Quote Of The Day
The problem with our Founding Fathers is that they didn’t include Founding Mothers. -Me
Post#: 029-19 – Words: 2800 – Audio: N/A
Eisenhower was wise… for his day.
If you’re an opponent to the military-industrial complex, or rather what that phrase has come to represent, you likely hold to the warning given by President Eisenhower back in January, 1961, as he departed the White House to allow for the new fellow, President Kennedy, to move in. My blog-buddy, chuq, from In Saner Thought, posted a nice history on the “M-IC”, “What Is The Military-Industrial Complex?” Buddy chuq’s personal views represent a common opinion that began with Eisenhower and has continued to this day… some 58 years later.
Since Eisenhower.. and most notably becoming popular during the Vietnam years… there’s been the growing animosity that the relationship between the military and companies that supply the military is more an “unhealthy” relationship; a relationship full of greed, questionable lobbying, using money to influence healthy contracts to make executives rich, and in general doing that most tawdry expression of immorality, profiting off war. It’s the idea that greedy corporations that dare to influence democracy through donations to our elected officials can dictate behind-the-scenes domestic and foreign policy to encourage military conflicts, thus requiring the Pentagon to buy things for warfare… and killing people. This of course tends to also kill our own soldiers who get involved in these conflicts and carry out these allegedly “corporate” missions around the world.
I Don’t Know Anything For Sure. Does Anyone?
First I should make the note that all of us with opinions who have political blogs lack one most important element that might make our opinions more credible… we have no idea what really goes on inside the agencies, departments, institutions, that help to run our country. We have no inside knowledge about a damn thing… we have no first hand knowledge of witnessing exact events, clandestine operations, secret briefings, or intelligence reports. All we have is our respective academics to whatever level we have achieved; an appreciation for history, science, the arts, psychology, philosophy, etc. All we have to call on is our own contributions to reality.. what we have experienced in life, careers, hobbies, and even a spiritual outlook. We might have an evolved discipline that forms our own respective application of common sense, critical thinking, and problem solving. In the end we have an affinity to use the written word to communicate all these personal attributes as being our best opinion on any subject.
With that, I can safely state that my opinion expressed in this post, or any post I may make, is not generally from a source of inside knowledge, or experience. I have the exact same resources available as the next blogger… media reporting, historical research, and life experience. In the case of this post I do not have accurate and concise information on the actual relationship between government and government contractors as they relate to affecting U.S. policy toward profiteering in military conflicts… and to what degree those efforts are exerted and/or abused. I don’t pretend to have all the answers.. just my own contribution toward any answer. I mentioned research… which for this post I tried to locate examples where one might apply some gross M-IC relationship. There are some historical anecdotes going back to the 19th and early 20th century, but I’ve not found some singular truly immoral application where the concept of M-IC was present… although speculation abounds.
Now… this is NOT to suggest that a process has to be illegal to be immoral. There is no secret whatsoever that lobbyists, who represent corporations, industries, unions, organizations, exist to try and influence elected officials to vote one way or the other on favorite bills. Over the years that has been tempered with rules of transparency in donations and gifts as well as registration requirements to even be a lobbyist. It’s not a huge jump to presume, or even assume, that corporations engaged in defense production might want to influence foreign policy to encourage the next new war will continue business keeps coming their way. Money talks. The weakness in the system? Human nature. This weakness is presumed to take advantage of elected officials who want to get re-elected.. or get elected into a better office. I am sure before all the regulations went into effect over the last couple decades in campaign financing undocumented money was flowing around with greater impunity and that money likely went to influence policy to assure more business.
In The Beginning…
But for this post here let’s go back to the beginning of all this M-IC concern. Just recall back in history to all our wars prior to.. let’s say for point of reference.. prior to Vietnam. In fact, go back to ancient days. Not a lot of nations in history kept a standing army or navy. Even for kings and queens this was an expensive prospect and many times the royals-in-charge went bankrupt when their coffers were drained over time just keeping a military available. If there was an invading army to repel then the royals would call upon the people to rise up and arm themselves.
