Obama Ignores Eisenhower at Country’s, World’s Peril

Excellent piece of historical reporting by Melvin Goodman in regards to what is certainly one of the most prescient and honestly lucid speeches in American political history. It is telling it wasn’t until the end of his administration that Eisenhower felt secure enough (or compelled enough?) to deliver this onto the doorstep of American consciousness.

On January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his prophetic warning about the military-industrial complex, anticipating the increased political, economic, military and even cultural influence of the Pentagon and its allies. Several weeks earlier, he had privately told his senior advisers in the Oval Office, “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” Several months after his inauguration in 1953, he warned against warfare that had “humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

In the spring of 1961, I was part of a small group of undergraduates who met with the president’s brother, Milton Eisenhower, who was then president of Johns Hopkins University. Milton Eisenhower and a Johns Hopkins professor of political science, Malcolm Moos, played major roles in the drafting and editing of the farewell speech of January 1961. The actual drafter of the speech, Ralph E. Williams, relied on guidance from Professor Moos. Milton Eisenhower explained that one of the drafts of the speech referred to the “military-industrial-Congressional complex” and said that the president himself inserted the reference to the role of the Congress, an element that did not appear in the delivery of the farewell address. When the president’s brother asked about the dropped reference to Congress, the president replied: “It was more than enough to take on the military and private industry. I couldn’t take on the Congress as well.”

In addition to the Congress reference, an entire section was dropped from the speech that dealt with the creation of a “permanent, war-based industry,” with “flag and general officers retiring at an early age [to] take positions in the war-based industrial complex shaping its decisions and guiding the direction of its tremendous thrust.” The president warned that steps needed to be taken to “insure that the ‘merchants of death’ do not come to dictate national policy.” The section also warned against any belief that some “spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.”


Eisenhower clashed with the military mindset from the very beginning of his presidency. He knew that his generals were wrong in proclaiming “political will” the major factor in military victory and would have shuddered when General David Petraeus proclaimed recently that political will is the key to US success in Afghanistan. Eisenhower knew that military demands for weaponry and resources were always based on inexplicable notions of “sufficiency,” and he made sure that Pentagon briefings to the Congress were countered by testimony from the intelligence community.


Finally, Eisenhower understood that too much spending on defense would weaken both the economy and national security. “Every gun that is made,” Eisenhower said, “every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies … a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

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