In Archive, New Light on Evolution of Eisenhower Speech
By SAM ROBERTS
The words, in a speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, were transformed from a warning against a “war-based industrial complex” into a “vast military-industrial complex” and finally into a more vanilla “military-industrial complex,” which seemed controversial enough without the qualifier.
Documents released Friday by the National Archives shed new light on the genesis of the phrase in the televised address, which Eisenhower delivered on Jan. 17, 1961, three days before his successor’s inauguration.
In the final version, the president recalled that until recently the nation had no permanent arms industry, that “American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well,” but said that the country could no longer risk “emergency improvisation of national defense.” An adequate military establishment and arms industry were vital, he said, but their conjunction and “its total influence — economic, political, even spiritual” also had “grave implications.”
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” Eisenhower warned. “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.”
In the version he read from that night, those words were underlined. Several were typed in capital letters.
The newly released letters, memos and speech drafts — 21 in all — were received by the National Archives from Grant Moos, whose father, Malcolm, was Eisenhower’s special assistant and chief speechwriter.
“It’s probably the most important farewell address of the modern era,” said Karl Weissenbach, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in
The earliest White House memos suggesting a farewell address mentioned only an appeal for bipartisanship. But the president wrote his brother on May 25, 1959, of “the importance of getting our people to understand that local affairs have a definite relationship to foreign affairs.” A year later, another White House aide was urging the president’s speechwriter to read
On Oct. 31, 1960, another speechwriter, Ralph E. Williams, warned of a “permanent war-based industry” run by former military officials.
An undated draft titled “commencement” called for “jealous precaution” (Milton Eisenhower later deleted “jealous”) by civilian authorities “to avoid measures which would enable any segment of this military-industrial complex to sharpen the focus of its own power at the expense of the sound balance which now prevails.”
The president’s staff later expressed surprise at the phrase’s durability.
“I am sure that had it been uttered by anyone except a president who had also been the Army’s five-star chief of staff, it would long since have been forgotten,” Williams recalled years later.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs