David Eisenhower on the Military-Industrial Complex

Monday, March 05, 2012

Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, David Eisenhower, director of the Institute for Public Service at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed his afterword to The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means: A Hip Pocket Guide and his grandfather's famous "military-industrial complex" speech.

Eisenhower's prophetic speech

It's been over 50 years since President Dwight Eisenhower gave his famous speech warning against the dangers of the military-industrial complex in January of 1961. The President's grandson, David Eisenhower, recently penned an op-ed arguing that these words were prophetic at the time and remain significant half a century later.

While the real influence of the military-industrial complex may have waned since President Eisenhower's speech, David Eisenhower says his grandfather managed to identify a much larger problem that the Founding Fathers did not foresee, and which would only metastasize over the course of the 20th century: an interdependent country and economy full of "self-interested and self-perpetuating...corporate-public 'complexes.'"

When these "complexes" dictate American policy and affairs, it's both dangerous and demoralizing for the public.

I think it's possible democracy can become captive of interests and so on, and that it requires a great deal of vigilance and energy to maintain a vital self-governing system...The idea that democracy can be somehow hijacked, and people can be persuaded to withdraw from public affairs, this is the great lesson of the 20th century.

A new breed of 'complex'

Given that the defense budget has shrunk as a share of national output since President Eisenhower's day, David Eisenhower allows that his grandfather's words may apply less to military institutions than they do to other players with exorbitant influence in 2012.

It could well be not the military but the financial sector of this country, and I dont see either side talking about that either.

Comments [10]

carl roodman from Chelsea, NYC

About 30 years ago, I read that in his famous speech Pres. Eisenhower wanted to refer to THE MILITARY,INDUSTRIAL,CONGRESSIONAL COMPLEX; congressional being the most important.
Unfortunately his advisers convinced him to delete the congressional reference. Most military
contracts are spread among a surplus of sub contractors, which are in a myriad of states. This
is the main reason that arms projects are so difficult to eliminate

Mar. 06 2012 01:28 PM

Carrie --

Monetarism is the economic idea that the amount and circulation of money is ultimately controlled by governmental policy, directly influences national economic output and has little to do with capitalism per se nor does it involve any "constant tension" with multinational companies. What you are describing more closely resembles oligarchism or fascism.

Mar. 05 2012 11:04 AM

Please ask Mr. Eisenhower what his grandfather would think of our current circumstance.

Mar. 05 2012 10:51 AM
carrie from Bklyn

Prez Eisenhower seemed to have understood that we could end up in a form of capitalism called "monetarism" -- run by multinationals, etc., in constant tension with our democracy/gov't. I think your guest is talking about this and, if that is the case, I applaud him. We should all be listening closely.

Mar. 05 2012 10:50 AM


Thank you for having Mr. Eisenhower on!

Mar. 05 2012 10:49 AM

fuva from Harlemworld~

You're right, simply being a progeny of a former US™ leader does not automatically make you an expert on the Konstitution®.

However, being the director of the Institute for Public Service at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the finest institutions for the study of such matters may have something to do with Mr. Eisenhower's credibility to speak on the issue...


Mar. 05 2012 10:48 AM
RJ from prospect hts

I take issue with the idea that "institutions have a mind of their own." That seems similar to the absurd notion that "corporations are people." Each of these are collective--hierarchies--of human beings who are brought together by a variety of forces. Collectively, these fallible human beings make judgments in what they perceive as "the" best interest--whether it is their designed to be their own--shareholders and highly paid executives--or the government (sometimes as it is formed in the military) for the U.S. interest, however the human beings identify them. To assign intent to an institution is to take it away from the human beings who have them and make decisions based on them, and that it is a dangerous formulation.

Mar. 05 2012 10:47 AM
jfmurray from Manhattan

Why do people keep saying that our rights are god-given and not government-given?

Our rights are inherent in our being human. God did not give us rights. Government does not give us rights.

The Judeo-Christian god is not the best model of rights-giving.

Mar. 05 2012 10:47 AM
jeffrey from Manhattan

David Eisenhower suggests that the Military it NOT the sector to be concerned about but the Financial

a quote from another President who like President Eisenhower was very prescient

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.
Thomas Jefferson,
3rd president of US (1743 - 1826)

Mar. 05 2012 10:46 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

Is there something about being the grandson of a president (or daughter of a president) that makes one an expert on the Constitution?

Mar. 05 2012 10:39 AM

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