Study Guide

Eisenhower's Farewell Address Quotes

By Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • Power

    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. (II.3-4)

    JFK, who was taking over just a few days after Ike spoke these words, must have been channeling Eisenhower when he created the Peace Corps. Some politicos bemoan the supposedly waning influence of America on the world stage, and talk about more military spending and intervention as a remedy. But if Ike's opinion is to be trusted, it may be that America's foreign policy just hasn't done enough to support 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. (III. 1-3)

    Although Ike was realistic about power and its uses, having seen the worst humanity could do during WWII, he remained an idealist. Perhaps that's what got so many American soldiers through that bloody war: they were fighting for liberty and progress. Soldiers can get demoralized when they think they're fighting for no good cause.

    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. (IV. 1-2)

    This is an allusion to the MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine, which holds that if whoever fires the first missile is doomed themselves, they just won't do it. Ronald Reagan used the phrase "Peace Through Strength" as a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Same idea.

    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. (IV. 14-15)

    Here's that classic quote again. It's difficult to understand how exactly "unwarranted influence" could A) be detected and B) be stopped once detected. The legislative and budgetary processes were complicated enough in the 50s, but now we have to imagine there are even more layers of bureaucratic malarkey and departments within departments within departments…

    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. (IV. 26-28)

    This is classic Ike, in one sentence describing the proper use of executive power, as he saw it, anyway. Maybe his understanding of statesmanship actually came from his time in the military, where he was in charge of organizing outrageously complex lines of production, communication, and transportation, strategy and tactics, and diplomatic/public relations. Instead of micromanaging everything, he had to take, in general, a more subtle approach of "molding," "balancing," and "integrating" all the committees, organizations, and commands.

  • Principles

    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)

    To a lot of people, this is America's mission statement. It's a feel-good kind of story to tell yourself about yourself, which is probably why it's still such a popular conception of what it is to be American. Who wouldn't be proud to be that person Ike described?

    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 action of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration. (III.13-14)

    That's a tough balancing act. The underlying principle seems to be: think carefully about all the consequences of what you do now, because it's not just you and it's not just now.

    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. (VI. 1-4)

    Shmoop is liking Ike more every second. This was the way he wanted to combat Communism: the principled pursuit of peace through diplomacy, trade, and communication, and the protection of smaller nations unable to protect themselves. If America followed these principles we'd have the moral high-ground, and we'd eventually wear the Soviets down by getting all the love from the world community.

    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)

    This is Ike's last hurrah as president, and his understanding of America's principles comes out to shine like the morning sun rising over the prairie. When's the last time you heard a sentence like this one? And did you notice that the whole thing is in fact one sentence? Ike clearly missed his calling. In addition to being the Supreme Commander of Everything and president, he shoulda been a preacher.

  • Warfare

    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. (II.1-4)

    Although the U.S. has been at war in recent decades, the latest conflicts pale in comparison to the "four major wars" Ike refers to here. Holocaust isn't a strong enough word, and really, there just aren't words for the destruction and suffering of the early 20th century. It's important to remember that when reading about the policies and rhetoric of the time.

    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 it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. (III.4-7)

    For decades, America had a constant enemy—Soviet communism— that was used to justify all sorts of campaigns, interventions, and modern-day witch hunts. To Ike's dismay, the Cold War used up huge amounts of American resources, labor, and energy. Too often, the ideals of freedom Ike spoke about were trampled on because of the perception of an imminent mortal danger. Plenty of politicians like Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy milked those perceptions to further their political careers.

    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. (IV. 1-2)

    There's a lot to recommend this attitude, whether you're a nation-state or an individual living in a rough neighborhood (it's good to know some martial arts if you ever have to defend yourself, is what we're saying). But how mighty is mighty enough? That's exactly what kept Ike awake nights.

    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 State 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. (IV. 4-13)

    Because modern-day America has inherited this machinery, it's hard to imagine the less "mobilized" past. The Founders never envisioned a standing army; they'd just call up the troops as needed when things got scary. Supporting a professional army would have been too expensive and, as James Madison said, "not a safe companion to liberty" (source). After WWII not only did we have a standing army, we had a massive arms business supporting it. Ike clearly thought we'd created a monster that now was invested in keeping itself big, powerful, and profitable.

    Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose difference, 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. (VI. 5-12)

    This is really the crux of Ike's philosophy of war. America fought in WWII to end it. It fought the Cold War to protect the West from the Soviets. Always, in Ike's mind, war was fought for the purpose of a future peace. And in the case of the Cold War, it was fought only on the margins of the world stage, so that no hot war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. would be risked. More than almost anyone, he knows how high the stakes are in this game.

  • Technology and Modernization

    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. (IV. 17-18)

    This quote is a great motivation for supporting education in whatever way possible. Because if the only thing that can guide the mammoth industrial "machinery of defense" is a "knowledgeable" citizenry, then America could very well be in a mammoth heap of trouble. Present company excepted, of course.

    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. (IV. 19-21)

    Has government funding of research and development been a net positive or negative? On one hand, there are some big complicated studies that don't have much profit potential but are still important in one way or another and need funding. OTOH, if these studies aren't well-designed or don't show financial accountability, there could be a whole lot of wasted R&D money.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been over shadowed 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. (IV. 22-27)

    Ike sounds nostalgic for the days of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. But think about Sergei and Larry, Jobs and Woz—all slaving away in their California garages back in the day. Oh, wait; think about Apple and Google. We get it, Ike.

    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. (V. 1-4)

    The side-effect of "modernization" in the 20th-century model is the massive consumption of resources. He knew that living in the moment could bankrupt us and pass on massive debt to the next generations. Although, honestly, they're going to spend it all on macchiatos and $75 yoga pants, so who cares.