In addition to being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, today also—and quite fittingly—marks the 50th anniversary of Dwight Eisenhower’s famous speech coining the term “military-industrial complex” and warning Americans of its consequences. The speech, which came at the very end of his two term presidency, is made all the more haunting by the fact that Eisenhower was a war hero, a celebrated five-star Army general who led the Allied invasion on D-Day. He knew the military from the inside better than anyone, and he believed in it. Yet, in the Cold War’s escalations, he could see the subtle danger of a society running on a permanent wartime economy—as the United States was then and continues to be today.
There’s an eloquent tribute over at NPR (hat tip to Liz). It suggests that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is a kindred spirit of Eisenhower’s—he has a portrait of the former president in his office—and, indeed, this month he announced the first cut to the military budget since the end of the Cold War. But, as SocialistWorker.org reminds us, this “cut” is actually just a smaller increase. The Washington Post reports, though, that the bipartisan political will seems to be forming in Congress to curtail our wasteful and dangerous military spending:
Gates said the cuts are a result of the “extreme fiscal duress” facing the country. But they are also an acknowledgment of a rapidly shifting political sentiment on Capitol Hill, where senior Democrats and Republicans alike have suggested in recent weeks that defense spending—which accounts for a fifth of the federal budget [or 54%, all told]—is no longer a sacred cow.
This is an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of. As people at home are hurting financially, they’re going to be less and less willing to pay for disastrous wars abroad and needless new weapons. It’s time for our addiction to the military economy to stop; it’s time to finally hear President Eisenhower out.
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Here is the entire section of his speech that many selectively edit (including the author above).
“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 grave implications. 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 laboratories 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 be regarded.
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 elite.
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.
The New York Times today has a nice guest blog post about the origin and history of the term by the guy who wrote the book on it:
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