*Way back in 1961, outgoing President Eisenhower (pictured above) warned the country about becoming too infatuated with the military industrial complex. As the general in charge of American military forces in Europe during World War II, Eisenhower was well acquainted with the usefulness of our society’s mobilization behind a military effort. And yet he still advised against getting too comfortable with waging war. Why?
Because Eisenhower realized that the positive of always being ready to fight a war is outweighed by the multiple negatives of always being ready to fight a war.
As our current president is showing, there is a contingent of people in our country who enjoy exercising American influence in the world through the show of military force. There are people who are congratulating President Trump for showing he has a backbone by attacking Syria and Afghanistan. These attacks happened even though there was no link between the Syrian attack and American security; the attack on Afghanistan was connected to American security insofar as any attack on any country in Western Asia and Northern Africa could be said to be connected to Muslim extremists and therefore tied to American security.
The military industrial complex makes these sorts of attacks possible because we have more than enough armaments to be prepared for any responses from the international community, and our defense industry is continuously resupplying the military inventory. Would the president be as likely to authorize such attacks if it would substantially decrease our ability to wage war? Probably not.
In a related reason, some people believe the existence our large supply of weapons is all the justification needed to use that supply. This is a second danger of the military industrial complex. By wedding the nation’s identity to its military there are people who want to show how strong we are by the use of that military. There is a saying that every problem looks like a nail to a person who has nothing but a hammer. The United States military is the biggest, best, and shiniest hammer in the world thanks to our military industrial complex and that is why some advocate its use over diplomacy. But as the past 70 years have shown, that hammer creates at least as many problems as it fixes.
Even the ability to instantly wage war is not as much of a positive as it seems. While I do not advocate putting American lives at risk, in the past when we’ve been attacked without the military industrial complex in place the country has responded admirably. This is the story of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War (probably not really), World War I, and World War II. So as much as it is reassuring to have the military industrial complex, it probably isn’t necessary.
The 1950s was as tenuous a time as any during American history. It was the height of the Cold War and the Soviet Union had more people than we did, more land than we did, and eventually more weapons (nuclear or otherwise) than we did. And even facing this situation President Eisenhower was able to see the trouble with the military industrial complex. Why can’t enough of our leaders today see it as well?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.