President Eisenhower on the “military-industrial complex”

Though I had heard the term “military-industrial complex,” I had never know its origin. Had speculation been brewing “some liberal, probably” would have been my guess. It was a shock to find that President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term using it in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961.

To call his observations prescient would be correct, but almost underwhelming. Were Eisenhower to have witnessed the rise of said complex, the old soldier might very well rise up and launch another Operation Overlord this time aimed at McDonnell-Douglas, Boeing, KBR and the like. What follows is an excerpt.

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.

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.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.