January 17, 1961.
My fellow Americans:
This evening I come to you with a message of
leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final
thoughts with you, my countrymen.
Like every other citizen, I wish the new President,
and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray
that the coming years will be blessed with peace and
prosperity for all.
We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a
century that has witnessed four major wars among
great nations. Three of these involved our own
country. Despite these holocausts America is today
the strongest, the most influential and most productive
nation in the world. Understandably proud of
this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America's
leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our
unmatched material progress, riches and military
strength, but on how we use our power in the interests
of world peace and human betterment.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently
threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It
commands our whole attention, absorbs our very
beings. We face a hostile ideology global in scope,
atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious
in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be
of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there
is called for, not so much the emotional
and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those
which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and
without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and
complex struggle--with liberty the stake. Only thus
shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our
charted course toward permanent peace and human
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military
establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for
instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be
tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation
to that known by any of my predecessors in
peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World
War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United
States had no armaments industry. American makers
of plowshares could, with time and as required, make
swords as well. But now we can no longer risk
emergency improvisation of national defense; we have
been compelled to create a permanent armaments
industry of vast proportions. Added to this,
three and a half million men and women are directly
engaged in the defense establishment. We annually
spend on military security more than the net income
of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment
and a large arms industry is new in the American
experience. The total influence--economic, political,
even spiritual---is felt in every city, every State
house, every office of the Federal government. We
recognize the imperative need for this development.
Yet we must not fail to comprehend its graveimplications.
Our toil, resources and livelihood are all
involved; so is the very structure of our society.
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.
We must never let the weight of this combination
endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We
should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and
knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper
meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery
of defense with our peaceful methods and goals,
so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping
changes in our industrial-military posture, has been
the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central, it
also becomes more formalized complex, and costly.
A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at
the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop,
has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in
labaratories and testing fields. In the same fashion,
the free university, historically the fountainhead of
free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a
revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because
of the huge costs involved, a government contract
becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.
For every old blackboard there are now hundreds
of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars
by Federal employment, project allocations, and
the power of money is ever present--and is gravely to
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in
respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the
equal and opposite danger that public policy could
itself become the captive of a scientific-technological
It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance,
and to integrate these and other forces, new and old,
within the principles of our democratic system-ever
aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the
element of time. 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, for our
own ease and convenience, the precious resources of
tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets
of our grandchildren without asking 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.
Down the long lane of the history yet to be written
America knows that this world of ours, ever growing
smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful
fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation
of mututal trust and respect.
Such a confederation must be one of equals. The
weakest must come to the conference table with the
same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our
moral, economic, and military strength. That table,
though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be
abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence,
is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn
how to compose differences, not with arms, but with
intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so
sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my
official responsibilities in this field with a definite
sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed
the horror and the lingering sadness of war--as one
who knows that another war could utterly destroy
this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully
built over thousands of years--I wish I could say
tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
Happily, I can say that war has been avoided.
Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been
made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private
citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to
help the world advance along that road.
So--in this my last good night to you as your
President--I thank you for the many opportunities
you have given me for public service in war and
peace. I trust that in that service you find some things
worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find
ways to improve performance in the future.
You and I--my fellow citizens--need to be strong
in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach
the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever
unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but
humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nations'
To all the peoples of the world, I once more give
expression to America's prayerful and continuing
We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all
nations, may have their great human needs satisfied;
that those now denied opportunity shall come to
enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom
may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who
have freedom will understand, also, its heavy
responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs
others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty,
disease and ignorance will be made to disappear
from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all
peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed
by the binding force of mutual respect and love.