Eisenhower's Farewell Address: " We want democracy to survive for all generations" Posted: March 13, 2003
With the focus of KRC on little else besides the legislative session during the last three months, we have communicated little concerning other matters affecting the environment. While seldom discussed, the ecological impacts of war deserve discussion. Since World War II, there have been 160 wars on our planet, with devastating local and regional ecological impacts on land, air and water resources. As noted by forest advocate Andy Stahl, on environmental grounds alone, it is imperative that we exhaust all alternatives to war.
On January 17, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell Presidential address to the nation. While the speech is remembered only as the one in which "Ike" warned of the threat to democracy from the military-industrial complex, the speech contained much more, reflecting his sadness at the limited success of the United Nations at averting war, and his hopes for that body. At this most unsettled time, it is worth recalling the words of a President who served in combat with honor, and knew from his pivotal role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during the European campaign in World War II, the horrors of war and the importance of multilateral international action using "intellect and decent purpose" and not arms, to achieve and maintain a durable peace.
"Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield. Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight. Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road. So – in this my last good night to you as your President – I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future. You and I – my fellow citizens – need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nations' great goals. To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love."
As the current Administration reverses course on environmental protection in many areas, from mining to air pollution, forest and wildlife protection to water quality, Ike's farewell thoughts in that same speech on conservation and stewardship, at a time when conservation was less a partisan political issue, likewise bear repeating:
"As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking 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."