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President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address was delivered to the nation at the end of his term, on January 19, 1961. A Presidential Farewell address serves as more than just a formality, and therefore should be treated as such. It is a President’s last opportunity to directly shape the public’s view of them. The intended audience of the address is the American people. An analysis of such a document, therefore, can be a powerful insight into the mindset of the American people within the historical context. Eisenhower’s presidency, and his farewell address, can only truly be understood through the lense of Cold War philosophy and rhetoric, and exposes many of the anxieties and attitudes of the American people during an incredibly turbulent period of American history.
One of Eisenhower’s main goals during his presidency was to ensure that U.S. was in a position of unipolar global hegemony. He assures the American people that this is true; “Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world.” His Presidency had seen many small, proxy conflicts, especially in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In order to establish himself as a successful president in the eyes of the American people he reminds them that he has kept America strong through his foreign policy. He wants to be remembered for this way because the populous admires and reveres strength and security during the mid to late 50s.
Despite the fact that the U.S. and the USSR pursued incredibly similar foreign policy objectives, Eisenhower had to portray himself as the figurehead of good, the antithesis of Stalin, Khrushchev, and the USSR. He did this by presenting his foreign policy in terms of morality; “Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity.” Eisenhower establishes that although his goals may have been the same as that of the USSR, the United States is seeking unipolar dominance for noble reasons; “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” He therefore frames his foreign policy achievements as president, as a continuation of America’s noble destiny, rather than a simple struggle for power, or, at worst, a violent violation of the sovereignty of other nations. However, his actual commitment to securing freedom and opportunity for all people may be doubtful. For example, he secured the Madrid Military Alliance for strategic reasons despite the fact that they were under a fascist regime. Domestically, he launched ‘Operation Wetback’ to deport and prohibit immigration into the United States from Mexico and opposed Social ‘safety net’ programs. Therefore his ‘commitment to freedom and opportunity for all people’ in his speech may have been more of a reflection of his strategic Cold War policies than an overarching humanitarian philosophy.
It was common during the Cold War to use Christian rhetoric to contrast the United States to the ‘godless’ Soviet Union. We see this reflected multiple times in Eisenhower’s farewell address; “We face a hostile ideology-global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method” The philosophy of separation of church and State was largely pushed aside during this period, as McCarthyism ran rampant. Religious and political deviance was culturally frowned upon and often prosecuted. Despite his claims that he confronted McCarthy personally, Eisenhower never publically denounced the House of Un-American Activities. Furthermore, state rhetoric attempted to tie Christianity to democracy during this time; “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.” By using Christian language he is attempting to portray himself as the symbol of these entwined ideologies, and therefore as the embodiment of ‘true americanism’ that was valued at the time.
In his address, Eisenhower addressed the arms race that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were engaged in; “Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime.” Eisenhower was criticized for allowing the Soviet Union to technologically surpass the United States, especially after the launching of Sputnik*. He was also criticized for the perceived (but unsubstantiated) ‘missile gap’, and therefore forced to build up the U.S.’s military and space capabilities. However in his farewell address he warns the nation of falling prey to the ‘military-industrial complex’. “We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence,whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex” Eisenhower understands that the United States must be militarily strong, however he is afraid that this notion may be exploited by those looking to profit from war, especially in light of the Korean and Vietnam wars and the covert military operations being undertaken by the CIA. This reflects the tensions pulling at the American people. While they are afraid of becoming militarily weak, they are also mistrustful of unnecessary military involvements and corruption.
When we examine his Farewell Address we see how Eisenhower wanted to be remembered by the nation. In his speech, Eisenhower attempts to portray himself as a President who lead America to technological and military hegemony, while embodying the Christian, democratic, incorruptible principles of the country. Through this analysis we can better understand the values and concerns of the American people during a time of great conflict both without and within the Nation.
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