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 by 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 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 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.Ike presented a balanced approach to American military policy -- a strong national defense combined with a concern about liberty. Ike was no utopian, either in favor of the national security state or a pacifistic approach to the Soviet menace. He realized the vital necessity of a militarily robust United States, while at the same time he had an abiding commitment to not seeing the United States fall into the trap that had captured so many nation-states that had built up large militaries in the past. Security was important, but it wasn't so important that it should eclipse liberty. The goal, as Ike noted, is to create a political & economic climate where "liberty and security may prosper together."
His preferred manner of escaping the trap: "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry" as he put it. In other words, the classic republican (with a small "r") concept of the active and informed public. We've seen a bit of this with the Tea Party movement in the last 18 months or so. We need to see a lot more of it. And more of it dealing not just with the domestic problems we face as a nation, but also with our foreign policy problems. Those two sets of problems are linked, oftentimes by the very military-industrial complex that Ike warned the nation about those many years ago.
Update: The Western Confucian links to a symposium over at the American Conservative online on Eisenhower's farewell address: Ike's Last Stand. Well worth a read.