Eisenhower’s Warnings About the Military-Industrial Complex

Updated on November 24, 2019
FJG de La Guadalupe profile image

A 25 year Army combat veteran. Studied Economics at the Eisenhower School and Strategy at the School of Advanced Military Studies.

Dwight D. Eisenhower about the Military-Industrial Complex
Dwight D. Eisenhower about the Military-Industrial Complex

Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was an American army general and statesman who served as the 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961. During World War II, he was a five-star general in the Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. This article will discuss his perspective on the military-industrial complex, as well as the ideas of three other experts:

Military-Industrial Complex Excess
Military-Industrial Complex Excess

Military-Industrial Complex Implications

The military-industrial complex provides the United States with a rich source of defense materiel, expertise, and innovation. Along with its incredible defense capabilities, it also exercises an incredible amount of political power due to its vast expanses in the economies of almost all 50 states. President Eisenhower appreciated the efforts of the military and corporations that made up the military-industrial complex. However, he felt compelled to forewarn the nation of the possible negative political influence the military-industrial complex could exert on politicians.[1] In his 1961 Farewell Address to the Nation he stated:

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every 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."[2]

Three Expert Perspectives

Defense experts R. Buckminster Fuller, Jay Carafano, and Andrew Bacevich speak insightfully about the implications of the military-industrial complex’s involvement in the American political scene of then and today. They provide the reader with diverse tones, different levels of concern, and provide various solutions to the military-industrial complex’s involvement in American politics that we need to heed today.

President Eisenhower clearly articulated his trepidations over the military-industrial complex’s intimate involvement in politics. While President Eisenhower’s tone was professorial and restrained, Fuller, Carafano, and Bacevich, present diverse tones that span the spectrum of sentiments about the military-industrial complex.

Fuller

Fuller uses an extremely negative tone to demonstrate his opposition to the influences exerted by the military-industrial complex which he refers to as the GRUNCH.[3] Fuller uses his article to put forth a blistering attack against the complex. He withholds very little through a negative verdict upon the complex’s assumed damage of American politics. Fuller’s tone is clear as he writes, “Who runs GRUNCH? Nobody knows. It controls all the world’s banks. Even the muted Swiss banks…its law firm is named Machiavelli, Atoms, & Oil.”[4]

Buckminster Fuller raises the alarm over the vast reaches of the complex and its dubious intent in all matters of politics. His level of concern is high and poignant as he expresses his frustration over the control they have established throughout numerous industries and how helpless politicians to include the President of the United States are to not just stop it, but to even recognize the complex’s deceitful intent.[5]

Carafano

In vast contrast, Carafano's perspective is supportive and strikes a favorable and positive tone to the complex. Carafano's concern lies not in the exorbitant influence exercised by the military-industrial complex, but rather how important it is to unleash the complex’s talents through greater spending, improved business policies, and increased trade.[6]

Carafano's level of concern is high, but it's on behalf of the complex. He does not express any ill intent behind the business of the members of the military-industrial complex and their involvement with Congress. He is nothing less than an enthused supporter for the military-industrial complex. Carafano states, “Unleashing the capacity to compete will help save our defense industrial base, build the capacity of allies, and strengthen U.S. ability to leverage technological innovation.”[7]

Bacevich

Bacevich provides the reader with a scholarly and matter-of-fact tone in order to neutralize emotional temperament and achieve intellectual acceptance from the reader. He assumes a high level of concern with a scholarly approach. Bacevich felt it was important to remember Eisenhower’s warning of the undesirable outcomes of militarizing the United States and how important it was for the nation to properly spend its resources on critical social and progressive requirements.[8] Bacevich sees the military-industrial complex as a conglomerate that can only be likened to an octopus with numerous tentacles into all facets of American life-threatening to put America in a permanent war footing.

The Way Ahead

Each expert outlines a specific or implied way ahead to their respective issues with the military-industrial complex. Fuller presents the possibility that the GRUNCH may be less harmful than he initially proposes it to be since it may not actually be exercising the same level of influence and power in the future.[9] Simply put, Fuller posits that the military-industrial complex behemoth will naturally shrink in time as a normal part of advancement.

Carafano lays out three critical points that can help the military-industrial complex thrive into the future: export reforms, improved governmental policies, and new technologies investments to advance the efforts of the military-industrial complex.[10]

Bacevich’s solution is a reiteration of President Eisenhower’s. The reader learns that the American citizen is the only way to tighten the reins of the military-industrial complex’s influence in policy matters; if they are resolute enough to do it. Similar to Eisenhower, Bacevich turns to the American citizen to ensure that the future of the country is not threatened by the shortsightedness of the alarmist of the present day.

President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation and the articulations by R. Buckminster Fuller, James Carafano, and Andrew Bacevich provide us with unique insights into the military-industrial complex and its vast involvement in politics.

As the origin of the warnings against the influences of the military-industrial complex, it is very important to note that President Eisenhower’s observations were particularly important since he served the nation as a military commander in World War II. President Eisenhower insisted his successors find a balance between a strong national defense and diplomacy in dealings with the Soviet Union and other adversaries. It is critical to note that he did not propose reducing our capability to produce weapons. However, he laid out critical concerns about the growing influence of what he termed the military-industrial complex.[11]

Now, are Eisenhower’s, Fuller’s, and Bacevich’s concerns warranted when it comes to the military-industrial complex’s influence over aspects of the American political process? One can easily understand the negative political aspects of certain interest groups in American politics. However, one can also point out positive influences, as those posited by Carafano, that prove that it possesses redeeming values. So instead of just identifying the complex as an evil entity, it is probably more constructive to paint it with more precise than broad strokes.

As President Eisenhower so eloquently put it, “good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.”[12] The American people are ultimately responsible for maintaining balance and order in American politics through their vigilance.

Final Thoughts

In closing, let’s seriously and soberly remember another set of words from President Eisenhower.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”[13]

Endnotes

Questions & Answers

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      • FJG de La Guadalupe profile imageAUTHOR

        Fernando Guadalupe Jimenez 

        2 weeks ago from Atlanta, Georgia

        Thanks for your thoughts. I believe we have to be better informed and more attentive voters. Hold our politicians accountable by ensuring that they have the proper priorities in place. If not, they don't return to Congress.

      • Polo27 profile image

        Polo Thoughts 

        2 weeks ago from Pune

        The military industrial complex has brought grief to the world. Now the digital divide and other destructive systems will be a bane to the world. What can be done to prevent it?

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