On January 17, 1961, outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his “Farewell Address” to the nation. Far from a spellbinding speaker, still Eisenhower’s speech must be considered one of most prescient ever delivered by an American leader.
Sitting behind his desk speaking into two microphones and a camera, the aged warrior and leader warned about the use of American military power. He warned of the influence of the federal government on the “free inquiry” in American universities, concerned that economic interests would soon outweigh pure intellectual pursuits.
He also expressed strong concerns about what he called “the military-industrial complex,” and the influence of that part of our economy permanently engaged in the manufacture of armaments.
It is worth noting these concerns were not expressed by a “Flower Power” sign toting, pot-scented, Woodstock attending, Kent State protesting, sit-in advancing, free-love advocating, Leftie pinko-communist peacenik hippie. Instead, this warning was delivered by the former Supreme Allied Commander of Operation Overlord (the largest warfare assemblage in the history of humankind), former President of NATO, and outgoing Commander in Chief of the United States.
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 cooperations — 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. [Emphasis mine.]
Eisenhower did not issue a blanket warning about the existence of a permanent armaments industry. He accepted world events (read: the USSR and communism) warranted a full and prepared defense. His warning is not to think the Complex benign. We should not regard such an industry as amoral. The military-industrial complex, in Ike’s mind, was not nor would be agnostic. It would come to embody a belief system that would affect Americans for generations to come.
Eisenhower believed it would affect us spiritually.
This is a reality rarely considered by followers of Jesus today. How has the 50+ year influence of military-industrial complex affected the children of the Prince of Peace? How has its domination of Washington affected foreign policy? Domestic policy?
Through the course of World War 2, a permanent industry for building arms did not exist. Plowshare makers like General Motors and Chrysler could be compelled to build military equipment rather than coupes and sedans. Aircraft assembly lines could be fitted to construct fighter planes rather than commuter crafts. By the time of Eisenhower’s speech, however, this had changed. Plowshare makers could now make plowshares without the interruption of war. The sword-making industry was here to stay.
But, the sword-making industry, the military-industrial complex, is 1) for-profit, 2) enormous, and 3) massively influential with regard to public policy. There are individual and mutual fund managers to please, hundreds of thousands of employees to pay, and government contracts designed to reciprocally benefit representatives and senators from coast to coast.
It may be a bridge-to-far to suggest wars have been started solely for the financial benefit of the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower’s warning, however, is that we should never overlook that very possibility if “security and liberty” are to prosper together. If Eisenhower was alive he might be less concerned with what the military-industrial complex might do to ISIS, than with what the military-industrial complex has done to us.
Followers of Christ must look deeper than economic and political concerns: war, at the bottom, is more than a means of conquest. War is an inordinately efficient machine for sending people into eternity, many of them without Christ.
War or the threat of war is needed to keep a permanent armament industry at peak profitability. “Wars and rumors of wars” is, for believers, a sign to interpret not a slogan to chant. When we who claim Christ find ourselves more often calling for military action as a first response, we might well ask what spirit we follow, and whose disciple, indeed, we are?