In his famous farwell address, US President Dwight Eisenhower eloquently described the terrible effects of an overgrown military-industrial complex. Here are his words:
We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions…. 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…[and] 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 militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
In another speech, he said:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The devil’s dynamo
The military-industrial complex involves a circular flow of money. The cash flows like the electrical current in a dynamo, driving a diabolical machine. Money from immensely rich corporate oligarchs buys the votes of politicians and the propaganda of the mainstream media. Numbed by the propaganda, citizens allow the politicians to vote for obscenely bloated military budgets, which further enrich the corporate oligarchs, and the circular flow continues.
Today the world spends more than 1.7 trillion dollars ( $1,700,000,000,000) every year on armaments. This vast river of money, almost too large to be imagined, is the “devil’s dynamo” driving the institution of war. Politicians notoriously can be bought with a tiny fraction of this enormous amount; hence the decay of democracy. It is also plain that if the almost unbelieivable sums now wasted on armaments were used constructively, most of the pressing problems now facing humanity could be solved.
Because the world spends almost two thousand billion dollars each year on armaments, it follows that very many people make their living from war. This is the reason why it is correct to speak of war as an institution, and why it persists, although we know that it is the cause of much of the suffering that inflicts humanity.
We know that war is madness, but it persists. We know that it threatens the survival of civilization, but it persists, entrenched in the attitudes of historians, newspaper editors and television producers, entrenched in the methods by which politicians finance their campaigns, and entrenched in the financial power of arms manufacturers, entrenched also in the ponderous and costly hardware of war, the fleets of warships, bombers, tanks, nuclear missiles amd so on.
The military-industrial complex needs enemies
The military-industrial complex needs enemies. Without them it would wither. Thus at the end of the Second World War, this vast power complex was faced with a crisis. It was saved by the discovery of a new enemy: Communism.
This new enemy saved the military-industrial complex for a long time, but at the end of the Cold War, there was another crisis: the threat that arms profits would be converted into a “peace dividend”. Would this be the end of unlimited corporate greed? Heaven forbid! There was a desparate search for a new enemy. What about Islam? The Crusades could be revived, and all would be well. This seemed, for a long time to be a good solution.
But recently, with the Middle East in flames, Islam no longer seemed to be a sufficiently strong enemy justiify the collossal budgets of armaments industries. A new enemy was urgently needed. One look at our mass media tells us the solution that our military-industrial complex has come up with: Revival of the Cold War!
Nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.
As a concequence of our oligarchy’s decision to revive the Cold War, we are witnessing increasing demonization of Russia as well as flagrant provocations, such as the recent massive NATO manovres on Russia’s borders.
With unbelievable hubris and irresponsibility, western politicians are risking the destruction of human civilization and much of the biosphere through a thermonuclear war. Such a cataclysmic war could occur through technical or human error, or through escalation. This possibility is made greater by th fact that despite the end of the Cold War, thousands of missiles carrying nuclear warheads are still kept on a “hair-trigger” state of alert with a quasi-automatic reaction time measured in minutes.
A number of prominent political and military figures (many of whom have ample knowledge of the system of deterrence, having been part of it) have expressed concern about the danger of accidental nuclear war.
Colin S. Grey, Chairman of the US Institute for Public Policy, expressed this concern as follows: “The problem, indeed the enduring problem, is that we are resting our future upon a nuclear deterrence system concerning which we cannot tolerate even a single malfunction.”
General Curtis E. LeMay has written, “In my opinion a general war will grow through a series of political miscalculations and accidents rather than through any deliberate attack by either side.”
Bruce G. Blair of the Brookings Institute has remarked that “It is obvious that the rushed nature of the process, from warning to decision to action, risks causing a catastrophic mistake.”… “This system is an accident waiting to happen.”
The duty of civil society
Civil society must make its will felt. A thermonuclear war today would be not only genocidal but also omnicidal. It would kill people of all ages, babies, children, young people, mothers, fathers and grandparents, without any regard whatever for guilt or innocence. Such a war would be the ultimate ecological catastrophe, destroying not only human civilization but also much of the biosphere. Each of us has a duty to work with courage and dedication to prevent it.
Some suggestions for further reading
John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at [email protected]