Study Guide

Eisenhower's Farewell Address Main Idea

By Dwight D. Eisenhower

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  • Main Idea

    Eisenhower was all about America, democracy, and (we assume) apple pie.

    But having been Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, the Supreme commander of NATO, and the Supreme Commander of the United States (a.k.a. president), Ike was well aware of the stakes of the geopolitical game and the dangers that faced the nation.

    His farewell was largely a warning: don't allow special interests, the profit motive, and self-centered cynicism get in the way of America's idealistic mission. Don't spend all the resources that rightfully belong to future generations, and especially don't blow it all on weapons. And always continue to pursue disarmament and eventual peace with the Soviets and anybody else who considers America their enemy.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Do you think undue influence over the government by the military-industrial complex has been regulated since Eisenhower left office? If so, how has that been achieved? If not, what could be done to reduce that influence?
    2. How big a military should the United States have? What should its scope of operations be? What would you do regarding the size and power of the military if you were president?
    3. Why did Eisenhower give this speech to the American public instead of to group of weapons industry bigwigs or Congress?
    4. Is there a conflict between Eisenhower's moral ideals for America and his actions as president that involved coup d'états, nuclear threats, and armed conflict?

    Chew on This

    This speech might have been more effective if he had given it to the people actually involved in the arms industry or the military.

    If Eisenhower could see a glimpse of the path America's gone down, he'd shake his head and mutter, "Can't say I didn't (say I didn't) warn you."

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    Eisenhower was president for eight years, and a lot happened under his watch (for starters: The Korean Armistice, the creation of the interstate highway system, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the creation of NASA, the beginning of the nuclear arms race and the beginning of nuclear arms control efforts). A few days before his term was up, he delivered a nationally televised farewell speech to give the American people a few words of advice.

    The Text

    Ike had a couple of pointed criticisms (or warnings, depending on how you look at it), but he couched them in very polite and inspirational rhetoric about the ideals of America, the position of leadership the country held in the post-WWII world, and how peace and brotherhood are just the best.

    The criticisms/warnings:

    • Don't let the weapons business and special interests run the country. 
    • Don't gobble up all the resources, because most of those belong to the future citizens of this country, aka our children. 
    • World peace has to be the mission of America, so don't get side-tracked.


    Stay true to your ideals, America; don't lose your soul fighting evil.

  • Questions

    1. Ike seemed to think the Cold War was a Lord of the Rings-style struggle of Good vs. Evil (would that make him Gandalf?). How would this have helped his vision for peace? Isn't it too provocative?
    2. Ike was afraid that the military-industrial complex could influence America's foreign policy. Can you think of an example of how that might work?
    3. How do we reconcile Ike's ideal of America as the nation of freedom, justice, and peace with the undeniably bloody foreign policy of the half-century after WWII? Is there still room for Eisenhower's lofty rhetoric about America's "prayerful and continuing inspiration" (VII.5) in a cynical 21st century?
    4. Why haven't any presidents after Ike given such a striking and memorable final speech? (With maybe one exception.) Did Ike's stellar military career give him freedom to say things that others couldn't say?
    5. Is Ike's vision of America's position in the world realistic? Do you think it's been borne out in the 21st century?

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