Most Americans know about President Dwight Eisenhower’s prophetic farewell address. Beware the dangers of the military industrial complex, he warned. Of equal significance was Eisenhower’s speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1953. Forgotten by most Americans, the general from Kansas made known the dangers of a society always on the brink of war.
Ike stressed that all of this could be avoided if an informed citizenry kept the military industrial complex in check. By all accounts, this attempt at citizen vigilantism has failed miserably. But it’s not too late.
The Tyranny of Defense Inc.
In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower famously identified the military-industrial complex, warning that the growing fusion between corporations and the armed forces posed a threat to democracy. Judged 50 years later, Ike’s frightening prophecy actually understates the scope of our modern system—and the dangers of the perpetual march to war it has put us on.
By ANDREW J. BACEVICH
AMERICAN POLITICS IS typically a grimy business of horses traded and pork delivered. Political speech, for its part, tends to be formulaic and eminently forgettable. Yet on occasion, a politician will transcend circumstance and bear witness to some lasting truth: George Washington in his Farewell Address, for example, or Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural.
Fifty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower joined such august company when, in his own farewell address, he warned of the rise in America of the “military-industrial complex.” An accomplished soldier and a better-than-average president, Eisenhower had devoted the preponderance of his adult life to studying, waging, and then seeking to avert war. Not surprisingly, therefore, his prophetic voice rang clearest when as president he reflected on matters related to military power and policy.
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