Last weekend in the United States we celebrated Memorial Day, a national holiday to honor those who have served and lost their lives in the military service to this country. Reading through the various articles to mark and commemorate the occasion, I ran across an article on one of America’s greatest military men, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. “Ike,” as he was affectionately known to many, was a five-star general and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He is widely credited with turning the tide in the war in favor of the allies with a bold and sometimes unconventional military strategy. He was elected the 34th President of the United States in 1952 and presided for 8 years over perhaps the most wide-spread period of prosperity in US History, often known as the Fabulous 50’s. Besides being a well-respected military man and two-term president, he also possessed a common-sense, practical wisdom that, along his role of a great general and president, endeared him to many as a sort of a wise grandfather type figure.
In his presidential farewell address to the American people on January 17, 1961, Ike imparted some very important pieces of wisdom and advice to the American people, and to the world, that seems to have gone largely unheeded, which, unfortunately, is often the case with the wisdom of our elders. Even if we respectfully listen to what we are being told, we do not always fully comprehend. And, If we do comprehend, often we soon forget as more pressing issues of the day take precedent. It was reading articles last weekend that I myself was reminded of the words of this wise and preeminent figure of the 20th Century. .
In Ike’s farewell address, he warned about the rise of the military-industrial complex. While he is widely credited with first popularizing the term, many of its tenets were first laid out in the 1936 book Fascism and Big Business. In short, Eisenhower, the general who presided over the demise of fascism in Europe, was warning about its rise in the United States due to a too cozy relationship between the arms industry and the mechanisms of government and finance. Perhaps because the term was new and unfamiliar, most people did not fully grasp what he was talking about. Yet, in hindsight, he appears to have been a prophet of sorts, as indeed such an arrangement has taken hold and garnered great power and influence.
Much of the root of this problematic and dangerous arrangement can be traced to the protracted cold war with the former Soviet Union. Whether the cold war enabled the military-industrial complex or whether the latter enabled the former is a matter of debate, but there really can be not debate about the fact that the United States has remained on a military footing, in one form or another, for much of the last 75 years. Given this circumstance, it was almost inevitable that a close relationship would develop between industry, government, the military and those entities that finance the whole arrangement.
As Eisenhower saw it, the danger of the military-industrial complex was that resources would be increasingly funneled from the private sector into the production of weapons and arms at the expense of the greater economy and economic development. Wars, unfortunately, are part of the human condition but, in the normal cycle of things wars are fought and then the resources used to conduct war are eventually funneled back into the whole of society as the wars draw to a close. Swords into plowshares. A continuing cycle of war, or a long war, ultimately impoverishes society as a whole because if prevents resources from being spent on few things outside of supporting the mechanisms of war. Of course this arrangement is perfectly acceptable if you are (or employed by) a manufacturer of war implements, a financier lending money to such companies or a politician being paid by either of these entities to help perpetuate the cycle. In the long-run this stunts wider economic development and ultimately has untoward effects on the rest of the society. This was Eisenhower’s concern and, looking around me today, his concern seems to have been perfectly justified. In Eisenhower’s own words:
“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 of 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 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 alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.
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.”
Pertinent to the discussions commonly undertaken here on this site, and the pretty much the point of this entire article, Eisenhower went on to describe how the military-industrial complex would impact scientific research and scientific discovery.
“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.”
I believe Ike was not only wise but a veritable prophet it terms of predicting the untoward effects of the military-industrial complex on the society as a whole, including the scientific establishment. Ironically, the Cold War technically ended (1991) around the same time that cold fusion came into the public consciousness (1989), yet the institutions and practices that it gave rise to still remain firmly entrenched some 2 decades later, with US-led wars over the last decade perhaps giving it new life when perhaps its power and influence should have otherwise greatly diminished. The Soviet Union is said to have collapsed due to its own version the military-industrial complex, and many believe the US is close to suffering the same fate.
Of course, given the influence that both the US and Russia, the remnant of the former Soviet Uniion, have had on shaping the world in years since World War II, it can be reasonably argued that the MIC/MFC has shaped the whole world in the last 7 decades. Not only do we have famous physicists at MIT scuttling research dollars for promising cold fusion research, we have academics in Italy scolding the high school teachers at Pirelli Industrial High School for “corruption of knowledge of young people” in terms of the school’s Athanor experimental cold fusion device.
And while LENR/cold fusion is the matter at hand on this site, and I am attempting to explain some of the reasons why research has been opposed and stifled, one can only imagine the number of other revolutionary technologies that have not been fully developed or pursued because of the influence of the MIC. When looking at the world around me, I am at times struck by how primitive the landscape looks, with power poles sticking out of the ground, wires hanging everywhere, dirty cars spewing poison into the atmosphere, roads and bridges in disrepair, etc. If it sometimes hard to believe we are living in the 21st Century. We may not have listened to Ike, or forgot what he told us, but now it is time we be reminded that we were warned.