Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Army general who engineered the D-Day invasion of Europe during World War II, was president of the United States from 1952 to 1960. This was during a period of tension between nations called the Cold War. The USA and the USSR were two great powers locked in a standoff of paranoia and an arms race.
In his presidential farewell address to the nation in January 1961, Eisenhower stated, "In the counsels 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." Thus, the term "military industrial complex" became part of the American lexicon.
The "military industrial complex" refers to the U.S. armed forces and various components that support a strong military presence. In essence, it's a combination of the Pentagon (military procurers), corporate military contractors, the intelligence community, and their respective supporters in the U.S. Congress.
Eisenhower sounded a warning many decades ago that has basically been ignored. The U.S. government now spends more on the military than all the rest of the countries of the world combined.
In 2005, the federal government will spend more than $2.5 trillion, or about $8,500 for every man, woman and child in the country. That's approximately $427 billion more than it takes in, thereby adding significantly to the national debt of over $7.8 trillion. Current military expenditures are $558 billion. When you factor in past obligations (veterans' benefits, interest on national debt created by military spending, etc.) and unbudgeted expenses (supplements for war in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), 46 percent of our taxes go to the military industrial complex.
During the Eisenhower era, the USSR was a powerful adversary that needed to be kept in check. But with no comparable enemy today, (former) Secretary of State Colin Powell devised a "two war strategy" whereby the military industrial complex would continue to flourish by equipping U.S. forces sufficiently to fight two major regional conflicts simultaneously against rogue states. Presently, the USA spends nearly 20 times more on its military force than all the so-called rogue states (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Cuba and North Korea) combined.
To ensure global conflict, the intelligence wing of the military industrial complex (CIA, NSA, etc.) has initiated plenty of action since 1960, including places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Bosnia, Somalia, Korea, Serbia, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Granada, Dominican Republic, Haiti and so on.
There may have been valid reasons for each encounter but often we have made matters worse by propping up evil dictators, such as Noriega in Panama, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and others.
Eisenhower was right. There exists a potential for unwarranted influences and the misuse of power. The military industrial complex thrives on global conflict. It feeds itself on U.S. tax dollars and contributes mightily to politicians who support it. There's too much at stake for too many people to curb its desire for profitability.
But there's a fine line between being righteous defenders of global justice and belligerent warmongers.
When our commander-in-chief says "You're either with us or against us," we appear more like bullies than saviors. And when we put dog collars and leashes on naked prisoners we diminish the honor of our mission.
Our country stands for freedom and liberty. We shed blood all over the globe to ensure freedom. But we spend way beyond our means, borrowing money from future generations, on a military industrial complex that has an insatiable appetite for funding and a continual need for armed confrontations in order to survive.
The world is a dangerous place. We must protect ourselves, but we also need to use some common sense.
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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.