Eisenhower, a Republican, warned us about corporatism and the military/industrial complex which compels us into unnecessary wars for the sake of profit.
On January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, warned us about corporatism and, more specifically, about the military/industrial complex, which compels us into unnecessary wars for the sake of profit.
The warning was part of Eisenhower’s farewell address, given just days before the new president, John F. Kennedy, would be sworn in.
NPR published an analysis of the speech in 2011 as part of a 50-year retrospective on the speech, reporting that “NPR’s Tom Bowman [told] Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne, that Eisenhower used the speech to warn about ‘the immense military establishment’ that had joined with ‘a large arms industry.'”
As Eisenhower explained:
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.
As NPR explained, “Since then, the phrase has become a rallying cry for opponents of military expansion.”
Continuing their analysis, NPR reported that Eisenhower, a retired five-star Army general, “was worried about the costs of an arms race with the Soviet Union, and the resources it would take from other areas — such as building hospitals and schools.”
Eisenhower also spoke as someone who had seen the horror and lingering sadness of war, saying that “we must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
Another concern, Bowman says, was the possibility that as the military and the arms industry gained power, they would be a threat to democracy, with civilians losing control of the military-industrial complex.
According to Eisenhower,
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of ploughshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.
Robert Gates, who served as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense from 2006 until 2011, elaborated on that speech at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in 2010, stating that:
Does the number of warships we have, and are building, really put America at risk, when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined — 11 of which are our partners and allies?
Is it a dire threat that by 2020, the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?
These are the kinds of questions Eisenhower asked as commander-in-chief. They are the kinds of questions I believe he would ask today.
You can watch the relevant portion of Eisenhower’s speech below and you can click here to read a transcript of the full speech, courtesy of the Yale School of Law: