A little more than 60 years ago, President Eisenhower, as he prepared to leave office, gave what has proven to be his most enduring and well-known speech:
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.
Recent scholarship has confirmed that Ike saw this as one of his most important speeches ever:
We should be clear what Ike was concerned about. He knew that the United States, with its growing economy and growing needs for defense, would need private businesses to help build weapons. What he was concerned about was that these companies would promote war or other military priorities so they could improve their profits. These companies would hire lobbyists to encourage members of Congress to direct business their way. Ike was worried about crony capitalism, the use of government money to promote private businesses.
Sixty years later, it is easy to see that Ike’s warning has come true. Almost nobody reading this believes in a completely pacifistic U.S. foreign policy. But I hope most people reading this can see that U.S. defense should concentrate on defending the U.S. borders. In the last 60 years, and especially the last 20 years, U.S. foreign policy has increasingly promoted wars in foreign lands (Iraq, Lybia, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc) far from our borders. Some of those actions may have been justified (I am thinking about Afghanistan after 9/11), but why is the U.S. military spending hundreds of billions of dollars every year fighting wars far from American shores? Is it reasonable to believe that the military-industrial complex is truly the source of the constant need to find new enemies abroad? Are these wars really about companies paying off politicians so these companies can make more money?
As this article points out, we have a new secret combination to worry about in 2021: the digital-intelligence complex.