Consider this verse that you might recognize, at least the term…
“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.—Isaiah 2:3–4”
From this verse came the literary reference of the citizenry of a given country being called to defend themselves and the kingdom by “beating your ploughshares into swords”, suggesting meeting the call for farmers to turn into warriors to save their farms and homeland. In the early days of this country on the frontier rural settlements and villages policed and defended themselves… the imagery of the farmer setting down his plow and grabbing the rifle off the fireplace mantel to defend house and home. The Founding Fathers felt it necessary for include the Second Amendment to the Constitution to allow for use of personal weapons in the event a militia were to be called up, if not for the national defense then certainly for retribution toward an oppressive government.
But let’s explore this further. What happened when the Civil War broke out? Lincoln had to raise an army and navy.. and equip it. One might construe this to be an early application of M-IC…. but really this was mostly about levels of profiteering and faulty products being sold the military and influence peddling to get government contracts. There was no M-IC relationships yet.
Then came the Spanish-American War. Again, another military had to be raised. World War I.. we had no standing army and we had to go from zero to something like 4 million men in uniform within a year. Weapons production skyrocketed… and suddenly folks at home had to ration certain things. World War II comes along.. and still we had no standing military worth mentioning… and a draft was necessary.
We really didn’t get the idea that a substantial standing military was necessary to meet world threats.. and.. to back up our national policies internationally. Thanks to Stalin’s bravado and Communism to throw a scare at us with nuclear weapons did we finally get the idea that we need a standing military.. ready to respond, around the world.
Another Time, Another Place
When Eisenhower made his famous speech warning posterity of the M-IC there was a different world.. in a dawning age of the realization that military preparedness was necessary 24/7, and that the days were far gone when we just would sit around until the next invader came along before we spin things into gear. There’s an economic application in macroeconomics called “guns & butter”. It’s the idea any nation has to achieve an economic output balance of creating commercial products vs. military products. Typically during wars, as we did in both World Wars, the economy will shift from making civilian items like automobiles for public use to tanks and jeeps for military use.
Now what happened with the realization in Korea that Communism was a threat, and the ideology being pushed by Stalin Communism of world conquest… we had a big mindset shift in realizing we need to stay on alert 24/7 with a military that can fight back anytime and anywhere. Eisenhower, for the genius as he was as a military commander and a good President, his entire life was “old school” military. One can only guess how he was feeling with the explosion of national spending, during peacetime, on military items and developmental technology to stay ahead of the Soviets. There was no war but as a nation were surely acting like it and spending accordingly. No question the lobbyists were showing up at the Capitol front door and the Pentagon itself was clamoring for more and better weaponry and personnel.
Eisenhower was worried about the costs of an arms race with the Soviet Union, and the resources it would take from other areas — such as building hospitals and schools. Eisenhower also was concerned in that an arms buildup might tempt non-negotiating. He stated, “we must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
Another concern he had was the possibility that as the military and the arms industry gained power, they would be a threat to democracy, with civilians losing control of the military-industrial complex. And therein is the seed for our fears today of this happening. I dare suggest that our fear today of the effects of a possible M-IC influence has, on one hand, changed considerably given all the controls put in place over the years in campaign finance laws and lobbying and regulation of government contracts. Yet on the other hand, the fear does seem to still exist in some corners. While I can easily agree that perhaps at some points in the recent decade or two back, direct policy manipulation to influence the conduct of some conflicts might have been tried.. I have no idea or information as to how successful it has been. Each side of this debate seems to have their own “eyewitness” supporters.
It seemed that back during the Vietnam War it was common for the anti-war movement to assign a level of blame to government contractors for manufacturing the implements of warfare that showed up on the evening news killing civilians. In particular I recall Dow Chemical with their Agent Orange, and Monsanto with napalm, as being a public focus of an M-IC gone wild just to keep the war going for ten years. There’s a left wing acceptance that corporations are greedy and out to make huge profits for their executives. In fact, government contractors were by and large owned by regular stockholders… and not controlled by one person. Something that also exists today.
