What Ike re­ally meant

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - BY SU­SAN EISEN­HOWER Su­san Eisen­hower, the grand­daugh­ter of Dwight D. Eisen­hower, is an en­ergy and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs ex­pert and chair­man emer­i­tus of the Eisen­hower In­sti­tute.

Fifty years af­ter the “mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex.”

I’ve al­ways found it rather haunt­ing to watch old footage of my grand­fa­ther, Dwight Eisen­hower, giv­ing his tele­vised farewell ad­dress to the nation on Jan. 17, 1961. The 50-yearold film all but crack­les with age as the pres­i­dent makes his earnest, un­coached speech. I was 9 years old at the time, and it wasn’t un­til years later that I un­der­stood the im­por­tance of his words or the last­ing im­pact of his mes­sage.

Of course, the speech will for­ever be re­mem­bered for Eisen­hower’s con­cerns about a ris­ing “mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex,” which he de­scribed as “a per­ma­nent ar­ma­ments in­dus­try of vast pro­por­tions” with the po­ten­tial to ac­quire — whether sought or un­sought — “un­war­ranted in­flu­ence” in the halls of govern­ment.

The no­tion cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of schol­ars, politi­cians and vet­er­ans; the mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex has been stud­ied, in­ves­ti­gated and re­vis­ited count­less times, in­clud­ing now, at its 50th an­niver­sary. Look­ing back, it is easy to see the par­al­lels to our era, es­pe­cially how the com­plex has ex­panded since Sept. 11, 2001. In less than 10 years, our mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ex­pen­di­tures have in­creased by 119 per­cent. Even af­ter sub­tract­ing the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bud­get has grown by 68 per­cent since 2001. In 2010, the United States is pro­jected to spend at least $700 bil­lion on its de­fense and se­cu­rity, the most, in real terms, that we’ve spent in any year since World War II.

How­ever, at this time of in­creased con­cerns over our fis­cal deficit and the na­tional debt, Eisen­hower’s farewell words and legacy take on added sig­nif­i­cance.

Through­out his pres­i­dency, Eisen­hower con­tin­u­ally con­nected the coun­try’s se­cu­rity to its eco­nomic strength, un­der­scor­ing that our fis­cal health and our mil­i­tary might are equal pil­lars of our na­tional de­fense. This meant that a re­spon­si­ble govern­ment would have to make hard choices. The ques­tion Eisen­hower con­tin­ued to pose about de­fense spend­ing was clear and prac­ti­cal: How much is enough?

Early on, he re­al­ized that if the United States were to pre­vail in its ex­is­ten­tial stand­off with the Sovi­etUnion, we would have to pre­pare for a long game. Un­like our ex­pe­ri­ence in World War II, which lasted less than four years, the Cold War would last many decades. Eisen­hower un­der­stood that we were fac­ing a marathon, not a sprint.

More­over, the logic of nu­clear de­ter­rence made the con­ven­tional wars Ike had com­manded in the 1940s ob­so­lete. Now, there could be no mar­gin for er­ror; the Cold War brought with it dif­fer­ent cal­cu­la­tions, which were very costly by na­ture. These new re­al­i­ties meant that the United States would not only need to project power and re­solve, but also had to en­sure na­tional sol­vency — no easy task for a coun­try that had to mod­ern­ize while as­sum­ing, for the first time, the man­tle of global lead­er­ship.

The pres­sures Eisen­hower faced dur­ing his pres­i­dency were enor­mous. Over the years, as the Soviet Union ap­peared to reach mil­i­tary par­ity with the United States, po­lit­i­cal forces in Washington cried out for greater de­fense spend­ing and a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach to Moscow. In re­sponse, the ad­min­is­tra­tion pub­licly as­serted that there was no such thing as ab­so­lute se­cu­rity. “ The prob­lem in de­fense is how far you can go with­out de­stroy­ing from within what you are try­ing to de­fend from with­out,” Eisen­hower said. And he fol­lowed through, bal­anc­ing the bud­get three times dur­ing his ten­ure, a record un­matched dur­ing the ColdWar.

