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History As It Happens

Sep 30, 2021

In his farewell address 60 years ago, President Eisenhower delivered a warning about the risks of war and the dangers of runaway military and intelligence budgets. Eisenhower himself had overseen the enormous buildup of the nation’s nuclear arsenal from fewer than 300 atomic bombs in 1950 to more than 27,000 nuclear weapons by the early 1960s. The former Supreme Allied commander had become a Cold Warrior, and had given the okay for two covert operations by the CIA to topple democratically elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala. But as he prepared to exit public life in January, 1961, Eisenhower lamented some of the consequences of America’s rise to global superpower because they threatened the health of democracy. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” said the 70-year-old statesman in his oft-quoted speech. Why did we ignore Eisenhower? Historian Jeremi Suri discusses Ike's complicated legacy and the forces underpinning the militaristic approach to world affairs.