Eisenhower’s Farewell Address: A Must Read 50 Years On

My father’s feelings about the general in overall command of the European theater in which he fought in World War II were best expressed in the names of the rabbits he bought in 1953: Ike and Mamie.

President Eisenhower and his First Lady were not revered in our family. But my father shared this with the former supreme allied commander:

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.

The two rabbits were part of my father’s effort to make sure we had food when that next war came.

The words I quoted came from President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address delivered on January 17, 1961. He spoke quietly to cameras from behind a desk in the White House, a tired reflective old man.

Three days later, came John F. Kennedy’s much quoted Innaugural Address. An erect coatless young man speaking from the Capital steps to thousands of spectators in the clear frigid air warmed and inspired millions.

The torch had passed to a new generation, as Kennedy said – from World War II’s generals to its lieutenant commanders.

This morning for the first time I read and listened to Eisenhower’s Farewell Address. I found it deeply, profoundly moving.

Perhaps it is because I am much closer in age to Eisenhower’s in 1961 than Kennedy’s. But 50 years on, I wish the world, America and I had attended to his cautions. As with George Washington’s Farewell Address, it stands as a future foretold and as one everlastingly to be regretted.