Ike's Misinterpreted Farewell Address

Fifty years ago, on January 16, 1961, President Eisenhower delivered his Farewell Address, in which he warned against "the influence, whether sought or unsought, of the military-industrial complex."  These days, many people misinterpret, misuse, and falsify the meaning of Eisenhower's speech in order to advance their anti-defense political agenda.

We're now hearing claims that Eisenhower wanted to warn us against large defense budgets, a large standing military, and the defense industry.  We're being told that if he was alive today, he would have called for deep defense cuts, just like Ron Paul and many liberals have done.  We are to believe that Ike would have blamed the Pentagon for America's budget deficits and debt.  But those who perpetuate these ideas are mendaciously using a deceased American hero for political purposes.

What is the truth?  What did Eisenhower really mean?  The answer lies in Eisenhower's speeches (including that farewell address) and his presidential policies.

Let's start with his Farewell Address.  Its most oft-quoted part is Eisenhower's warning that:

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.

But this merely means that the government and the people must guard themselves against the influence of the so-called "military industrial complex" -- i.e., not allow the complex to influence U.S. government policy or the way in which the American society functions.  That's all.  Eisenhower didn't say that "we must cut the defense budget, keep defense spending very low, and dramatically reduce the size of our military."

The "American military-industrial complex" doesn't exist, by the way.  The U.S. defense industry is struggling to survive these days, and the largest defense contractor (Boeing) is 28th on the Fortune 500 list [1].  These days, there are only three corporations capable of producing fighterplanes, only two able to make bombers, and only one capable of building aircraft carriers.

Moreover, the opponents of a strong defense routinely omit the extremely important remainder of Eisenhower's Farewell Address.  Let's quote a few parts:

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

America's defense establishment and America's peaceful goals go hand in hand.  As Ike rightly said, it is possible to enjoy civil liberties and the benefits of a strong defense at the same time.

Moreover:

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. ... [W]e can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense.

This is a clear warning that a strong defense, backed up by a vibrant defense industry that can produce the weapons the military needs, is necessary.  The last sentence quoted above is not open to interpretation.  A strong defense, properly funded and managed, is always needed -- during wartime and peacetime -- to protect the U.S. from any foreign enemy.  This was true during the Cold War, and it's true now.

President Eisenhower's policies were built on this principle. Eisenhower inherited a defense budget equal to 15% of GDP, and he reduced it when the Korean War was suspended, but he avoided the kind of drastic defense cuts that liberals have called for this year and kept America's defense investments at ca. 10% of GDP throughout both of his terms.  His last defense budget equaled 9.4% of GDP.  When the Soviets challenged America with R-7 Semyorka ICBMs and Sputnik satellites, Eisenhower increased defense spending in real dollar terms, established a number of ICBM and SLBM programs, and created NASA.  By 1960, the U.S. had a triad of nuclear delivery systems (ICBMs, intercontinental bombers, and SLBMs), as well as Jupiter and Thor MRBMs in Italy and Turkey.  Eisenhower ordered fourteen SSBNs, hundreds of B-52 bombers, several aircraft carriers (the Kitty Hawk class and the Enterprise), and tons of other weapons.

Eisenhower also grew the U.S. nuclear arsenal by a factor of 18 -- from 1,000 to 18,000 warheads.  His NSC's Directive No. 162/2 prioritized nuclear weapons above all other arms, and his New Look defense strategy, which deterred the Soviet Union during the entire rest of the 1950s, promised a massive nuclear retaliation against the USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and Communist China if the Communists dared to perpetrate aggression against the West.  Would the self-proclaimed disciples of General Eisenhower endorse such policies?  No, they just cherry-pick isolated items from his speeches.  During the 1950s, liberals were constantly complaining (without any factual basis) that Ike's New Look strategy was insane and too dangerous for America.  Liberals and libertarians want a weak U.S. military, and the facts about Ike's policies don't matter to them.

Nor does it matter to liberals that Ike's warning about the "military-industrial complex," although well-intended, was ill-conceived.  The dying U.S. defense industry constitutes no threat to American civil and economic liberties, and America's military spending is a tiny burden on the U.S. economy.

If Eisenhower was alive today, he would admonish the liberals who so misquote him, and he would damnate America's present-day meagre investments in defense and its inadequate defense posture.  The FY2011 Continuing Resolution provides only $525 billion (i.e., 3.59% of a GDP of $14.62 trillion [2]) for defense; the FY2010 DOD budget, $534 billion in 2009 dollars, constituted 3.65% of GDP.  Under the New START, the U.S. is obliged to reduce its nuclear arsenal to just 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery systems -- that is, 170 warhead carriers below the minimum level calculated by the JCS Vice Chairman.  The average age of USAF aircraft is 25 years, while the USN's current ship fleet (285 vessels) is the smallest since 1916.  Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave.

Misusing Eisenhower's words from 1961 is ludicrous and unacceptable.  Liberals and libertarians -- this new "left-right" anti-defense coalition -- should learn about Eisenhower's entire record or stop talking about him.  He would never have embraced their policies.

Notes

[1] Boeing earns most of its revenue on civilian products.  The second-biggest weapons-maker, Lockheed Martin, still primarily a weaponmaking company, is barely 44th.

