An Unhappy Anniversary

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At
a time of war, scandal, and national disunity, people across the
American family are increasingly wondering how we got here. 45 years
ago this week, departing President Dwight Eisenhower gave us our
answer.

It
was in his 1961 farewell address to the American people that Eisenhower
coined the phrase "military-industrial
complex," an unholy alliance between the Pentagon and its contractors
that he saw gaining "unwarranted influence" over public
policy. Today, in more
ways than we know, these words haunt us.

Ironically,
fifteen years earlier, the heroic general of World War II had been
an advocate of military-industrial cooperation. "The armed
forces could not have won the war alone," he wrote to Secretary
Stimson in 1946, "Scientists and business men contributed techniques
and weapons which enabled us to outwit and overwhelm the enemy."
As the 5-star General became President, he would learn firsthand
that the power of this alliance was growing out of control, tightening
its grip on even his own decision-making as President. "God
help this country," a weary Eisenhower was overheard to say
in the Oval Office, "when someone sits at this desk who doesn't
know as much about the military as I do."

Over
the years, the term "military-industrial complex" has
been praised by some as prophecy and dismissed by others as the
work of a zealous speechwriter. Eisenhower's meticulous scribblings
over many drafts disprove the latter. Today, the power and influence
of the military-industrial complex seem self-evident. Yet beyond
this phrase, Eisenhower's remarkable farewell address is all but
forgotten in a world he foresaw down to the last shell-casing.

At
a time when a growing number of Americans are wondering how September
11 led to Shock and Awe and a war whose estimated cost may now exceed
$2 trillion, Eisenhower cautions thus: "Crises
there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic,
great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some
spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution
to all current difficulties."

As
the path to Iraq saw the U.S. with arrogant impatience undermine
the credibility of U.N. member states that opposed an expedited
inspections timetable, Eisenhower reminds us of the importance,
however flawed, of instruments of international cooperation: "Down
the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that
this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a
community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation
of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of
equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same
confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic,
and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations,
cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield."

As
proponents of the war on terror call for ever-increasing levels
of defense spending, we are reminded that Eisenhower, facing the
real prospect of intercontinental nuclear attack by the Soviet Union,
remained committed nonetheless to the view that "disarmament,
with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative."

At
a time when the rush to war seems now to have been engineered at
least in part by unelected operatives working in the shadows of
power at Think Tanks and other interest groups, Eisenhower warns
of "the
potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power"
arising from the "unwarranted influence"
of such forces.

Recently,
as scandals envelop Washington from Boeing to DeLay to Frist to
Abramoff, Eisenhower reminds us that "the
power of money is ever-present and is gravely to be regarded."

And
now, as the Executive Branch asserts privilege to abridge the civil
liberties of Americans in the name of prosecuting the war on terror,
Eisenhower challenges us to remain vigilant: "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."

While
all these concerns haunt our present condition, one phrase stands
out from the rest: "the need to maintain balance in and
among national programs." As we build bridges and print
textbooks for the children of Iraq while our own children are uneducated
and drowning in the streets of New Orleans, it becomes clear that
Eisenhower has a notion of balance that embarrasses our own.

Perhaps
it was his experience on the battlefield. Or even the values his
pacifist mother instilled in him. Or maybe it was just plain-old
Kansas common sense. Whichever, Eisenhower understood that a nation's
defense is about more than just bombs. He understood that a country
that allocates a disproportionate share of its wealth toward defense
and away from other aspects of its national life is a country driven
by an incomplete vision of national defense. In the final analysis,
he understood that an uneducated country is an undefended country,
that a country without adequate health care is an undefended country,
that a country in debt is an undefended country, that a country
without friends and allies is an undefended country, and above all,
that a country whose people have lost faith in their leaders, is
an undefended country.

"This
is not a way of life at all, in any true sense,"
Eisenhower declared at an earlier time in his career. "Under
the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross
of iron."

January
24, 2006

Eugene
Jarecki is the director of the just-released documentary Why
We Fight
, winner of the 2005 Sundance Grand Jury Prize. This
article originally appeared on the Huffington
Post
.

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