This theme was in­tro­duced at the start of Eisen­hower’s first term. On April 16, 1953, the new pres­i­dent spoke to the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of News­pa­per Editors, just weeks af­ter Soviet dic­ta­tor Joseph Stalin’s death. In this “Chance for Peace” speech — one as im­por­tant as the farewell ad­dress but of­ten over­looked by his­to­ri­ans — he seized the moment to out­line the cost of con­tin­ued ten­sions with the U.S.S.R. In ad­di­tion to the mil­i­tary dangers such a ri­valry im­posed, he said, the con­fronta­tion would ex­act an enor­mous do­mes­tic price on both so­ci­eties:

“ This world in arms is not spend­ing money alone. It is spend­ing the sweat of its la­bor­ers, the ge­nius of its sci­en­tists, the hopes of its chil­dren. The cost of one mod­ern heavy bomber is this: a mod­ern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two elec­tric power plants, each serv­ing a town of 60,000 pop­u­la­tion. . . . We pay for a sin­gle fighter with a half-mil­lion bushels of wheat. We pay for a sin­gle de­stroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 peo­ple. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Un­der the cloud of threat­en­ing war, it is hu­man­ity hang­ing from a cross of iron.”

Con­trary to many his­to­ri­ans’ sug­ges­tions, Ike’s farewell speech was not an af­ter­thought — it was the book­end to “Chance for Peace.” As early as 1959, he be­gan work­ing with his brother Mil­ton and his speech­writ­ers to craft ex­actly what he would say as he left pub­lic life. The speech would be­come a solemn moment in a de­cid­edly un­solemn time, of­fer­ing sober warn­ings for a nation giddy with new­found pros­per­ity, in­fat­u­ated with youth and glam­our, and aim­ing in­creas­ingly for the easy life.

“ There is a re­oc­cur­ring temp­ta­tion to feel that some spec­tac­u­lar and costly ac­tion could be­come the mirac­u­lous so­lu­tion to all cur­rent dif­fi­cul­ties,” he warned in his fi­nal speech as pres­i­dent. “. . . But each pro­posal must be weighed in light of a broader con­sid­er­a­tion: the need to main­tain bal­ance in and among na­tional pro­grams . . . bal­ance be­tween ac­tions of the moment and the na­tional wel­fare of the fu­ture.”

While the farewell ad­dress may be re­mem­bered pri­mar­ily for the pas­sages about the mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex, Ike was ris­ing above the is­sues of the day to ap­peal to his coun­try­men to put the nation and its fu­ture first. “We . . . 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.”

As I see my grand­fa­ther’s black-and­white im­age de­liver these words, a sim­ple thought lingers inmy mind: This­man was speak­ing for me, for us. We are those grand­chil­dren. We are the great ben­e­fi­cia­ries of his gen­er­a­tion’s pru­dence and sac­ri­fice.

Un­til to­day, per­haps, we have taken Amer­i­can lead­er­ship, dom­i­nance and pros­per­ity for granted. In those in­ter­ven­ing years, we rarely asked if our poli­cies were sus­tain­able over the long haul. In­deed, it has only been since the cat­a­strophic fi­nan­cial melt­down in 2008 that we’ve be­gun to think about the gen­er­a­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties we have for our grand­chil­dren’s pros­per­ity and wel­fare.

Eisen­hower’s words, from the be­gin­ning of his pres­i­dency to the end, come back to us from the mists of an­other era. They re­mind us, sadly, that some­times we must re­visit our past to learn what we have al­ways known.


Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower, right, and his press sec­re­tary, JamesHagerty, make a last check of the farewell ad­dress in 1961.


Eisen­hower’s farewell ad­dress is fa­mous for in­tro­duc­ing the con­cept of the “mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex,” but the pres­i­dent in­cluded eco­nomic con­cerns, too.

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