President Dwight David Eisenhower’s valedictory address, made when he left office in 1961 is justly famed for its pointed warnings about the threats to American democracy by what Ike called “the military-industrial complex.”
I’m going read at length from this great speech as a prelude to a conversation with my friend, military scholar and analyst David Isenberg about what’s new in 2017 about the American military-industrial complex, but first I want to read a couple of other selections from President Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech.
Let’s start with this observation, made early in the Address, delivered a bit more than 56 years ago, when America was truly “great” in deed, and not just in bombast.
“America’s leadership and prestige,” said the departing President and great military commander of World War 2, “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.”
Today, in America, this is an idea that bears repeating, trimmed to its nub: “America’s leadership and prestige depend on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.”
Then came the famous warning: The “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 … must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.
In the councils of government,” the departing President said, “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.”
And, near the end of his speech, Dwight Eisenhower said this – again so worth re-hearing in 2017 – “As we peer into society’s future, … we must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”
From Eisenhower to Trump, how the political climate has changed.
David Isenberg is an independent, Washington-D.C. based analyst and writer on military, foreign policy, national and international security issues and the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. He is an expert in U.S. defense policy , WMD proliferation, terrorism, homeland security, peace operations, the intelligence community, international arms trade, small arms proliferation, private military companies, biological weapons, and general arms control issues.
Isenberg’s blog, The PMSC Observer, focuses on private military and security contracting.