Long before President Ronald Reagan had urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and before President John F. Kennedy warned Americans “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country!” President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined another phrase…”the military-industrial complex.”
“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.”
17 January 1961 — Dwight D. Eisenhower
In a statement warning to the nation, President Eisenhower spoke to the nation in a farewell address telecast live on national television often referred to as the “Military Industrial Complex Speech,” and is now considered one of the most significant speeches by Eisenhower presidency.
At the end of World War II, the United States was sitting atop the largest military establishment in the world, built from its participation in three major wars. This buildup troubled Eisenhower greatly for many years and thus he felt compelled to issue a grave warning to the nation against the misplacement of power and influence to the military by the people. Over seventy years ago, the United States had engaged in a Second World War in which Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of ALL Allied Forces and was responsible for the oversight of D-Day planning, landings and all operations thereafter. Ike’s ability as a “persuader” made him the perfect facilitator where not only a keen military strategist mind needed, but someone who could, through their personality and charisma, get all the different country forces to work in unison like a fine clock…essentially the glue that held the Allied command together in the European Theater of Operation (ETO).
Dwight D. Eisenhower ended his presidential term on 17 January 1961 with a warning to the nation about the increasing power of the military-industrial complex. Today the vision that compelled Eisenhower to issue this warning still holds true. His remarks, issued during a televised farewell address to the American people, were particularly significant since Ike had famously served the nation as military commander of the Allied forces during WWII. Eisenhower urged his successors to strike a balance between a strong national defense and diplomacy in dealing with the Soviet Union. He did not suggest arms reduction and in fact acknowledged that the bomb was an effective deterrent to nuclear war. However, cognizant that America’s peacetime defense policy had changed drastically since his military career, Eisenhower expressed concerns about the growing influence of what he termed the military–industrial complex.
Before and during the Second World War, American industries had successfully converted to defense production as the crisis demanded, but out of the war, what Eisenhower called a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions emerged. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience Eisenhower warned, “[while] we recognize the imperative need for this development.we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Eisenhower cautioned that the federal government’s collaboration with an alliance of military and industrial leaders, though necessary, was vulnerable to abuse of power. Ike then counseled American citizens to be vigilant in monitoring the military-industrial complex. 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.
Ike also recommended restraint in consumer habits, particularly with regard to the environment. “As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government–must 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 asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”