The Military Industrial Complex — President Eisenhower tried to warn us.
“Cui bono?” Regardless of what you are investigating, the first question that you need to ask is, “Cui bono?”, or, “Who benefits?” In this case, we are considering the issue of the greatly disproportionate amount of money the US spends on its military when compared with the rest of the world. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of America’s greatest military leaders and the person chosen to be the Commanding Officer of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) towards the end of WWII. He went on to be elected President of the US. As we sit here considering the need to possibly impeach our President for abuse of power and obstruction of justice, the issue of non-partisan debate and separation of powers are critical issues. At the conclusion of his Presidency, he had some chillingly prescient words for us all.
Please read the following advice from President Eisenhower closely. He accurately captures what used to be great about America and warns of the possibility of the conditions that we see today. In case you are not familiar with his background, President Eisenhower graduated from West Point. His background makes his cautionary tale even more powerful. He paints a picture of the dangers of not maintaining a social, political, and economic balance. When Trump talks about “Make America Great Again!” this is an example of the greatness that America used to demonstrate. To watch the video of the address, go to the link in the footnote. (The bold is my editorial emphasis.)
“Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation
January 17, 1961
Good evening, my fellow Americans: First, I should like to express my gratitude to the radio and television networks for the opportunity they have given me over the years to bring reports and messages to our nation. My special thanks go to them for the opportunity of addressing you this evening.
Three days from now, after a half century of service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.
This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.
Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.
Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on questions of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation.
My own relations with Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and finally to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.
In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation well rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with Congress ends in a feeling on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.
We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches, and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.
Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology — global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle — with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research — these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.
But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs — balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage — balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.
The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.
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.”
Was Eisenhower right? According to CNBC: Military Spending in 2014 was the biggest chunk of your money — 42.2 cents of every income-tax dollar — goes to fund the military. Over half of it, or 28.7 cents, goes to pay for the current war and military, 10 cents goes to interest payments on past and present military debt and 3.5 cents is allocated for Veterans’ benefits. If you use the numbers from Whitehouse.gov, the percent of our tax dollars is still nearly 40.
Is this spending making the average American feel more secure? If you consider the homeless, the people living below the poverty line, and the lower middle class who are only one major financial crisis away from poverty, America has a lot of people who are not feeling secure from our military might. We have to spend more on personal security by spending less on national security. More people in the US are dying from poverty than from hostile attacks or terrorism, but they do not have lobbyists working congress to get funding like the defense contractors do. We, the voters, are their lobbyists. It’s up to us to do a better job of achieving the balance President Eisenhower was talking about.
This is an excerpt from my book on Poverty — part 29
(Written but not published. If you want a MS Word free copy, let me know.)