Thursday, January 17, 2008

An important message then, and even more now

On this day in 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to the nation as president. He (and his speech writer) included some very prescient, slightly jarring, and very important messages in that speech, and it seems to me that its content becomes ever more important as we face the conflicts of our day. Have a look for yourself:

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. We should take nothing for granted. 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.

...

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.

During 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 fast frustrations -- past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of disarmament -- of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, 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.

...

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration: 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 few spiritual blessings. Those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibility; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; and that the sources -- 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.

That damn hippie!

But it is that message and those goals, greater than Eisenhower or any one person's presidency, that we should continue to aspire toward achieving. I find it interesting that a man who fought a world war and lead what was then the most powerful country on the planet would understand and give voice to such a message, especially in the midst of one of the most oppressive and fear-mongering eras in our nation's history. Those words coming out of the mouth of a long-haired activist in the late 60's would have been written off as idealistic nonsense and not the words of a respected president. And it should be noted that our current leadership seems to have absolutely no understanding of the warnings issued by Eisenhower (and others). We have come an awfully long way to slide so far backwards.

1 comment:

Palmer said...

Have you read this?

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174884

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