beginning that “good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.” To borrow a phrase my grandma would often use, his fear was that our nation would get too big for its britches. This is exactly why his address is so meaningful and relevant today. We have not heeded his warnings to maintain balance and ensure our nation’s future. Yes, we have made progress, but the progress has not brought us to a place of balance.
Eisenhower’s address is one we need to continue to be mindful of. Hopefully, by doing this, we can finally make his warnings irrelevant and make the world described in his final prayer a reality.
“We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied,” he said. “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.”