A Personal Blunder
As a side story to this.. back in 1968/69 I was working for a now defunct power tool manufacturing company called Wen Products. Apparently they had won a contract to supply South Vietnam soldering guns, or so it was rumored in the plant. We must have shipped tens of hundreds over a period of months (I was amazed at how many people “over there” were using these things). I worked in the shipping department so it was my job to stack after assembly and then load these things when the trucks came in. There were three guns to a carton. The individual soldering guns were in their own presentation box, with the ad printing and graphics you’d expect to see when buying one of these from your local hardware store. But the outer carton for three of them was a plain brown box.. completely blank of printing. I was to take a prepared cut stencil template that contained all the cryptic nomenclature and numbers you might see on military labeling.. like “Gun, Soldering, 3 Ea” followed by a bunch of numbers… then use spray paint to label the box through the stencil.
Now, according the government contract, that stencil imprint had to be applied on each carton in a certain way… which was with the taped corner of the box on the right side. When I first started doing these, before it became routine, I had messed up a few (wasn’t paying attention… I was 17 at the time and had different priorities) and painted the info on the opposite side. Not thinking, when I stacked these cartons on a wooden pallet, must have been about 50 to a pallet, a couple of my mistakes were facing outward rather than being buried in the middle of the stack.
The truck arrived and I stage three pallets for this order on the dock. A government inspector refused all three pallets because he saw a couple of my mis-labeled cartons. The presumption being that maybe there was some process defect with the manufacturing. In fact, I was the only defect. But to the greater point here, these were simple soldering guns.. hardly critical to anyone’s war effort (so I thought) and this government inspector refused the entire shipment. I re-packed and re-labeled the “bad” cartons and we successfully re-shipped a week later. Besides fearing for the continuance of my employment there, I had images of electronic widgets in some Vietnamese widget factory, piling up at the end of some assembly line waiting to be soldered, and I had single-handedly affected the war output for widgets. But.. they let me keep my job.. and we still lost the war anyway. My bad.
So I suppose I have a greater respect for the government inspection process and while this event was hardly a shipment of M60 machine guns with faulty firing pins or some new jet fighter that might have a design flaw, nor does it address high costs for simple items… it does illustrate in some small way that there is indeed a process and it’s just not all about graft, corruption, influence peddling, and profits.
First World To The Third World
But that was then and this is now. The end result is that we do not necessarily have a strict “guns or butter” economy because manufacturing implements of war is part of our economy. We put up with the moral question of international sales of our weaponry to Third World nations as do many other countries. This keeps our defense industry prepared and at the ready. It likely also arguably continues military conflicts around the world… some we engage in ourselves. Right or wrong… this posture has made us the post –World War II power we are today, and the most militarily and economically powerful country in the history of the world. We have the ability to back up peace with the threat of military action anywhere in the world.
It’s widely accepted that the fall of the Soviet Union was, at least in part, because of their own military spending. Where our economy can support a 10% of GNP military expense (we had a high of 40% during WW2), the Soviets had near 20% at the height of the Cold War. We are hardly not the only industrialized country to maintain a standing military supported by a weapons industry. I’m sure the reader will recall the Nick Cage movie, Lord Of War, where he plays an international arms dealer who profits from the fall of the Soviet Union. This story plays on the recollections of a number of arms dealers. The fact is, war is profitable even in peacetime. But this movie illustrates the underground surplus arms sales. American corporations require some level of government regulation and permission… which common sense might suggest hasn’t always been honest. But is it rampant? I doubt it, until such time some authority presents a case formally.
If there is an existence of a M-IC that’s going to threaten democracy as Eisenhower warned… it hasn’t happened yet that I can see. Washington D.C. leaks like a waterfall and I have faith that someone somewhere would expose any widespread attempts. People like to vilify corporations for making a profit. Then they qualify it by saying “some profit is ok.. but it’s when they get greedy is when it threatens democracy”. Then I ask, who determines when profit turns to greed? Eternal vigilance is not just a phrase directed toward our enemies, but also for our own democracy.
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