For nearly two years, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his aides searched for the right words to describe at the end of his presidency his fear that the nation’s burgeoning military power was driving its foreign policy, newly released papers show.
Many months before delivering the farewell address in which he famously warned about the strength of the American “military-industrial complex,” Eisenhower weighed various ideas for the speech, but concerns about the military were always central to his remarks.
The Eisenhower Presidential Library on Friday unveiled previously unseen drafts of the speech that were found recently in a cabin owned by Eisenhower speechwriter Malcolm Moos.
The documents help explain the origins of the term “military-industrial complex,” which Eisenhower used to warn against unbridled military development. The term was thought to have started as “war-based” industrial complex before becoming “military” in later drafts.
But that theory was based on an oral history from Ralph Williams, one of Eisenhower’s aides. In the new collection, “military” appears in the passage from the first draft.
“What we know now is that `military-industrial complex’ was in there all along,” said Valoise Armstrong, the archivist who processed the new papers.
In one draft, the paragraph mentioning the military-industrial complex is riddled with pencil marks deleting whole sentences, but the term itself is unblemished.
Moos’ son, Grant, found the papers — covered with pinecones, dirt and other debris — in a cabin in Minnesota earlier this year. He turned them over to the library in October.
“We are just so fortunate that these papers were discovered,” said Karl Weissenbach, director of the library in Abilene. “We were finally able to fill in the gaps of the address. For a number of years, it was apparent that there were gaps.”
The papers show that Eisenhower and his staff spent two years preparing for his final speech to the nation. One document features a typewritten note from the president lamenting that when he joined the military in 1911, there were 84,000 Army soldiers — a number that ballooned roughly tenfold by 1960.
“The direct result of this continued high level of defense expenditures has been to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions, where none had existed before,” he wrote in the passage, a variation of which reached the delivered speech on Jan. 17, 1961.
The notion of a farewell address began with a list of potential topics Eisenhower could discuss from May 1959 through the end of his second term.
The drafts show that the speech started as a reflection on public service and the role of the military, but expanded into wide-ranging remarks about the technological revolution and his lament that he never achieved world peace, but avoided a nuclear war.
Eisenhower biographer David Nichols noted that while the address is known for the reference to the military-industrial complex, the president had warned about military growth and Cold War threats throughout his presidency.
“He was always talking about the Cold War and the threat to American values and the danger that America would become a garrison state,” Nichols said. “The military wanted a lot more than he was willing to give them. It frustrated the Army. He thought about it all the time.”
The papers include 21 drafts of the speech, showing the evolution of the final presentation, which was originally intended to be given before Congress but was eventually delivered from the Oval Office.
Nichols, who is working on a book about Eisenhower and the Suez Canal Crisis, said historians often overlook the president’s speeches because of his weak skills as an orator. But, he said, Eisenhower was heavily involved in his public addresses, often rewriting them himself until moments before delivery.
Milton Eisenhower’s notations are found throughout the rough drafts, including wholesale changes on one draft prepared just 10 days before the president spoke on television. Weissenbach said Milton Eisenhower was part of the president’s inner circle, along with the president’s son John.
“That to me illustrates how Milton had a take-charge moment where he wasn’t pleased with the direction it was taking and made an overhaul. Obviously he wouldn’t have done it without the blessing of his brother,” Weissenbach said.
Nichols said Milton Eisenhower had a special relationship with his brother throughout his presidency. However, he said, little exists in the public record of his involvement, outside a few memos in the archives.
“Eisenhower kept marvelous records on what he did, in the Oval Office, the hospital, but his conversations with Milton were off the record,” Nichols said. “I only wish and pray that we could uncover some notes.”
Born in 1890, Eisenhower grew up in Kansas and graduated from West Point. During World War II, he commanded the Allied forces in Europe, including the D-Day invasion of France.
After the war, he became president of Columbia University and the first commander of NATO before running for president in 1952, a campaign that featured the slogan “I like Ike.” He died in 1969.
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