Subscribe: RSS Feed | Twitter | Facebook | Email
Home | Contact Us

Eisenhower’s Forewarning: Military-Industrial Complex Farewell Speech c 1961

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 7, 2013 11:47 AM |

I think we can forego commenting on this morning’s employment report or other specific topics of interest along our economic landscape and focus on the issue that is captivating our nation, that being, our government’s intervention into our private lives.

As we look forward and wonder what may have transpired to date and how this might all play out, I think we are well served if we go back in time and review the wisdom shared with us by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as he prepared to exit the White House.

My fellow Americans:

Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

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.

Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the Nation.

My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and, finally, to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.

In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.


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 people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

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. Unhappily the danger is 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 newer elements of our defense; 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 the 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 cost and hoped for advantage — 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 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.

The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, 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 militaryindustrial 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.


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

Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.


So — in this my last good night to you as your President — I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

You and I — my fellow citizens — need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation’s great goals.

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration: we pray that people of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; 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.

Balance is easily spoken, but not easily accomplished. Power in the pursuit of liberty is captivating. Power in the hands of those who might abuse it under the guise that the ends justify the means is a destructive force.

We may never know what has gone on, and in the interests of national security we certainly should not know all that has gone on. However, the advance of liberty and freedom is predicated on the imprimatur that power will not be abused by those charged with preserving our national trust and confidence.

The clear abuse of power that transpired within the IRS leaves open the question whether a similar abuse of power may have transpired within the oversight of the press, the internet, and the personal records of private citizens. What about our virtues of truth, transparency, and integrity?

I wonder what Eisenhower might think of all this.

What do you think about it?

Larry Doyle

Isn’t  it time or overtime to subscribe to all my work via e-mail, an RSS feed, on Twitter or Facebook.

I have no business interest with any entity referenced in this commentary. The opinions expressed are my own. I am a proponent of real transparency within our markets so that investor confidence and investor protection can be achieved.

  • LD

    Let’s not forget from May 2011,

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has created and staffed a new position tucked inside their communications shop for helping coordinate rapid response to unfavorable stories and fostering and improving relations with the progressive online community.

    “This week, Jesse Lee will move from the new media department into a role in the communications department as Director of Progressive Media & Online Response,” read an internal memo from Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, provided to The Huffington Post. “For the last two years, Jesse has often worn two hats working in new media and serving as the White House’s liaison with the progressive media and online community. Starting this week, Jesse will take on the second role full time working on outreach, strategy and response.”

    The post is a new one for this White House.

    White House Beefs Up Online Rapid Response

  • Ted

    Is this perjury?

  • LD

    From the Government Accountability Project,

    The Guardian has another blockbuster scoop:

    The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

    WaPo also ran a report on Prism from documentary film maker and target of government harassment, Laura Poitras. (Poitras also directed a brilliant op-doc featuring my client NSA whistleblower Bill Binney).

    NSA whistleblowers like my clients Binney, Drake, and J. Kirk Wiebe have warned for years that the NSA is collecting not just Americans’ metadata (confirmed by the secret court Order The Guardian published earlier this week), but the content of Americans’ communications as well.

    More credence should be paid to their warnings about content, but also their expertise in explaining that the government can learn an incredible amount about individuals from metadata alone, including who people associate with, who they talk to, and the depth of relationships. Binney and Wiebe proposed to glean all of the necessary foreign intelligence to protect the country while protecting privacy prior to 9/11. The NSA rejected the privacy protections, and has since been spying on Americans with impunity.

    The Obama administration has offered weak explanations for the spying, which it would not have even told Americans about but for getting caught red handed with records of millions of innocent Americans phone calls. As the New York Times Editorial Board put it:

    The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.

    If the press and the public pay due credence, finally, to what my client NSA whistleblowers have to say, they won’t buy Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s rationalizations.

    First, there’s Clapper’s thundering outrage over the disclosure:

    The unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation.

    We’ve heard that before, when the government tried to convict NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake of Espionage based on his retaining what turned out to benign unclassified information.

    Then, despite that he just threatened that discussing the program somehow hurts national security, Clapper goes on to discuss the program, making the excuse that

    The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism -related communications.

    This is the EXACT problem that Binney and his team solved back in 2000, prior to 9/11 and prior to the additional surveillance powers afforded under the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act and the government’s secret overboard interpretations of those authorities. There was never a need to invade Americans’ privacy to protect the country. No national security threat forced NSA to begin operating domestically, operations completely at odds with the agency’s purpose. The government choseto collect data on Americans, instead of choosing to protect their privacy.
    If the past week’s disclosures have shown anything, it is that when the Executive branch is given secret power to violate citizens’ individual rights and liberties and gets caught abusing that secret power, the abuse revealed is only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Van


  • elaine

    There’s nothing new about these stories, this sort of survaillance has been going on for over 7 years. So I wonder why is this breaking news now? Well the Immigration Bill goes to the Senate on Monday. That’s my take on the timing of this “news.”

    Our Country is being run like a 3 ring circus. Try to focus on the ring that’s dark, that’s where they do the scene change.

    Although I think it’s constructive for the public to become aware of stories like “PRISM”, etc, all of which derive from The Patriot Act. Wonder how many years it’ll take for them to realize what’s in the last Defense Authorization Act? i.e. Any time the Gov decides to declare an “emergency”
    (which could be anything) they’ve given themselves the right to control/own everything!

    Back to the topic at hand: how many people paid any attention when Bill Clinton authorized roving wiretaps? This stuff doesn’t just happen over night. Sadly I don’t hold out hope that the citizens will stay focused on this story for long either. Most people never contact their senators or reps…can’t say I blame them since it doesn’t usually make any difference.

  • elaine

    I spent some time writing a response & it got whisked away before I could hit the submit button, this has happened to me lately in other communication as well, so stay tuned. Just letting you know my response is forthcoming.

  • elaine

    Damn it happened again so I’m going to be quick & hopefully not incoherent. The Rubio/Gang of 8 Immigration Bill goes to the Senate Monday. Hence there’s a good possibility these
    Guardian “leaks” are timed to distract.

  • elaine

    Seriously, think about the timing of a massive survaillance
    story that’s a decade old i.e. The Patriot Act, preceeded by
    Bill clinton’s roaming wire tap program, what’s new? I guess it’ll take another Guardian news “leak” in another few years to alert the sleeping citizens of all the fun stuff that got renewed in the last Defense Authorization Act
    i.e. Anytime the Gov wants to declare an “emergency” they’ve given themselves the right totake ownership of everything! I’m not exagerating.

  • Peter Scannell

    The Patriot Act was used monitor patriots too!

  • Jim

    A true Statesman, astute warning.

Recent Posts