Is the military industrial complex a conspiracy? On one hand it is easy to think it is. There have been a lot of strange events in American history that have not been explained adequately and secrets still are being kept from the public by the government. Probably the best known work that considered the idea of a conspiracy involving the giant defense contractors is Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie JFK about the Kennedy assassination.
Here is a clip from the movie in which the hero of the story – Jim Garrison – meets with a shady high level Pentagon character named “Mr. X.”
If you dig a little into the assassination of President Kennedy it is difficult to believe in the lone assassin single bullet theory put out by Lyndon Johnson’s Presidential commission to investigate Kennedy’s murder called the Warren Commission. This was the time of the United States and its military industrial complex Cold War with the Soviets. Indeed even some of the commission members, and Lyndon Johnson himself did not believe in the single bullet, as you can see in this taped conversation between President Johnson and one of them.
We do not know all of the details of the Kennedy assassination, because many of the records are still being kept secret by the United States government and have yet to be released.
In recent years we have also seen the release of transcripts and notes from Politburo meetings of the Soviet leadership makes for good military industrial complex quotes. We now have an idea of what Premier Khrushchev and other Russian bosses thought of it. Khrushchev made the statement that he believed the United States government is “governed by different groups and sudden coincidental events. That’s why the United States could easily start a war, even if it is fully aware – according to military circles – of the fact that the situation could grow worse.”
Khrushchev believed that the United States was split in two forces. The way he saw it one was reasonable while the other was militaristic and sought to dominate the world. He thought the latter forces were responsible for President Kennedy’s assassination. There have been many events in American history that have not had an adequate explanation – such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the Vietnam War and the circle of lies and half truths that surrounded the war in Iraq.
And course the phrase itself comes from the Presidential farewell address given by Dwight Eisenhower.
That doesn’t answer the question though of whether the military industrial complex is a conspiracy. It seems unlikely that it is a conspiracy of a small little group of people that helped put it into being during and after World War II and are still in place today. For one thing most of them would be dead. Even if some sort of militaristic forces were involved in the Kennedy assassination by now the people involved would be dead too.
We also have seen many botched and stupid operations go on over the years. It is likely that many people at the top of the military and the military industrial complex really do not know what they are doing and are fairly incompetent. This is the nature of centralized power and giant bureaucracies – they, in the words of the political scientists James Scott, “see like a state” – which means they have difficulty interpreting the mass of information they receive in a rational manner and more often than not simply act from some rigid ideology.
And in the end the true power of the military industrial complex in American society is not due to some grand conspiracy, but due to two main factors. First is the political power of the iron triangle alliance of military industrial companies, politicians, and the government bureaucracy aligned with it.
Second is the simple national security ideology of the American war state – which claims that only it can protect the nation and must act in secrecy to do so. It is the secrecy power that makes it appear to function like a conspiracy. Most Americans simply have no idea what is going on and some assume the worse. What is more even someone working at the top of the national security structure can be so compartmentalized that they do not know who they are working for in the end. Perhaps no one is truly in charge. It is simply a war beast. And war beasts do what they do – they start wars and create enough fear in society that everyone is willing to do and accept what they are told. It is the nature of people to want to be a part of the crowd in order to feel safe and accepted and history proves that there are always people who will believe and do anything to accomplish that.
There is a lot to the history of the military industrial complex and the war state. To learn about its origins and history get my book The War State.