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Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex (Icons of America) Hardcover – January 17, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Fifty years after the 34th president delivered his best known address, Ledbetter (Starving to Death on Million) deconstructs the origins of the term "military-industrial complex" and weighs its contemporary meanings and misinterpretations. Eisenhower, a WWII legend, feared that deepening the relationships between government officials, lawmakers, and weapons producers would ultimately undermine democracy. The president's fears were not new, but Ledbetter makes a convincing case that the 1957 launch of Sputnik by the Soviets cemented the unholy alliance—long before the phrase became popular in the Vietnam era. Ledbetter deftly connects the dots between these two sectors, documenting how military appropriations were linked to job creation projects in congressional districts; how the "revolving door" for employment between the military and the firms providing weapons to the Defense Department endures; and how government-funded university research activities undermined traditional notions about academic freedom. Ledbetter makes a disturbingly persuasive case that Ike was right. (Jan.)
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"Few commentators on the 34th president's mind and methods have more rigorously considered the evolution of Eisenhower's preoccupations than Ledbetter has."—Josiah Bunting III, Washington Post (Josiah Bundting III Washington Post)
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To me the most telling thing about the book is that its interpretations and judgments don't seem to need revision even though 21 new drafts of the speech were discovered (in the boat house of speech writer Malcolm Moos) in Minnesota. For more information on the drafts, see The New Yorker, Dec. 20 & 27, pp. 42 and 44. Of course, those new drafts have yet to be thoroughly studied, and so "the last word" is yet to be written.
Ultimately, that is what I like about the book. It provides great context and content, and doesn't overreach, while opening new doors for further exploration. My further exploration will be along the lines of learning more about the actual military-industrial complex, rather than the term itself. But that is only one door out of Ledbetter's book.
Five years later, in his farewell speech, President Eisenhower echoed Mills' concern, when he warned that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex". What this phrase meant-and still means today-is the subject of Lebetter's fascinating and important book.
Some historians locate the history of the military-industrial complex(MIC) somewhere in the middle of the nineteenth century when the munitions industry has supplied the U.S military with weapons and supplies especially during the Civil War and after it. Ever since then, charges of profiteering have surfaced in the area of military procurement and these charges increased in number around the time that World War One broke out. The claim was that arms manufacturers cheated the government "in order to preserve their profits". They deliberately encouraged countries to start wars, join wars, or prolong wars in order to create demand for their products.
Some books published during the 1930 had even dubbed those arms manufacturers "merchants of death", and Mr. Ledbetter gives some examples and main themes regarding these books.
Before and after becoming President, Eisenhower was aware of the need for a rational military policy which balanced the duties, budgets and roles of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. The president argued that war was destructive and undesirable and he also held the opinion that spending on war even during peacetime diverted resources that could be "put to better use" such as "the building of schools, new homes and fully equipped hospitals".
Mr. Ledbetter shows the many paradoxes which governed the tenure of Eisenhower during his presidency. One of them was had to do with the need to spend billions of dollars since those were crucial years in the history of the Cold War, and on the other hand Eisenhower's constant criticism of the social costts of military spending.
The origins of the phrase "military-industrial comp" were never established, although there are some sources which are pointed at by the author. By 1959, Eisenhower had begun to see private military contractors as self-interested, malign actors in the budget process.
The second part of the book shows what impact Eisenhower's last speech had in the history of the MIC. Four detailed examples in which the MIC was deemed to be shaping public life in a malovolent way are presenteed to the reader. They are about the shaping the nation's military budget; the infringing upon civil liberties; the distortion of national and social priorities, and the way academic freedom and the role of universities were affected. The time frame under which these four aspects are discussed and elaborated on concern the years 1961 to the late seventies.
The last chapter serves as a warning, echoing Eisenhower's fears as they came up in his speech. The chapter called: "Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave" shows to what extent recent events have revived interest in the MIC. These are, for example: the role of Cheney and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay as well as the torture in the Abu Ghraib prison; the privatisation of security and combat as represented by the Blackwater firm and many more. Mr. Ledbetter states that military spending under Obama is more than a trilion dollars a year, "significantly higher in constant dollars than during the Cold War period, the Vietnam War, or the Reagan-era buildup". Although the fact that some effects are beneficial, such as cell phones, the GPS, the Internet-all of which emerged from technologies first developed for and by the military, one should be aware of the dangers of the MIC, as stated by Eisenhower's speech.
This book,which is a long essay,is a brilliant piece showing the history, background and consequences of the MIC, and is extremely relevant especially these days.