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The Larger Legacy From Ike's Farewell

January 12, 1986|Norman Cousins | Author-Editor Norman Cousins is an adjunct professor of medical humanities at UCLA.

Dwight D. Eisenhower became President on the basis of his vast popularity as an American military leader in World War II. Yet paradoxically, his place in American history may primarily rest on the prophetic accuracy of a warning about the growing influence of the military and the armament industry.

Eisenhower's reference to this danger in his Farewell Address, 25 years ago this month, has given rise to two popular misconceptions. The first is that he was referring only to a "military-industrial complex." The second is that his comment reflected views arrived at late in his presidency.

The first misconception is readily dealt with, for Eisenhower also specifically referred to the "scientific-technological elite," as the following passage from the talk made clear:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist . . . . We must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."

The second misconception--that Eisenhower's deep concern about military influence in government came only at the end of his presidency--calls for testimony based on direct conversations.

In July, 1959, at Eisenhower's suggestion, I proposed to the Soviet Peace Committee in Moscow a continuing series of meetings between leaders from the private sector of each country to explore outstanding issues between the two nations. Eisenhower believed that diplomatic negotiations sometimes bog down because each side fears a conciliatory attitude would be regarded as weakness by the other. Private discussions, however, could probe for openings without risk to either government, enabling the diplomats to begin talks at an advanced state. His judgment has since been confirmed by 26 years of meetings between citizen leaders of both countries in what has come to be known as the Dartmouth Conference series (the first meeting was held at Hanover, N.H.).

The Dartmouth Conferences have played an exploratory and helpful role in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, development of cultural exchanges, direct air connections, the hot line, widening of trade and arms-control talks.

One conversation, only a few months before the end of his term, foreshadowed the "military-industrial establishment" speech. The President had come to New York for an appearance at the United Nations General Assembly. His mood was confident, upbeat. In fact, I hadn't remembered seeing him in such fine form since he came to office--and I said something to that effect.

The President grinned and said the appearance probably reflected the reality. He was full of anticipations, saying he looked forward to leaving the presidency so that he could devote himself to the cause of world peace.

I suppose my jaw dropped open at the implications of his remark. He smiled and said he relished the notion of being able to speak out as a citizen, free of the gauntlets that even a President has to run in the formation of foreign policy. He then referred to the multiplicity of pressures inside the government, including the departments of state and defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, special committees in Congress and more.

To be sure, most diverse pressures come together in the National Security Council, but it is not unusual for particular pressures to be urged on the President apart from meetings of the council.

The appointment of John Foster Dulles as secretary of state at the start of the Eisenhower Administration may have had the effect of relieving many multiple pressures, but it also produced a considerable amount of frustration and exasperation. There was a stark difference of style and thrust between the two men. Eisenhower favored the open, direct approach. He wanted face-to-face meetings, especially with Soviet leaders. Dulles liked to play close to the vest. Eisenhower advocated the broadcast possible sharing of information with the American public. He did not fear public opinion; he saw it as a resource. Dulles, however, regarded public opinion as an encumbrance at times rather than a natural ally. He tended to mix theology and ideology, with strongly held views about the integrated and monolithic nature of world communism.

One incident served to epitomize the difference. When we met in New York, Eisenhower recounted the story of his heart attack in 1955. White House pressures had been particularly heavy and his doctors had been urging a break. But the respite had to be deferred week after week. Finally, an opportunity for a long week-end presented itself and he took off for Denver, for a few days of clear air and open sky.

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