I was 6 years old when Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his now-famous farewell address that included his warning about the “military-industrial complex.”
By the way, it wasn’t seen or heard by many Americans in 1960. The country was much more excited about the incoming president, the young John F. Kennedy, than anything Ike had to say. But the “military-industrial complex” phrase resonated in our ears perpetually beginning a few years later as the 1960s “peace movement” questioned virtually all defense spending.
Yet I’m ashamed to say I only recently became aware of two other cogent alarms he sounded in that brief speech so long ago – both well ahead of their time and prescient beyond words.
I wrote about one yesterday – the scientific-technological complex. If we couldn’t see it coming in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, we can certainly feel its effects today in the way Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and others have destroyed our privacy, stolen our free speech, killed the free press, made a mockery of freedom of religion and threatened free and fair elections.
Just as I was rereading the 1,800-word speech, I found another gem of an observation from Eisenhower – another warning missed.
I love the way he said it, too. Maybe no one has ever said it better.
“Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time,” said Eisenhower. “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 our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking 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.” (Emphasis added.)
Of course, that’s just what we neglected to do since 1960, isn’t it? We couldn’t avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. Instead, we did just that without giving what we were doing a thought – literally mortgaging the material assets of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, without a thought or care given to their political and spiritual heritage.
And here we are on the brink, on the precipice, of insolvency – not just in terms of finances, but in terms of our ability to conduct ourselves in self-government, and nearly spiritually bankrupt as a society.
Indeed, the upcoming generation, the one so challenged to pay off its usury college loans is less likely to ever own a house or raise a family of its own, is sadly the first group of Americans to be collectively worse off financially than the previous one.
We didn’t listen to Eisenhower, that’s for sure. But nor did we listen to our common sense or the Bible’s warning against covetousness. Instead we lusted for all we could not afford, placing it on the credit cards of our children and grandchildren – at exorbitant interest rates, of course.
But it’s not just personal debt. Should it surprise us that our government servants took our cue and rolled up $20 trillion in public debt as well?
How big do you suppose that bubble can get before it explodes in a catastrophe that have us all searching for words more potent than “Depression”?
To think I once actually believed Republicans would tackle the debt monster if only they ever got control of both houses of Congress and the White House. Instead, what they gave us was wasted opportunity after wasted opportunity.
Maybe President Trump will still heed Eisenhower’s admonition.