A sobering return to Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address, arriving just before our own moment of uncertain presidential transition.
Eisenhower was a paradox: a former supreme commander devoted to peace who managed to keep the country out of war for eight years and left a haunting warning in his final televised speech on Jan. 17, 1961, that the United States had become a “permanent war-based industry.” With co-author Whitney, Fox News host Baier (Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love, 2014, etc.) brings new relevance to Eisenhower’s parting message to the young, relatively inexperienced new president, John F. Kennedy. The author explores Eisenhower’s last days in office, especially his sense of needing to prepare JFK for the “fate of the civilized world” and brace him against the military-driven mindset. Unlike his relations with his own predecessor, Harry Truman, which were strained and chilly, the World War II hero came around to respecting the glamorous young senator despite their vastly different backgrounds and his inglorious defeat of Richard Nixon. In the 1960 campaign, Kennedy had run on the “missile gap” between the U.S. and Soviet Union—the Soviets had launched the world’s first artificial satellite—which Eisenhower knew was “a clever, yet devious, tactic.” It was also misleading, since both countries had enough nuclear weapons to leave the world “a moonscape of radioactive ash.” This was Eisenhower’s message in his parting address, which is included in its entirety in an appendix: that industry had taken over the military; that bright retiring military people had gravitated to aerospace and other related industries; and that massive federal funding outlays were being granted for scientific-military research. As Baier notes, his speech warning of “unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex” proved enormously prescient even though it was not widely reported on at the time. Kennedy would learn this lesson quickly in the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
A focused and timely study of Eisenhower’s significant speech and the sticky transition to JFK’s inherited new world.