Voices from the Past: The Military-Industrial Complex, Paranoia and the Inarticulate Poor

In 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly two thirds – 62% – of the Federal budget was devoted to military spending at a time when the U.S. is not actively engaged with troops on the ground in a major foreign conflict; only 38% of the federal budget was earmarked for non-defense programs such as education, health care and infrastructure investment.

The huge disparity in military v. civilian spending recalls prescient warnings from earlier times.

The Economist John Kenneth Galbraith:

“On the one side, powerful military bureaucracies, influential and richly financed weapons industries, their lobbies, their captive legislators, those for whom paranoia or past wars are a way of life,” Galbraith wrote. “On the other side, only reason, the will to survive, the inarticulate poor.”

Galbraith writing in 1978, as quoted in an August 28th New York Times Obituary on the passing of Ruth Sivard, an noted economist who focused on the disparities between military and social spending.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. 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.

Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, January 1961