Moral Low Ground

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‘On This Day’ 1961: Eisenhower’s Farewell Address Warns of ‘Military Industrial Complex’

military-industrial complex

Ike’s wise warning unheeded. (Pentagon photo)

Half a century ago, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered what was arguably the most famous farewell address of any president since George Washington. No stranger to war, the former Supreme Allied Commander of World War II presciently envisioned the danger of our nation’s foreign policy being hijacked by what he called the “military industrial complex.”

The phrase was without stigma in those days and Eisenhower’s words rang true with a nation that was witnessing an out-of-control nuclear arms race right before its horrified eyes. But the American people had no way of knowing that much of this obscene proliferation was due to intentional misleading on the part of their elected leaders.

Take, for instance, the much-fretted “missile gap,” the perceived disparity between the number, power and sophistication of American and Soviet ballistic missile arsenals. Like the “bomber gap” a few years before it, the “missile gap” was utter fabrication. But such fear-based compulsion was good business for those who made bombers and missiles, even if the rampant multiplication of such weapons was bringing the world to the brink of thermonuclear annihilation. Such was the nature of the  military industrial complex that Eisenhower was warning of as he exited stage left.

Here is the best part:

“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 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.

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.”

Half a century on, it is immediately evident that Eisenhower’s warning went unheeded. In this day of $740 billion Pentagon budgets, an era in which the United States spends more on its military than just about every other country on earth combined while tens of millions of Americans lack adequate jobs, homes, health care, education and food, we must acknowledge that the military industrial complex has mutated into a monster which even presidents cannot control.

(Joe Wolf/Flickr Creative Common)

(Joe Wolf/Flickr Creative Common)

On the contrary, it controls them. The lobbying power of the big corporate players is immense, and the revolving door between government and defense companies guarantees that access to the upper echelons of decision making is always but a phone call away. A look at just one of these corporations will help us understand this dangerous relationship.

With 140,000 employees and $40 billion in annual revenue, Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest defense company. Nearly 90% of that comes from U.S. government contracts. The current state of constant war is a dream come true for Lockheed. While American soldiers and Iraqi and Afghan civilians die by the thousands, the company rakes in the billions. It should come as no surprise, then, that companies like Lockheed actively pressure the US government to choose military solutions over diplomacy.

Former Lockheed Martin vice president Bruce Jackson, for example,  was also the chairman of a group created to lobby for an invasion of Iraq. He was instrumental in securing the support of the “New Europe” countries of Eastern Europe and even went so far as to help some of them draft their letters endorsing the invasion. Jackson had once served as the executive director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a powerful neoconservative group that had planned for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein years before 9/11. Key PNAC members include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Long was the list of Lockheed employees with close ties to the Bush administration. Jackson drafted foreign policy for the GOP at the 2000 Republican National Convention. Unsurprisingly, he advocated a huge increase in military spending. Albert Smith, a Lockheed executive vice president, was a member of the Defense Science Board. Chief operating officer Peter B. Teets was personally appointed by President Bush as undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta and Secretary of the Navy Gordon England were both former Lockheed employees.

Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife was a member of Lockheed’s board, a position for which she was compensated half a million dollars. Cheney’s son-in-law, Phillip J. Perry, was a Lockheed lobbyist nominated by President Bush to be general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security. His wife was deputy assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs. Former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour and Bush-Cheney campaign manager and FEMA director Joe Allbaugh were both Lockheed lobbyists. The company spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress for contracts and used its incredible influence within the Bush administration to push for war with Iraq.

The revolving door between public and private sectors guarantees that Lockheed will continue to receive billions of dollars worth of government contracts. When E.C. Aldridge Jr. was an undersecretary of defense for acquisitions and procurement, he approved the production of the F-35 fighter, a $200 billion windfall for Lockheed. His next job was a seat on Lockheed’s board. He later returned to the public sector when Donald Rumsfeld hired him to study various weapons systems.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Lockheed Martin’s “arsenal of democracy” was front and center when the war in Iraq kicked off. Lockheed F-117 stealth fighters dropped Lockheed  BLU-109 bunker-busting bombs while Lockheed Keyhole and Lacrosse satellites used Lockheed Theatre Battle Management Systems to enhance battlefield communications. Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 spy planes scanned the ground while Lockheed F-16 and F-22 fighters seized and maintained American air superiority. Ground forces fired Lockheed Hellfire, PAC-3 and Javelin missiles with devastating effect. Later, Lockheed interrogators roughed up detainees, many of them innocent men, swept up as U.S. and coalition forces occupied Iraq.

For all of this death and destruction, Lockheed Martin chairman Robert Stevens has personally made more than $72 million over the past three years. Lockheed stock was trading at around $39 just before 9/11. Seven years later it was trading at $94, an increase of 295%. The $125 million the company spent lobbying Congress since 1998 has paid handsome dividends.

That’s just one company’s story. The countries of the world spent a staggering $1.5 trillion on their military forces in 2009. Of this, 46.5% was spent by the United States. With such a voracious appetite for weaponry, the profits and power of the military industrial complex Eisenhower unsuccessfully warned us about 50 years ago will only continue to grow. This bodes well for neither global security nor American democracy.

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3 Comments

  1. yaoi huntress earthJanuary 17, 2011 at 10:24 pmReply

    It’s sad to know that Eisenhower wouldn’t fit in with his own political party these days.

  2. Moral Low GroundJanuary 18, 2011 at 1:55 pmReplyAuthor

    If you haven’t seen it already, Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight” is the best film I’ve ever seen about the military-industrial complex. It features in-depth interviews with Eisenhower’s family members. You’re absolutely right; no current Republican in his right mind (save for Ron Paul) would have the temerity to even contemplate a reduction in our nation’s insane military budget, which now runs around $740,000,000,000/year. Man, that’s a lot of zeros!

  3. Michael VinsonApril 7, 2011 at 9:15 amReply

    While I will always be a supporter of democracy and the core concept of capitalism, the Russia of the old days had it right in some ways. The government owned the military equipment manufacturers, not the other way around. When the government saw a need for item ‘X’ they told Sukhoi, Mikoian-Guryevich or whomever, “design/build this”. Here, contractors (L-M in particular) design and build item ‘X’ and tell the government “you need this, buy it”, and woe be unto anyone who says “no” to defense spending. It’s SSDD with the political-industrial machine. People with money put people with money in position to keep the money flowing. They are the ‘haves’, the rest are the ‘have nots’ and there’s zero incentive to make changes. The have nots know they deserve better, but the haves think they deserve it all, and as long as they get theirs, who cares? Guess who wins?

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