This post originally appeared in the “Peace Advocate News,” a newsletter prepared as part of the Peace and Reconciliation ministry of the Northern Ohio District of the Church of the Brethren.
Confronting a Dangerous World and Protecting Democracy
Clyde C. Fry, Mansfield, Ohio
1) The Warning
On January 17, 1961, Dwight David Eisenhower, five star general, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WW-2, and 34th president of the United States, gave his farewell presidential address to the public. Instead of the “sentimental and valedictory” address that was expected, he gave the nation a stern and serious warning. This is what he said:
“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 larger 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 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.” ((Eisenhower, by Paul Johnson, Viking Press, 2014, page 121.))
The next day (January 18, 1961) Eisenhower held a press conference in which he made an “impassioned attack on the way military values were replacing the bedrock civil values of American society” and the risks to our liberty and fiscal security that this change would bring. ((Ibid, page 120.)) Eisenhower worried that our “military strength, and imprudent leadership, could lead the country into interventions all over the world, encouraged by the arms lobby and the military chiefs who were its puppets, and the result would be an over extension of resources and economic ruin.” ((Ibid, page 120.))
2) The Problem
The problem that Eisenhower raises is very simple and very dangerous to peace and a democratic way of life. The manufacture of armaments provides employment and taxes for many of our families and communities. But, like any manufacturing enterprise the products produced must have markets that need and will consume them. Without market need and consumption, the industry, with its jobs, income, and taxes will be lost. Like all manufacturing the greater the consumer need the more the industries connected to that consumption will grow and proliferate. Today, every state in our nation has important economic ties to our growing armament industry and its share of the GNP (we are the largest armaments exporter in the world). The armaments that we produce must be used somewhere by somebody making the need for armed conflict itself a vested interest. William Hartung, weapons industry analyst pointed out, “If there’s one thing we should have learned over the past 13 years of war, it’s that war is good business for those in the business of war.”
3) The Giant
The Pentagon employs 3 million people, 800,000 more than the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. 70 percent of the value of the federal government’s $1.8 trillion in property, land and equipment belongs to the Pentagon. The Army alone uses more than twice as much building space as all the offices in New York City. The Pentagon and the Veterans Administration together constitute the nation’s largest healthcare provider serving 9.6 million people and holds more than 80 percent of the federal government’s inventories, including $6.8 billion of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable stuff (some of the excess is being funneled into local police departments, which some argue, is contributing to the “military mind-set and policing tactics” that are so controversial today). ((David Gilson, Journalist, a Senior Editor, Mother Jones, Sources: Congressional Research Service, House Budget Committee, Government Accountability Office.))
4) The Necessity
Violent conflict is necessary to keep the armament industry alive! Someone has to use up all that stuff so that we can continue to produce it. Either we must go out and fight somebody “to keep America safe” or we have to sell the stuff to somebody else who is willing to use it in one of their conflicts. The result is that we abuse the sovereignty of other nations by clandestine shenanigans or outright public interference and make “terrorist lists” that keep the public stirred up, afraid, and thus willing to support the big bucks and spilled blood to maintain the system. Because of this need for violence the use of diplomacy and negotiation are suspect or rejected all together (the current negotiations with Iran are a good example; do we need to keep our hostile view of Iran to justify a high Pentagon budget and middle-eastern arms sales alive? Is that why political lackeys in the congress are so anxious to put a possible treaty down even before the details have been settled?). To quote Eisenhower once again: “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a larger 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.” Is our belief in and economic need for the use of violence in national and international affairs turning our democracy into a hypocrisy or worse?
Clyde C. Netzley Fry is a retired pastor in Northern Ohio District. He has served as a mediator in congregational and community disputes and participated in national and international conferences on various peace related issues. He has written numerous essays on peace topics, the first of which was a brief historical sketch “Whatever Happened to Non- Violence?”