The 50th anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous farewell address to the nation has prompted much discussion about the prescience of his message. Has Eisenhower's vision of an America dominated by a military-industrial complex come to fruition? What would he think about our current military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan? Has Eisenhower's address been wrongly interpreted, misapplied, or misunderstood over the decades? Eisenhower's granddaughter, Susan, offered her perspective on the address in an op-ed for The Washington Post:
"While the farewell address may be remembered primarily for the passages about the military-industrial complex, Ike was rising above the issues of the day to appeal to his countrymen to put the nation and its future first. 'We . . . 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.'"
The lessons that Susan Eisenhower takes away from her grandfather's speech prompted me – as I'm sure it has many others – to read President Eisenhower's address for myself. And like Susan, what I found most insightful and inspirational about Ike's words were his emphasis on the importance of balance in our approach to and expectations of government, the obligations of national identity and intergenerational bonds, and the need to remember and preserve the spirit of faith and democratic values that undergird the American experiment:
"Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. . . . But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration; the need to maintain balance in and among national programs – balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages – balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration."