Growing up in the United States, the notion that ours is the greatest, most powerful country on earth has been ingrained into our impressionable, young minds since birth. As a child, I noticed nothing strange about pledging allegiance to a flag before classes every single morning. Or hearing my classmates boast about relatives who had either departed for or returned from some faraway war. Or learning that the U.S. had either influenced or played a major role in most conflicts in history. It was only until just a few years ago that I realized just how bizarre it all was–how the Pentagon allowed its infatuation with war and military might to slowly seep into the fabric of society, disguised as patriotism.
Who can blame them though, right? War generates profits.
So, more war=more wealth.
In his 1961 Farewell Address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned for the first time a little thing called the military-industrial complex:
“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. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
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.”
While every nation has a right to acquire proper defense, for both at home and abroad, war should not be considered a business. Yet, since World War II, it has morphed into one back home. Industrial output, focusing on mostly war production, boomed in the early 1940s. The government contracted many of these manufacturing firms, and–sure enough–this new alliance brought immense wealth to both the public and private sectors.
Soon enough, Congress became involved, and the phenomenon described above was renamed the military-industrial-congressional complex. Robert Higgs explained it in this 1995 article for the Independent Institute:
“Congress, as usual, went where the money was. Defense-related jobs served as a major determinant of congressional defense decisions for both liberals and conservatives. Members of Congress strove to steer contracts and subcontracts to favored constituents, who rewarded them in turn with lavish campaign contributions, votes, and other payoffs… Resistance to base closures, in particular, prompted the most exquisite legislative maneuvers. For more than a decade after 1977, the Pentagon found it impossible to close any large defense facility… Weapons systems no longer desired by the military, such as A-7 and A-10 aircraft in the early 1980s, got extended funding, thanks to the efforts of friendly legislators.”
It should because the same procedures still apply today for a slew of different industries and debates in Congress.
Although defense spending is much less than it was when Eisenhower was in office, the U.S. still reigns supreme in global military expenditure with a whopping $611 billion. (For reference, China is second with a mere $215 billion.) Actually, if you added the totals of China and the next six nations, it still wouldn’t amount to our total:
2017 Defense Spending in Billions. Credit: Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
Let’s not forget that a little over a month ago, President Trump signed a spending bill, approving a $700 billion military budget.
Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave right about now.
But how did the Pentagon manage to convince Americans that we had to go to war? That it was the only option? That there were bad guys out there and we just had to beat them?
Through mass media. Through toys such as G.I. Joe. Through the silencing of anti-war voices.
I won’t dive deep into all three, but the first is of importance. Although I completely dissent from the current administration’s vilification and disgraceful attacks on the media, one cannot be naive and ignore the tremendous power the American media holds back home. Propaganda is a word that’s been loosely thrown around lately (looking at you, Fox News), but it was/is a sure way to rally citizen support for war efforts. The ‘Rosie the Riveter’ campaign during World War II is a perfect example of propaganda aimed at encouraging women to join the industrial workforce.
Right now, as of May 9th, 2018, the United States is at war with seven countries. We have 800 military bases located in more than 70 nations around the world, with personnel stationed in 150+ countries. During this century alone, the Department of Defense has confirmed 6,959 deaths from just five operations.
Yet, according to a 2016 Poverty Report by the Census Bureau, roughly 40 million Americans are currently living in poverty. Most people cannot afford basic healthcare, and just under a third of the adult population is unemployed.
These numbers are staggering, and–while I love my country–I am ashamed that we love our bombs and cradle our guns more than we do our children. I’m not sure if the Pentagon will ever cease the military-industrial-congressional complex, and–if it does–I highly doubt I’ll be alive for it.