On this day in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his farewell address. After two terms and decades of military service, the Republican president chose to finish out his time in public service warning against “the military-industrial complex.”
Eisenhower recognized that a Cold War world required for military readiness. The boundaries of the world wars and the Korean War had been defined, but it was becoming apparent that the US in the Cold War years would face an undefined, ever-present threat.
However, Eisenhower felt that there was a difference between being prepared and being in the business of war. Eisenhower warned against undue pressure or influence from “a large arms industry” with vested interest in a robust and costly military footprint.
“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,” Eisenhower said.
This was coming from a five-star general and Republican president, someone who knew the military. Eisenhower was largely very cautious about spending and tried to achieve a balanced budget and while cutting back on defense spending after the Korean War.
Eisenhower’s warning stemmed from his belief that “the very structure of our society” would shoulder the cost of the military-industrial complex. He didn’t want financial gain in the defense sector to become “a substitute for intellectual curiosity.” Like most people, he preferred peace to conflict.
“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,” Eisenhower said.
A quick then-and-now comparison: Eisenhower’s fellow Republican, President Donald Trump, promised a “great rebuilding of the Armed Forces,” proposed a new branch of the military, signed a 2019 defense budget for $716 billion, and will reportedly requested $750 billion for defense in fiscal year 2020: A reminder that times and threats to the country change.