Dwight D. Eisenhower’s most famous address was his last one to the nation in January of 1961, when he warned America of what he termed “the military-industrial complex.” It was a warning as powerful as it was prescient, and though Ike achieved much in life, surely this speech and the meaning of his warning deserve to be captured in the boldest terms in the memorial to Ike in Washington, DC.
Sadly, it isn’t. Though I haven’t yet seen the monument in person, images of it are available online with audio commentary. Let’s tackle the audio commentary first. In Part 5, “Leader of the Free World,” the narrator speaks of Ike’s “farewell address,” not his address on the military-industrial complex, and that it included a “caution” (not a “warning”) to the nation. Ike is allowed a few sentences on the military-industrial complex, but the narrator provides no additional context or commentary. The narrator then ends by saying this was Ike’s goodbye speech; again, no mention of how powerful Ike’s speech was in its criticism of a force that Ike declared threatened America’s democracy and our personal liberties. And then the kicker: at the end of the narration, we’re told the audio commentary was made possible by “a generous donation” by Boeing!
I burst out in rueful laughter. Of course Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex was played down; the military-industrial complex funded the audio commentary! I felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” when he discovers his secret magic decoder ring is only useful for decoding crummy commercials that urge him to drink his Ovaltine.
Turning to the memorial inscriptions themselves, here is the one for Ike’s “farewell address”:
Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. 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. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its 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. Akin to and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society. We pray that…all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.
January 17, 1961
Notice how Ike’s warning (which I’ve bolded) about the military-industrial complex is buried in the text. Even more critically, the very heart of Ike’s warning is torn out. For here are Ike’s words that followed the warning about a military-industrial complex, and which are omitted on the memorial:
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.
Why weren’t these powerful words of Ike also engraved in stone? Could it be because no one in the DC area, especially the military, its many corporations, and the Congress, wants the American people to come to grips with “the disastrous rise of misplaced power” in America?
Putting this memorial together required corporate funding. Congress was also heavily involved. So too was the military. Is it any wonder that Ike’s warning about the military-industrial-Congressional complex has been watered down to a “caution” and buried in the text of a fond “farewell”?
Remember, Ike implored us to be alert and knowledgeable citizens. How can we be when his speeches are bowdlerized at his own memorial and the audio commentary to the same is funded by Boeing?
You truly need to sharpen your focus if you want to catch a glimpse of what truly worried Ike:
Something tells me that Ike, if he were alive today, would be none too happy about this. Ike’s memorial celebrates his boyhood, his service and great victory in World War II, and his presidency, but it fails to capture his finest speeches against war, against wasteful and immoral spending on deadly weaponry, and against a powerful alliance among the military, its weapons makers, and Congress that Ike saw as a fundamental threat to liberty and democracy.
Our monuments betray us, America, in more ways than one.