Newly discovered documents from a cabin owned by former US president Dwight Eisenhower’s speechwriter are shedding more light on the historic farewell address in which Eisenhower described his fears that the nation’s burgeoning “military-industrial complex” was driving its foreign policy.
The documents help explain the origins of the term, which Eisenhower used in the speech to warn against unbridled military development. The phrase was thought to have begun as “war-based” industrial complex before becoming “military” in later drafts.
However, 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.
Portions of the documents appeared on the Eisenhower Presidential Library’s research Web site before their public unveiling on Friday.
Grant Moos, son of Eisenhower aide Malcolm Moos, found the papers — covered with pinecones, dirt and other debris — in a cabin in Minnesota.
“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 goodbye to the nation. One document features a typewritten note from Eisenhower lamenting that when he joined the military in 1911, there were 84,000 US 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.
Eisenhower biographer David Nichols noted that while the speech is known for the phrase “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 US Congress but was eventually delivered from the Oval Office to the entire nation.
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.
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. However, he said, Eisenhower was heavily involved in his public addresses, often rewriting them himself up until moments before delivery.