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The Road to Recovery: Heeding Eisenhower's Warning

By       Message Michael Gillespie       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   8 comments

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     The first part of this series, The War Alarm: Waking Up from Reagan's Nightmare, examined Ronald Reagan's attempt to rewrite history by eliminating the extraordinary success of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)'s wartime economic policies, which included massive and systematic government intervention in and well-nigh complete control of the nation's industry and commerce.   Roosevelt's economic policies, including rationing and wage and price controls, were instrumental in and essential to the U.S. military's greatest triumphs, the Allies crushing defeat of the fascist Axis powers less than four years after Japan's December 7, 1941 surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the USA's emergence as the world's economic and military superpower during and after the war.  

     This article explores the rise of what President Dwight David Eisenhower referred to as the "military-industrial complex" and the effects of "a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions" on American life and culture.   Though it fields the most expensive and technologically sophisticated military force on the world stage, the U.S. government has not decisively won any major military conflict since 1945.   Understanding these developments is necessary if Americans are to effectively address their nation's economic decline and cultural deterioration.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower
(Image by Ueno Murakami)
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        Eisenhower's credibility can hardly be challenged.   As FDR's choice for the position of Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, he was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of France and Germany from the west.   FDR had such confidence in him that Eisenhower sometimes worked directly with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to the chagrin of bypassed British leaders.   He served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)'s first supreme commander in 1951.   As president (1953-1961), Eisenhower concluded negotiations with China to end the Korean War, maintained pressure on the Soviet Union, and avoided hostilities during two terms in the nation's highest office, a time of peace.   Eisenhower's election as a Republican ended two decades of New Deal Coalition in the White House, but as president he continued New Deal policies, expanding Social Security and signing into law in 1956 the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, then the largest public works project in American history.   Though he chose not to publicly criticize Sen. Joseph McCarthy, he helped remove the pathologically partisan Republican demagogue from power.   Historians typically rank "Ike" among America's 10 greatest presidents.   (Wikipedia)

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     In his farewell address to the American people, broadcast live from the White House on January 17, 1961, Eisenhower focused specifically on and warned against the dangers attendant upon the unprecedented development of a permanent armaments industry and war machine. In part, he said:

     "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 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."

     Noting that technological developments were, "largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture," Eisenhower warned against the "prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by "the power of money" and the "danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite," saying that, "it is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system - ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society."

     It was imperative, Eisenhower declared, that "we - you and I, and our government, 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.   We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

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     "During the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.   Such a confederation must be one of equals.   The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength.   That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.   Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.   Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose."

     Not since our first president, George Washington, addressed the nation as he left office had a president delivered so prescient a speech.   Yet the decades since have seen many of Eisenhower's greatest fears confirmed and most of his sage advice ignored as subsequent leaders and policy makers have thrown caution to the wind, acting too often without wisdom or restraint.   The immense, unwarranted and still metastasizing influence of what has become a Congressional-military-industrial-media-security-intelligence complex destabilizes the nation and the world, sapping economic vitality, demoralizing politics at all levels, warping religious impulses and traditions, and hindering spiritual growth.

     At the center of the nation's economic difficulties is the unrestrained power of corporations, private legal entities that have usurped the Constitutional rights of individual citizens and gained all but total control of "government of the people, by the people, for the people" (Lincoln's Gettysburg Address).   In their relentless pursuit of greater profitability, U.S. corporations have largely ignored or denied the serious environmental damage and change their activities cause while exacerbating the transition difficulties necessarily associated with the development and introduction of labor-saving technologies.   A November 1946 article in Fortune magazine titled "Machines Without Men" addressed the issue of automated industrial production and a consequent reduction in the number of manufacturing jobs.   Authors E.W. Leaver and J.J. Brown minimized concern that, "the automatic factory may well loose waves of temporary unemployment.  

     "So potentially efficient a production system makes the two-or-three-day [work] week economically feasible.   Its cheaper costs could be passed on to in higher wages to the worker and in greater value to the consumer.   It must, therefore, balance out at a higher level of living than ever before.   The new machines can emancipate the worker forever from stultifying, monotonous toil," declared the corporate propagandists.

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Michael Gillespie writes regularly for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. A 1999 graduate of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Iowa State University, he was inducted a member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the national (more...)

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