Unwarranted Influence

Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex

James Ledbetter
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    Unwarranted Influence
    Book Description:

    In Dwight D. Eisenhower's last speech as president, on January 17, 1961, he warned America about the "military-industrial complex," a mutual dependency between the nation's industrial base and its military structure that had developed during World War II. After the conflict ended, the nation did not abandon its wartime economy but rather the opposite. Military spending has steadily increased, giving rise to one of the key ideas that continues to shape our country's political landscape.

    In this book, published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Eisenhower's farewell address, journalist James Ledbetter shows how the government, military contractors, and the nation's overall economy have become inseparable. Some of the effects are beneficial, such as cell phones, GPS systems, the Internet, and the Hubble Space Telescope, all of which emerged from technologies first developed for the military. But the military-industrial complex has also provoked agonizing questions. Does our massive military establishment-bigger than those of the next ten largest combined-really make us safer? How much of our perception of security threats is driven by the profit-making motives of military contractors? To what extent is our foreign policy influenced by contractors' financial interests?

    Ledbetter uncovers the surprising origins and the even more surprising afterlife of the military-industrial complex, an idea that arose as early as the 1930s, and shows how it gained traction during World War II, the Cold War, and the Vietnam era and continues even today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16882-2
    Subjects: History, Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ONE Tracking the Unwarranted Influence
    (pp. 1-14)

    That Dwight David Eisenhower should be remembered for any speech at all—particularly one delivered late in his life—is something of a wonder. A world-renowned general, an Ivy League college president, an undefeated politician, and even a best-selling author, he was nonetheless not a great orator. Particularly after the 1955 heart attack and 1957 stroke he suffered, Eisenhower was known as a rambling, bumbling public speaker, especially when speaking without notes; in his press conference responses he often trailed off into half-sentences and non sequiturs. While some have suggested that he did so strategically, it is clear that much...

  5. TWO Intellectual Origins
    (pp. 15-44)

    It is generally agreed—though not entirely true—that the phrase “military-industrial complex” did not publicly exist in the English language until President Eisenhower introduced it in January 1961.¹ Nonetheless, the phrase would not have resonated and endured as effectively as it did had it not synthesized several similar ideas that had taken wide hold in the first half of the twentieth century.

    Consider, for example, this passage from a book published in 1956:

    The decisions of a handful of corporations bear upon military and political as well as upon economic developments around the world. The decisions of the military...

  6. THREE War, Peace, and Eisenhower
    (pp. 45-78)

    It is one of the great ironies of Dwight Eisenhower’s life that he was the son of pacifist Mennonites. His parents, David and Ida Eisenhower, were members of the Brethren in Christ, a pacifist sect established during the eighteenth century in Pennsylvania Dutch country, where the Eisenhower ancestors settled in the 1740s. Dwight, who was born in Abilene, Kansas, in 1890, was raised with his brothers in a home that prohibited alcohol, smoking, card playing, and swearing. War, too, was considered a sin. Ida was a self-taught biblical scholar who, in Stephen Ambrose’s words, “grew up listening to numerous stories...

  7. FOUR Eisenhower’s Contentious Second Term
    (pp. 79-105)

    Despite his health problems, Eisenhower’s re-election in 1956 was a foregone conclusion, and he ended up winning forty-one states and nearly 58 percent of the popular vote. Yet the political ease of the election did not last. The last years of his presidency were marked by deep, often bitter conflicts with Congress over the military and national security. These conflicts represented, to some degree, genuine differences of opinion about spending levels and policy direction, but within the administration it was widely perceived that congressional Democrats and their allies in the military and intelligence communities were inflating and distorting military issues...

  8. FIVE The Speech
    (pp. 106-131)

    There are conflicting accounts of how Eisenhower came to utter the phrase “military-industrial complex.” Most of his biographers spend only a page or two discussing the genesis of his farewell address, even while acknowledging that it is, as Blanche Wiesen Cook put it, “the most important statement of his career.”¹

    One biographer, Stephen Ambrose, suggested that the very idea for the speech came not from someone within the White House or Eisenhower’s circle of advisors but from Norman Cousins. Ambrose wrote that on December 14, 1960, Eisenhower’s personal secretary, Ann Whitman, “typed up a note and sent it into the...

  9. SIX Interpretations and Embellishments
    (pp. 132-163)

    Many commentators on Eisenhower’s speech have concluded that the phrase “military-industrial complex” was largely ignored until America became deeply entangled in the Vietnam War. Martin Medhurst argues that it wasrightfullyignored. In his view, to frame the speech as a warning against the military-industrial complex is a misinterpretation, and that for years few did frame it that way. “Neither in January 1961,” he writes, “nor in 1962, 1963, or 1964, indeed at no point prior to the introduction of American ground forces into Vietnam, was Ike’s Farewell understood by most people to be about the dangers of a military-industrial...

  10. SEVEN In Full Fury
    (pp. 164-187)

    Early in 1966 the world seemed pretty bright to the managers of Dow Chemical. The company, based in Midland, Michigan, was the largest manufacturer of industrial and consumer plastics in the United States, and the growth of plastic was explosive; Dow was making more than a billion pounds of the stuff a year. Whether American housewives preferred Saran Wrap (first sold for home use in 1953) or Handi-Wrap (first sold in 1963), their money went into Dow’s coffers. In 1965, Dow was one of only a few dozen American companies to surpass a billion dollars in annual revenue, and it...

  11. EIGHT “Eisenhower Must Be Rolling Over in His Grave”
    (pp. 188-210)

    “From the White House and the office of the president of the United States, we present an address by Dwight D. Eisenhower. This is the farewell address for President Eisenhower, whose eight years as chief executive come to an end at noon Friday.” With this television introduction begins the 2005 feature-length documentaryWhy We Fight, which marks something of a renaissance for Eisenhower’s farewell. From the late 1980s through the early part of the twenty-first century, discussions of the MIC went relatively quiet. The few pieces of critical analysis of the MIC published after the 1980s have broken little conceptual...

  12. APPENDIX Eisenhower’s Farewell Address
    (pp. 211-220)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 221-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-268)