Chapter One: Journey Through War Factory, Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Complex Speech
“You shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets.” — Matthew 6:5
The answer is found in human history. When humans came out of Africa we explored, competed for empire and colonized. We conquered the land areas of our planet. The fact that we still have militaries is indicative of our prior conquests. The United States has 1.4 million men and women under arms.1 While the number seems quite large, we have to remember there are over 310 million people living in the lower 48 states. Globally, there are approximately 40 million people under arms. With a human population of approximately 7.2 billion, that is not a large number.
In the United States, our military is in the shadows, on bases at home and overseas. Our military is not hostile to the public. We know these troops. They are family members and friends. Some of us work at defense installations or for the various defense contractors.
The current economic model of consumer spending is supported by the world’s largest defense budget. This model can and must change for obvious reasons. The United States is the greatest military power in human history. Our country has ten aircraft carrier battle groups and 730 military installations in 50 countries.3 With less than 5 percent of the planet’s population, we consume approximately 20 percent of the world’s oil; produce more than 40 percent of the carbon dioxide that affects climate change and create more municipal solid waste garbage per-capita than any other nation.
We created this consumption economy with empire. After World War II ended, the United States stepped into the shoes of the collapsed British Empire and inherited an imperial role in world affairs. Americans preached democracy at home, yet supported brutal dictators and strong men around the planet. This was a disaster for millions of people and for global economic development.
The model that was created was a massive military-industrial complex, a popular term coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his now-famous farewell address. It should more appropriately be called the military-industrial-labor unions-universities coalition — in short, the defense spending coalition.
President Eisenhower’s Industrial Complex Speech, 1960
This growth in defense spending has occurred for the same reasons any other quest for more money and power takes place in society. It is the normal push of bureaucratic inertia and the natural growth of organizations.
Whether it is the Drug Enforcement Agency, Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration or any other government agency or corporate organization, growth is a natural process. With this growth comes power from the broad-based number of individuals that have a vested interested in money being spent on this sector. Bureaucratic growth is a natural phenomenon that results in political spending cycles that feed on themselves.
With political roots that trace to the Civil War and military installations or industries in every congressional district, the military-industrial complex is the embodiment of political power in America. A journey through the American war factory illustrates the reach and strength of the defense spending coalition. Only by understanding the depth and scale of the defense spending coalition and vast infrastructure can we come up with an alternative.
We cannot just “cut defense spending.” Without an economic alternative, the result would be unemployment in the communities where defense spending provides a livelihood. It does not matter where you live in America, within one hour from your home in every major city of every state there is either a defense contractor or a military base. This need for employment created the National Security State permanent war so the post-World War II economy would not collapse like it did during the Great Depression. Hitler and Tojo lifted the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression.
Defense spending took off because policy planners were terrified of another economic collapse; consequently, the arms race became economic policy. Planners mistakenly believed war was good for the economy. Defense spending is economic policy, albeit a poor alternative to more productive expenditures.
After World War II, numerous rural agricultural communities lost their young to the jobs, excitement and entertainment possibilities of urban America. They had to find work somewhere and the defense industries provided employment. Consequently, thousands of communities nationwide depend on defense spending to provide jobs.
Since all 435 congressional districts have a defense contractor and/or a military installation, there is little incentive to oppose self-serving spending that will create very few jobs. With more than 5,000 bases of all types in the United States as of 2015, every area of the country is affected by the defense budget. Increasing defense spending is popular with Congress.5
Both political parties voted for the Iraq war. The United States, in violation of international law, invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. This was a historic event that brought about the end of Pax Americana.
Conflicts in this century will be battles over ideas and economics. Military conflicts between nation-states with huge land armies like those of the last century’s two world wars are obsolete. The United States cannot attack Brazil, China, Russia or any large country in a ground war. But nations can engage in major trade, sporting events, international art exhibits and together explore the inner solar system.
The Iraq war changed human history. Now the United States is one nation on a planet with many nations. We are not “special” or “a shining city on a hill” or “the greatest nation on Earth.” Other citizens love their countries, too. Yet despite our flaws, the world is a better place because of the United States’ military. Working together with other nations, all human-created global problems can be solved. We can have the collective security that was envisioned by the founders of the United Nations. This can only happen with a new economic model not based upon defense spending and consumerism. As Admiral Eugene Carroll observed:
“For 45 years of the Cold War we were in an arms race with the Soviet Union. Now it appears we’re in an arms race with ourselves.” Admiral Eugene Carroll, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.) Deputy Director Center for Defense Information.