[2] As a percentage of GDP, this is the lowest level of defense spending since FY1948 (excluding the late 1990s and FYs 2002-2003, when defense spending was even lower).  The GDP estimade was made by the IMF.
Fifty years ago, on January 16, 1961, President Eisenhower delivered his Farewell Address, in which he warned against "the influence, whether sought or unsought, of the military-industrial complex."  These days, many people misinterpret, misuse, and falsify the meaning of Eisenhower's speech in order to advance their anti-defense political agenda.

We're now hearing claims that Eisenhower wanted to warn us against large defense budgets, a large standing military, and the defense industry.  We're being told that if he was alive today, he would have called for deep defense cuts, just like Ron Paul and many liberals have done.  We are to believe that Ike would have blamed the Pentagon for America's budget deficits and debt.  But those who perpetuate these ideas are mendaciously using a deceased American hero for political purposes.

What is the truth?  What did Eisenhower really mean?  The answer lies in Eisenhower's speeches (including that farewell address) and his presidential policies.

Let's start with his Farewell Address.  Its most oft-quoted part is Eisenhower's warning that:

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.

But this merely means that the government and the people must guard themselves against the influence of the so-called "military industrial complex" -- i.e., not allow the complex to influence U.S. government policy or the way in which the American society functions.  That's all.  Eisenhower didn't say that "we must cut the defense budget, keep defense spending very low, and dramatically reduce the size of our military."

The "American military-industrial complex" doesn't exist, by the way.  The U.S. defense industry is struggling to survive these days, and the largest defense contractor (Boeing) is 28th on the Fortune 500 list [1].  These days, there are only three corporations capable of producing fighterplanes, only two able to make bombers, and only one capable of building aircraft carriers.

Moreover, the opponents of a strong defense routinely omit the extremely important remainder of Eisenhower's Farewell Address.  Let's quote a few parts:

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

America's defense establishment and America's peaceful goals go hand in hand.  As Ike rightly said, it is possible to enjoy civil liberties and the benefits of a strong defense at the same time.

Moreover:

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. ... [W]e can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense.

This is a clear warning that a strong defense, backed up by a vibrant defense industry that can produce the weapons the military needs, is necessary.  The last sentence quoted above is not open to interpretation.  A strong defense, properly funded and managed, is always needed -- during wartime and peacetime -- to protect the U.S. from any foreign enemy.  This was true during the Cold War, and it's true now.

President Eisenhower's policies were built on this principle. Eisenhower inherited a defense budget equal to 15% of GDP, and he reduced it when the Korean War was suspended, but he avoided the kind of drastic defense cuts that liberals have called for this year and kept America's defense investments at ca. 10% of GDP throughout both of his terms.  His last defense budget equaled 9.4% of GDP.  When the Soviets challenged America with R-7 Semyorka ICBMs and Sputnik satellites, Eisenhower increased defense spending in real dollar terms, established a number of ICBM and SLBM programs, and created NASA.  By 1960, the U.S. had a triad of nuclear delivery systems (ICBMs, intercontinental bombers, and SLBMs), as well as Jupiter and Thor MRBMs in Italy and Turkey.  Eisenhower ordered fourteen SSBNs, hundreds of B-52 bombers, several aircraft carriers (the Kitty Hawk class and the Enterprise), and tons of other weapons.

Eisenhower also grew the U.S. nuclear arsenal by a factor of 18 -- from 1,000 to 18,000 warheads.  His NSC's Directive No. 162/2 prioritized nuclear weapons above all other arms, and his New Look defense strategy, which deterred the Soviet Union during the entire rest of the 1950s, promised a massive nuclear retaliation against the USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and Communist China if the Communists dared to perpetrate aggression against the West.  Would the self-proclaimed disciples of General Eisenhower endorse such policies?  No, they just cherry-pick isolated items from his speeches.  During the 1950s, liberals were constantly complaining (without any factual basis) that Ike's New Look strategy was insane and too dangerous for America.  Liberals and libertarians want a weak U.S. military, and the facts about Ike's policies don't matter to them.

Nor does it matter to liberals that Ike's warning about the "military-industrial complex," although well-intended, was ill-conceived.  The dying U.S. defense industry constitutes no threat to American civil and economic liberties, and America's military spending is a tiny burden on the U.S. economy.

If Eisenhower was alive today, he would admonish the liberals who so misquote him, and he would damnate America's present-day meagre investments in defense and its inadequate defense posture.  The FY2011 Continuing Resolution provides only $525 billion (i.e., 3.59% of a GDP of $14.62 trillion [2]) for defense; the FY2010 DOD budget, $534 billion in 2009 dollars, constituted 3.65% of GDP.  Under the New START, the U.S. is obliged to reduce its nuclear arsenal to just 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery systems -- that is, 170 warhead carriers below the minimum level calculated by the JCS Vice Chairman.  The average age of USAF aircraft is 25 years, while the USN's current ship fleet (285 vessels) is the smallest since 1916.  Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave.

Misusing Eisenhower's words from 1961 is ludicrous and unacceptable.  Liberals and libertarians -- this new "left-right" anti-defense coalition -- should learn about Eisenhower's entire record or stop talking about him.  He would never have embraced their policies.

Notes

[1] Boeing earns most of its revenue on civilian products.  The second-biggest weapons-maker, Lockheed Martin, still primarily a weaponmaking company, is barely 44th.

[2] As a percentage of GDP, this is the lowest level of defense spending since FY1948 (excluding the late 1990s and FYs 2002-2003, when defense spending was even lower).  The GDP estimade was made by the IMF.

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