Fifty-one years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his final, prescient warning about the rising power of the military industrial complex. More than half a century later, we find ourselves in a political system which has ignored Eisenhower’s sound advice as the influence of the war industry on our society reaches a crescendo. Nowhere is this “disastrous rise of misplaced power” more apparent than in the debate about the Pentagon budget taking place in Washington, D.C.
Eisenhower’s final speech is worth quoting at length:
“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.”
“[I]nfluence...sought or unsought” is certainly a generous description of activity of war industry giants, which was already under way as Ike gave his speech. Were he in office today, Eisenhower likely would have foregone this nod to the possibility of naive goodwill from war profiteering companies. In the first three quarters of 2011, the military aerospace sector spent more than $46 million on lobbying, with war profiteering giant Lockheed Martin accounting for almost a quarter of that spending. In no way can we imply that today’s war industry is acquiring “unsought” influence. They’re working to buy our elected officials outright.
What’s more, this massive (yet “legal”) corruption yields results. During the deficit committee debates, everyone from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) cried very public crocodile tears at the thought of reducing the Pentagon’s spending to even the bloated levels seen at the height of the Iraq War. When the Pentagon announced a spending plan that allowed the military budget to continue to grow despite the massive economic and unemployment crises, McKeon took to the op-ed pages to raise the specters of a “hollow force,” a broken Internet, closed sea lanes and threats to our access to outer space thanks to a slowing of the growth of the military budget (along with the profits of some of his biggest contributors...I mean, c’mon, it takes a lot of money to keep your friends in the richest 0.01 percent.).
Eisenhower’s speech was so prophetic that even he could not have anticipated just how deep the rot would be in 2012. Some of his warnings, which seemed dire at the time, sound downright quaint compared to the disastrous diversion of national wealth to the war profiteers. For example, in a separate speech to the Society of Newspaper Editors, Eisenhower said:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. …We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.”