By Prof. Inderjeet Parmar
19 January 2011
Fifty years ago, on 17 January 1961, US President Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans about the rise of what he called “the military industrial complex” – the enmeshing of the massive military establishment (built during and especially after World War II) with weapons manufacturing corporations. He also noted that American universities had become dominated by government and corporate reserach contract income such that obtaining grants had replaced intellectual curiosity as their raison d’etre. “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present,” he stated.
|Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th President of the United States
Below is reprinted part of Eisenhower’s speech that is most often quoted as well as its context. There is, in addition, a brief summary of the power of one particular US coporation, Lockheed Martin, to demonstrate the continuing and growing power of the state-corporate nexus.
Eisenhower’s warning about the incestuous character of state, academic and coporate power may well have been sincere yet he personified that very nexus. Eisenhower rose through the military ranks to Supreme Commander in Europe and head of NATO, was appointed president of Columbia University after 1946, before running for president in 1952. As president, Eisenhower presided over a massive and growing military budget which was aimed at the “communist threat”. As he noted, in a style eerily similar and so easily adapted to today’s enemies: “We face a hostile ideology — global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method.”
Noth only that, the enemy poses a “danger… of indefinite duration… [requiring]… not so much the emotional and trasitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle — with liberty at stake”.
What Eisenhower warned about in one breath was earmarked as a vital necessity in the next.
- Extract from Eisenhower’s Farewell Address:
“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
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 now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
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 State house, 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 militaryindustrial 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.
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.
It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.”
- Lockheed Martin: From Arms to Surveillance to Promoting Democracy
According to William Hartung, author of a new study of the corporation, “Lockheed Martin doesn’t actually run the U.S. government, but sometimes it seems as if it might as well. After all, it received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history. It now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, the Census Bureau, and the Postal Service.
Oh, and Lockheed Martin has even helped train those friendly Transportation Security Administration agents who pat you down at the airport. Naturally, the company produces cluster bombs, designs nuclear weapons, and makes theF-35 Lightning (an overpriced, behind-schedule, underperforming combat aircraft that is slated to be bought by customers in more than a dozen countries) — and when it comes to weaponry, that’s just the start of a long list. In recent times, though, it’s moved beyond anything usually associated with a weapons corporation and has been virtually running its own foreign policy, doing everything from hiring interrogators for U.S. overseas prisons (including at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq) to managing a private intelligence network in Pakistan and helping write the Afghan constitution.
William D. Hartung, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books, January 2011).
Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of Government. He studied Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Sociology at the University of London. He obtained his doctorate at the University of Manchester. He joined the Department of Government as a lecturer in 1996. From 1991, he was lecturer in American Studies.