The military industrial complex is really a creature of the Cold War. The United States has a long history of fighting in wars. In fact it came into being as a result of the war of independence the thirteen American colonies fought against the United Kingdom.
The United States has always had big wars. There was the Civil War and World War II that it fought in. But something happened after World War II. After all previous wars to it the nation demobilized. The arms industry was always looked at very warily as an instigator of war. It was always viewed with suspicion as something that could act as an economic drag on the nation. But after World War we have what is essentially a giant defense establishment of instant war readiness against any potential enemy.
The founding fathers even feared standing armies. James Madison wrote that “no nation can maintain its freedom in the midst of continuous warfare.”
Such things make for important famous military industrial complex quotes.
American politicians feared that big wars and an entrenched military industrial complex would mean centralized government and higher taxes that would mean a loss of freedom in the name of national security and lower living standards. President Eisenhower made comments in private to the effect that if such trends continue private business could become stuffed out and inflation could grow so much thanks to deficit spending that the United States would become a nightmare garrison state.
Such fears provoked him to give his famous military industrial complex speech and reveal its significance to the country.
Today the top ten giant corporations tied to the defense industry are among the largest contributors to political campaigns and they sow the benefits.
But before World War II there was no permanent arms industry. Before all previous wars the country demobilized and simply turned off defense spending. The Cold War changed that. The Cold War sparked a nuclear arms race and an orgy in defense spending that continued throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. Only after the Vietnam War was there a little slowdown. And then once the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended there was only a few years where military spending was scaled back. Then after 9/11 it exploded to new levels as the war on terror began and the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan burdened the nation.
A broken economy today is the legacy. If you want to look for two Cold War turning points you might want to look at the so called Harry Truman War Scare of 1948.
After World War II things were up in the air when it came to defense spending. Defense spending came down from the wartime peak. Some airplane companies came into financial trouble as a result and wanted a big increase in defense spending to remain solvent. There is evidence that they lobbied behind the scenes to get what they want.
The “war scare” came when one of the top dogs in Army Intelligence took a trip to Germany and visited with General Lucius Clay who was in charge of the US forces there. He told Clay that it would be helpful if he could warn of dangerous Soviet intentions ahead of the next Congressional appropriations bill. Clay told him he wasn’t too worried about the Soviets at and would think about it.
But he did what was asked of him. On March 5, 1948 General Clay made the statement that “Within the last few weeks, I have felt a subtle change in Soviet attitude which I cannot define but which now gives me a feeling that it may come with dramatic suddenness”. Stories about a potential Soviet sneak attack appeared on the front pages of American newspapers. A “war scare” was in the air. The airline companies got the extra funding they wanted. It almost seemed like a military industrial complex conspiracy.
The next key turning point in the Cold War origins of the military industrial came with Truman’s approval of national security document NSC-68, which justified turning the United States into a world empire and recommended a giant increase in defense spending. He turned the Cold War into a manic arms race by putting his signature on this document.
NSC-68 was based on wild over estimations of the actual Soviet threat. Here is a video about this event in history:
The philosophy behind NSC-68 still underpins US foreign policy today.
To learn more about the military industrial complex get my book the War State.