Eisenhower's military industrial complex warning, 50 years later
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s infamous speech on the dangers of a military industrial complex. The outgoing president gave the speech just three days before President Kennedy’s inaugural and warned of the dangers of a growing military, even as he had presided one the fastest expansions of nuclear arsenal in U.S. history. And yet in his speech, he seemed conflicted about what he had done and its impact on the future. That expansion was a product of the Cold War, and he asked the public to consider the costs. In his speech, he said:
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 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 alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations -- corporations.
Now 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 Statehouse, 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.
Perhaps the most notable we say we see this growing complex today is in the use of contractors in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point during the Iraq war, contractors outnumbered soldiers. In Afghanistan, the ratio is currently 1:1. And yet contractors make far more and are not bound by the same rules of warfare as soldiers. In fact, some would argue they are free to behave as they like.
We see the military industrial complex in the defense budget as well, which has steadily risen in the last 14 years and is slated to go up again, albeit at a smaller rate. Given the nation’s current economic state and the fact that the DoD is expected to unveil its full budget in just a few weeks, on this anniversary it seemed appropriate to draw your attention to the speech, which still sparks debate. You can read the full speech here. And you can listen to an enlightening debate about the topic from On Point with Tom Asbrook here.