July 2, 2014 —
On the very last day of spring, just a few days ago, John Rooney of Yulan, NY passed from this earth. He was one of the Greatest Generation. He was hardened in battle, having fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but lived kindly and gently in civilian life until his final breath.
Today there is a new call for boots on the ground in Iraq and greater military involvement in the region. This call is being made unimaginably by the very people who urged us into Iraq in 2003.
The time has never been better than now to contemplate the advice of the great general who led the allied forces in World War II and became the face of the Greatest Generation, serving as our president, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower.
President Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander in Europe because he had an uncanny ability to grasp the big picture. He was elected to the presidency as a very popular war hero. We were amid unprecedented growth and prosperity in post-war America. Toward the latter half of his second term, he became focused on alerting America to the big picture things that worried him.
Ike was not perceived as a particularly able speech maker, but almost two years before his presidency concluded, he began working on a farewell address, which has become known as his “military industrial complex” speech. It is worthy of a second read today for it speaks to us on the Iraq question. Eisenhower was extremely deliberate and thoughtful regarding the theme of the speech. Every word was chosen with exquisite precision. In all, the speech went through 29 drafts. Ike believed his message was of critical importance in a vastly changing world.
Simply stated, the president warned that we must not allow America to be drawn into war at the urging of those who directly and indirectly stand to gain by the business of war. Or as President Eisenhower carefully said it: “American makers of plowshares… could make swords as well.
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and large arms industry is new in the American experience.”
While acknowledging the importance of strength, he went on, “…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial [sic] complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Many Americans don’t remember that speech, which was delivered by the president on January 17, 1961. Some of us were not yet born then. The text can easily be retrieved on the Internet. It will take you only a few minutes to read it. But it took me more than half a century to really grasp what he was driving at.