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January 17, 2011

Military Industrial Complex : 50th Birthday

Today is a day of remembrances, among them President Eisenhower's farewell speech given in the last days of his administration, 50 years ago today, Jan. 17, 1961. The full text of the speech is online. Here's a section of the speech I'd like to consider:

But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. Of these, I mention two only.

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 alone more than the net income of all United States 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.

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.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present -- and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Eisenhower chose to identify two threats: the military-industrial complex, and the power of federal contracts in driving research and the economy. These two threats have become one - federal contracts and a national economy driven by the military-industrial complex.

While the phrase "military-industrial complex" has endured, it's not the only formulation of a name for this particular creature.

The phrase began as "war-based" industrial-congressional complex before the word military was inserted in later drafts.* Later the president chose to remove the word congressional in order to placate members of the legislative branch.

Linguist Noam Chomsky has suggested that "military-industrial complex" is a misnomer because (as he considers it) the phenomenon in question "is not specifically military."* He claims, "There is no military-industrial complex: it's just the industrial system operating under one or another pretext (defense was a pretext for a long time)."

Norman Solomon has described the Military-Industrial-Media Complex. He has accused the military-industrial-media complex of using their media resources to promote militarism, and offers this example regarding NBC News:
"General Electric (which owns NBC) is a subcontractor for the Tomahawk cruise missile and Patriot II missile both of which were used extensively during the Persian Gulf War. General Electric also manufactures components for the B-2 stealth bomber and B-52 bomber and the E-3 AWACS aircraft which were also used extensively during the conflict. During Gulf War I, General Electric received $2 billion dollars in defense contractors related to weapons which would be used in Gulf War I and Gulf War II."

Chomsky moves further to say that the role of the media in the modern economy is to "manufacture consent" in favor of industry within the democracy. Chomsky identifies five factors that entice media to manufacture consent for industry; his fifth factor was The Cold War, and Chomsky says that role is now performed by the Global War On Terror.

We have seen multiple situations where government contracts subsidize industry R&D; overruns are paid for and blamed on the government, not the contractor; and contractors influence the legislators that set government priorities. It becomes a self-licking ice-cream cone. You would never hire a contractor for your house with this arrangement.

Two recent news stories describe the current state of the military-industrial complex: the first is the Washington Post series, "Top Secret America", exposing the way that industry in the guise of contractors and manufacturers has turned 9/11 into a profit center.

Another recent military-industrial complex news story is the decision by the Dept. of Homeland Security (which is, itself, a MIC construct) to shut down development of a high-tech virtual wall along the American-Mexican border, covered here by the NY Times, and here by the Wall Street Journal. The government has spent more than $1 Billion dollars to end up without what they paid for. The primary contractor, Boeing, is an excellent example of the military-industrial complex: they over-promised, under-delivered, they still get paid and make money, they aren't held accountable, and they're bidding for new work next month.

When I think of corruption I think of sweetheart deals on road projects and criminals with influence who walk away from charges, but that's penny-ante stuff compared to the military industrial complex.

What amazes me is that Eisenhower saw it coming, warned us about it, and it happened anyway.

Of course, there's very little new under the sun (VLNUS). Eisenhower said his piece in 1961; USMC Major General Smedley Butler (winner of two Medals of Honor) described the same thing in the 1930s with his speech and book, War Is A Racket.

Happy 50th Birthday, Military Industrial Complex.

related: Sure, They Can Cancel a Big Defense Project re the A12


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