Why Tragedy Matters in U.S. Foreign Policy
In The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order, Hal Brands and Charles Edel argue that for the United States to succeed in a world of unrelenting challenges, its leaders should be measured by their sense of tragedy.
IN JANUARY 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the nation for the final time as president in a speech most famous for its warning about the influence of the military-industrial complex. Yet at a deeper level, Eisenhower conveyed a sensibility he thought was disappearing from modern life—and wanted to warn of the consequences. As one of his speechwriters later described it, Ike “was striving to reach tomorrow’s conscience, not today’s headlines.”
Eisenhower said he spoke as “one who has witnessed the horror and lingering sadness of war,” who believed that while he had brought the world closer to peace, America faced dangers of “indefinite duration.” He urged his fellow citizens to remain confident but eschew arrogance, reminding that American leadership depends not simply on the aggregate of its power, but how it is used. He emphasized the importance of time and patience—speaking of the “long lane of history” and the imperative of avoiding “the impulse to live only for today.”