Eisenhower’s Warning, 61 Years Earlier

Reading through, as I sometimes do, the great collection of essays in We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing From 1812 to Now, edited by Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, I came across a piece by William Jennings Bryan. Resigning as Wilson’s secretary of state in 1915, Bryan had opposed the US occupation of the Philippines, a conflict in which US soldiers committed sadistic atrocities and which caused hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. In his essay “The Paralyzing Influence of Imperialism” he writes his own version of Eisenhower’s famous farewell address, only 61 years early.

If we have an imperial policy we must have a great standing army as its natural and necessary complement. The spirit which will justify the forcible annexation of the Philippine Islands will justify the seizure of other islands and the domination of other people, and with wars of conquest we can expect a certain, if not rapid, growth of our military establishment.

…A large standing army is not only a pecuniary burden to the people and, if accompanied by compulsory service, a constant source of irritation but it is even a menace to a republican form of government. The army is the personification of force, and militarism will inevitably change the ideals of the people and turn the thoughts of our young men from the arts of peace to the science of war. The government which relies for its defense upon its citizens is more likely to be just than one which has at call a large body of professional soldiers.

The late 1800s and early 1900s was really a time of transition for America towards overseas bases and military empire. And today, that empire of bases continues to grow.

14 thoughts on “Eisenhower’s Warning, 61 Years Earlier”

  1. This puts me in mind of a debate I just listened to, between John Browne and Anthony Gregory. The subject of the debate was, "Winston Churchill: 20th Century Statesman, or warmonger?"

    As I listened to these two capable speakers, the thought kept going through my head, in response to the subject question: "What's the difference?"

    The answer, to MY mind is: Obviously, he was both! But that should surprise no one, given that "statesmen" are, after all, representatives of, and spokesmen for, the interests of the State,

    Given, that the interests of the State are so inherently involved with war – war being "the health of the State" – why would there be any debate, over whether, ultimately, ALL "statesmen" (but especially the "great" ones), aren't also warmongers?

    I think Mr. Gregory missed an excellent opportunity to "win" the debate, by not addressing this angle – something I KNOW he is well aware of, and has managed to point out so many times before.

  2. The difference between the United States of Phillipines era and the United States of now is that the United States of that era Prosecuted soldiers who Waterboarded!

    The Irony is there was NO Geneva conventions!

  3. Eisenhower presided over the overthrow of the Democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954. Eisenhower installed a brutish military dictatorship that has killed hundreds of thousands of indigenous landless farmers over the last fifty eight years. Eisenhower also presided over the elimination of the entire democratically elected government of Iran in 1954. The CIA participated in killing over 300 top government officials including the popular elected president. He installed the old monarch the Shaw who regularly . murdered his own people as he handed over the countries oil reserves to giant U.S. firms.

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  7. The Washington Post reported last year: “Cyberattacks can amount to armed attacks triggering the right of self-defense and are subject to international laws of war, the State Department’s top lawyer said Tuesday.”

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