Study Guide

Eisenhower's Farewell Address Analysis

By Dwight D. Eisenhower

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  • Rhetoric


    Yes, there is a little bit of pathos and logos sprinkled in here and there. But let's be honest, Ike's farewell is rooted almost entirely in ethos. It rings with the authority of the President of the United States, the five-star general, the Supreme Commander of NATO and the Allies in Europe, and Lord of the Putting Green. It sings of the moral idealism that was the foundation of the American identity.

    Even in the places where Ike is trying to use pathos (VII.5, for instance) or logos, it's much less about emotion or logic and much more about the truth as told by a man who knows what's what. Honestly, Ike probably wasn't consciously thinking about using ethos while he was writing the speech. But he just couldn't help it. The man was ethos personified.

    Take, for example, this nugget about America's mission in life:

    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. (III. 1-3)

    Now, Ike doesn't argue in favor of this version of the American purpose, nor does he wax poetic about how great liberty and dignity are. He just straight up tells us that's how it is. It carries the implicit authority of a man who has held the highest offices possible for a couple decades. And it emphasizes the implicit American tradition, which holds such things as liberty, dignity, and cheeseburgers to be essentially American values.

    Maybe it was all those years being a military man that made his writing style so declamatory, and which made even the more colorful passages so… ethosy.

  • Structure


    Ike's "Farewell Address" is a speech…obviously. He read it on television so he could speak directly to the American people as a whole (or at least those who cared enough to tune in). And as far as speeches go, it's straight-forward and concise. Ike knew the essential points he wanted to make before leaving public service, and he constructed the speech around them.

    You can think of it like an Oreo cookie or a Whoopie Pie.

    The cream in the middle is the interesting and controversial stuff about the military-industrial complex/ scientific-technological elite, and the cookie/cake on either side is the obligatory rigmarole about how the country's great, how scary the Soviet Union is, and how much Ike is looking forward to working more seriously on his golf game.

    How it Breaks Down

    Section I

    The Usual Niceties and Shout-outs to Get Warmed Up

    Ike starts his farewell off right by wishing everyone the best, from JFK and his incoming cabinet, to Congress and the American people. He sets the tone for the rest of the speech by basically congratulating everybody in government for mostly getting everything right.

    Section II

    A Brief Recap For Those of You Who Forget What America Is All About

    Ike gives a mini-history of the past fifty years and reflects on the status of the American military, industry, and economy. He shares in the common American pride, but balances that pride with an acknowledgement of America's great responsibility to the people of the world.

    Section III

    America Stands for Everything Good in a Hostile World

    In this section, Ike affirms the classic ideals of American government, as well as the classic understanding of the Cold War. While admitting he's sad about it, he doesn't think there's any peace in sight with the Soviets. Americans have to be ready for anything. Then he pivots to the internal threats America faces.

    Section IV

    The Military-Industrial Complex, the Scientific-Technological Elite, and You

    We need a military, Ike tells us. And it has to be the best, so no one will even think about messing with us. But the military is crazy big, and needs to be controlled by a well-educated citizenry. Scientific and technological research is another crazy big thing that needs to be carefully monitored so that Big Science doesn't crowd out the small, inventive folks that have made our country great.

    Section V

    Our Children Are Our Future

    Ike briefly reminds us that we can't jut live in the moment and consume everything in sight. There's a future coming, with new people who would like to live life in a decent way. And so, we shouldn't use up all the resources all at once. We should save some for our children

    Section VI

    Peace is the Mission We Haven't Accomplished

    The world is getting smaller and more interconnected, Ike says. So trust and respect among nations is more important than ever. World peace is the ultimate goal as far as Ike is concerned, and he talks about how he wishes he could have achieved more of it during his time in office. But he also looks on the bright side, which is that the whole world hasn't been nuked yet.

    Section VII

    Ike Takes a Bow

    Ike starts to wrap it up by thanking the American people and hoping they've found his efforts satisfactory, and then goes off on an all-American rhetoric rant. After he gets that out of his system, he's ready to retire, so he bids everyone a good night.

  • Tone

    Official, Refined

    Though behind closed doors Ike was known to cuss in a particularly colorful way, in public he was good at maintaining a calmly authoritative tone and demeanor. By the time he stepped down from the Presidency, he'd been in charge of terribly important things for most of his professional life, and probably could hardly remember the last time he didn't hold some important position in charge of making sure the world didn't blow up.

    So it's no wonder his final speech doesn't drift into casual chatter or loose colloquialisms. He had a role to play in public, and he played it well.

    Just take the first sentence, for example:

    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. (I. 1)

    He could have just said, "In three days, I won't be president anymore, and that kid Jack will be the new one." But no. That wouldn't be presidential. It wouldn't be keeping with his official status. Words like shall, or vested, and phrases like responsibilities of office are usually good clues that someone official is making a speech.

    Perhaps more than any other address he gave, Ike's "Farewell Address" was impeccably refined. To be sure, all of his speeches were carefully written, especially once he became president and his every word was scrutinized both by the domestic press and foreign diplomats and intelligence agents.

    But in his farewell, you could pick almost any sentence and find an antiquated grammatical structure, high-minded diction, and some words that don't necessarily need to be there. For instance:

    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. (III. 1-3)

    Now, that's a mouthful. Though Ike was a good writer in his own write—ahem, right—it's possible some of the more refined and downright fancy passages were contributed by his brother Milton or his speechwriter Malcolm "What Does The Cow Say" Moos. The speech had undergone a lengthy editing process, which explains the density of meaning and the long sentences with lots of commas.

    Goes to show you what happens when a trio of brainiacs polish a ten-minute speech for months.

  • Writing Style

    Inspirational, Subtly Ominous

    Listen, it's obvious Ike loved America and everything it stood for during his lifetime. He was a real flag-waving, amber-waves-of-grain-loving, red-blooded all-American boy. And there was nothing he liked better than to give his people guidance, encouragement, and assurance that they were on the right side, that there was so much to be proud of, and that love would find a way (unless there was nuclear Armageddon, but let's not get distracted).

    For serious: just read aloud the closing paragraph, which is technically one epic and heavily-semi-colon-ed sentence:

    To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing inspiration: We pray that peoples 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. (VII.5)

    Go ahead, read it out loud.

    Okay, okay, it's no JFK or MLK. Or RFK, for that matter. But as he read the last lines of the last speech of his presidency, Ike was taking out all the stops and going full-tilt inspiration-mode, Ike style. All peoples… opportunity… yearn[ing] for freedom… spiritual blessings… poverty, disease and ignorance… made to disappear from the earth…Those are the words and phrases of a man trying to uplift.

    But that's not what this speech is remembered for. Ike was giving the country a subtly ominous warning. Take a close look at the most famous passage and the bit right after it:

    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 huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    This is highly diplomatic, hedging-type language. The acquisition of unwarranted influence… the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power…definitely not the most direct ways of saying what he's saying. Hence, subtlety. But when you think about it, he's actually warning about an existential peril to the nation. He's implying that the democracy might be in mortal danger. And he explicitly says that the only thing keeping it all in check is an alert and knowledgeable citizenry

    We'll leave it to you to decide if the American people look up from their phones long enough to be alert and knowledgeable about such matters.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    "Eisenhower's Farewell Address" is a pretty straightforward title. It was given by Dwight Eisenhower a couple days before he stepped down as president and passed the baton to John F. Kennedy. Sometimes the speech is referred to as "Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation," a clarification that isn't really necessary.

    Who else would he be saying farewell to?

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Some teachers simplify the whole essay writing structure thusly: "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Tell 'em. Then tell 'em what you told 'em."

    Seems like Ike thought highly of this rhetorical strategy, as he opens his speech by telling us what his speech is going to be about: He's stepping down as President, someone else is going to take over, he wants to say goodbye properly, and convey a few "final thoughts" (I.2) to the nation.

    Alright then, Ike, tell 'em what's on your mind…

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    Eisenhower closes his speech with a flowery paragraph exalting the American ideals of brother/sisterhood and love (don't get us wrong, we believe in that stuff too). Then he actually says farewell with a few simple sentences: "Now, on Friday noon, I am to become a private citizen. I am proud to do so. I look forward to it. Thank you, and good night" (VII. 6-7).

    Ike helped lead the victory against Nazi Germany, faced off with the nuclear-armed Soviet Union, and led America through the Korean War. Add to those literally monumental accomplishments dozens of other national projects and initiatives, and Ike was heading into retirement as one of the most successful and productive public figures in American history.

    You bet he was looking forward to it.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    Ike was a man of the people, and he wanted his final speech to the nation to be easily understood by the average American bear. He had some very clear thoughts to get off his chest as a parting gift to the country that had given him so much power and responsibility.

    But then again, he gave this speech at a time when presidents were expected to have some linguistic sophistication and to use multisyllabic words every once in a while (did you notice that multisyllabic is multisyllabic?). He also had enlisted the help of his super smart brother Milton and his main speechwriter Malcolm Moos to absolutely perfect the address, so over the months-long course of editing 29 drafts, they added their own style into the mix.

    It's not the most poetic speech you've ever read. It's kinda clunky at times. It's filled with abstract language. And if you're going to make any sense of it you've got to know about a few… minor events that happened over the violent course of the 20th century.

    Even so, you can probably make it through the whole speech without breaking open a dictionary. We believe in you.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    John F. Kennedy (I.3)
    Congress (I. 5-8)
    WWI, WWII, Korean War, Chinese Civil War (II.1)
    The Cold War (III. 4)
    Communism (III. 6)
    The Post-war Technological Revolution (IV. 19)

    References to This Text

    Literary and Philosophical References

    NPR Staff, Eisenhower's Warning Still Challenges A Nation
    Fareed Zakaria, Why defense spending should be cut
    Andrew J. Bachevich, The Tyranny of Defense, Inc.

  • Trivia

    Ike was the only bald President elected in 20th century. This probably says something about America's obsession with youth or something, but whatever. (Source)

    Ike was so obsessed with golf that he installed a putting green on the White House lawn and made the Secret Service trap and remove all squirrels from the premises. His preoccupation with game led to the old golf joke, ''Would you mind if the President plays through? New York has just been bombed.'' (Source)

    Although at one point Ike was arguably the most powerful military figure in the world (toward the end of WWII), he was never involved in combat. Unless you count fighting squirrels as "combat." (Source)

    Ike loved to paint. He even had a dedicated room in the White House he could duck into whenever he needed to forget about the impending nuclear winter for an hour or two. Though it's obvious at first glance Ike was an amateur, he knew it, too. At one exhibition of his work, Ike told a visitor, "They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren't the president of the United States." (Source)

    Who knew that Ike was a fashion trend-setter? Unhappy with the existing Army jacket, he requested a redesign to a shorter model like he'd seen the Brits wear. The result was the "Eisenhower jacket," which he intended to be more comfortable and "natty." (Source)

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