To set the stage here. Many of my readers will recall that I often mention my dissatisfaction with the way things are going these days. We appear to have lost our national and world focus and seem to be devolving into partisanship, religious rhetoric, and capitalist driven greed.
I was listening to portions of Robert F. Kennedy's inauguration speech the other day. We have all heard it. The one where he states
“...let the world know, that a new generation has come forth...”
”....ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.....”
”....we chose to go to the moon and the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.....”
All wonderful sound bites and very inspirational. These are words that defined my generation while we were growing up, but words that I fear most of the Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers have no clue about. Somewhere, between here and there, we lost our way.
This all got me thinking about the speech that no one else talks about much. The one that was given the day before Kennedy made his. It was the farewell address by President Eisenhower given on the eve of Kennedy’s inauguration. This is something that President’s no longer do and it is a sobering speech to read. It is eloquent, but he warns of things that he sees on the horizon. Things that he could not have known about, but that he comes very close to getting right.
Keep in mind that at the time, President Eisenhower was the oldest living President to serve in office and Kennedy was the youngest President ever to be elected. Eisenhower was the vested leader, West Point Graduate, Supreme Commander in WWII, College Dean, NATO Commander and President for eight years. Kennedy was the up and coming charismatic Navy Captain that got his boat shot out form under him in WWII.
In his speech, Eisenhower emphasises ‘balance’ in the public and private sectors. He warns of the looming influence of the ‘Military Industrial Complex’, and fears that ‘the one quick fix mentality that will solve all our problems’ was leading the nation to a ‘live now, be happy’ sort of mindset which was mortgaging our children’s future.
This is sort of chilling when taken in the context of today’s world of multi-national arms dealers, Enron and Bernie Madoff.
Eisenhower had the slow and steady, pragmatic approach of a victorious soldier that had seen far too much carnage and too many mistakes in his life. Our current leaders appear to have lost this mindset. This worries me, it worries me a lot.
To read the entire transcript of Eisenhower’s farewell address, click here. It really is interesting stuff, that shows a style and eloquence that is rare these days.