Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the most accomplished and celebrated Americans of all time. He had a long and distinguished military career in during which he was appointed Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, then served as Army Chief of Staff, the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and the 34th President of the United States. So it is safe to say that when Eisenhower speaks, the wise would accept that he knew what he was talking about, listen carefully, and take his advice into careful consideration. Unfortunately the wise do not hold power in Washington.
In his farewell address, Eisenhower spoke at length about the American defense industry, which he referred to as the ‘armaments industry’. In the address 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… 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.”
Under Eisenhower’s administration the defense budget was cut by 27 percent after the Korean War came to an end. Historical records from the Bureau of the Budget and United States Office of Management and Budget, retrieved by KCW Today show that under that administration the budget and budget priorities were very different than they are today. Adjusted for inflation to the 2018 value, the military budget under Eisenhower was $477 billion by fiscal year 1956. It remained at that level through the end of Eisenhower’s second term. With the balanced budget left to him by Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy was able to empower NASA to develop the technology and rockets required to reach the moon, which he did not live to see as it was under the Presidency of Richard M. Nixon, who was Eisenhower’s Vice President, that Americans landed on the moon in 1969. Oh, and Eisenhower also expanded Social Security, something modern Republicans make no secret of their desire to see cut or privatised.
“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.”
Unfortunately, this warning left to us by Eisenhower in his farewell address has been forgotten by those who dwell in the halls of power, not only in America, but around the world. In the U.S. the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 has granted the Pentagon $717 billion for that fiscal year. An increase of $240 billion over Eisenhower’s budget.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in the 2018 election so far, the defense industry has injected over $21 million towards the campaigns of Senators and Congressmen. In 2016, the defense industry spent almost $30 million. In 2014, it was close to $26 million. In 2012, it was again close to $30 million.
When the National Defense Authorization act came up for a vote in the Senate, it passed 85-10, and in Congress with a vote of 351 to 66. The bill never had a chance of being defeated or amended in any meaningful way. It was rushed through the legislative process, written mostly by defense industry lobbyists, voted on, passed, and signed into law.
“The National Defense Authorization Act is the most significant investment in our military and our war fighters in modern history,” Trump said on August 13th. “We are going to strengthen our military like never ever before and that’s what we did.”
However, it should be duly noted that bill doesn’t provide any funding for the Pentagon, it merely authorizes it. “It is now essential that we follow this bill with matching appropriations before the beginning of the fiscal year,” House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement. Frighteningly, no explanations have yet been offered on where this money will come from but it is widely speculated based on previous Republican statements and budgetary deliberations that entitlements like Social Security and Medicare will see deep cuts.
In his address at Fort Drum in New York Trump said: “Last year, we secured a historic $700 billion to rebuild our military. And now, the National Defense Authorization Act paves the way for another 1,700 — listen to this now. So we’ve been trying to get money. They never gave us money for the military for years and years. And it was depleted. We got $700 billion. And next year, already approved, we have $716 billion to give you the finest planes, and ships, and tanks, and missiles anywhere on Earth. Nobody makes them like we do.”
Trump also said in his speech: “Jobs are very important in all cases — but in this case, military might is more important than even jobs. But all of this equipment is made right here in the USA, and it’s the best equipment on Earth. Nobody makes it like we do. So you have $700 billion and now $716 billion. So congratulations.”
In 1953, Eisenhower gave us his thoughts on this which the 45th President would have been wise to hear before deciding to pursue his path of militarization.
“The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.
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 in 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 50 miles of concrete highway.
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, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. 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.”
One can’t help but wonder what the funding for this military build up would be in the 2018 equivalents of Eisenhower’s speech, and one can’t help but imagine what the world might be like if this money were used for the betterment of humanity, instead of bolstering what is already the most powerful military the world has ever seen.
But the only conclusion to be drawn from all of this is that the influence of the military industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about has become the reality in which we live. A world where human interests are set aside for the sake of profiteering by the defense industry, profits which stand be bolstered to never before imagined heights because of a thin skinned megalomaniac who now inhabits the White House encouraging the unfettered expansion of the United States Armed Forces.
There is also the matter of how the United States has become the world’s largest arms exporter by an entire order of magnitude over it’s next closest competitor, which is a topic for another article, but something to think about and guard against in your own countries.