President Eisenhower’s farewell address (1961) has been immortalized as the prophetic warning of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). But, the development of the MIC has deeper roots in U.S. History. During the U.S. Civil War the Quartermaster Department (in charge of procuring the beans, bullets, and bandages) expanded to become the largest employer in the United States. The Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs, spent $1.8 billion of tax dollars issuing war-time contracts to businesses that, he insisted, must compete for contracts. Here, business and government were obliged into accommodation in the face of necessary conflict. The rub is when the marriage of business (including news, e.g. Spanish American War, Hearst and Pulitzer) and government generates unnecessary conflict.
The role of arm manufacturers played in generating and prolonging conflict was so well understood post World War that there was public outcry directed at the arms industry. The celebrity-like Basil Zaharoff, who notoriously sold armaments to the conflicting belligerents, likely played a role in public disgust. Critics of the arms industry were found in the highest echelons of government. In a sentiment which would later echo through Eisenhower’s farewell address, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson contributed to the charter of the League of Nations with these thoughts: ”that the manufacture by private enterprise of munitions and implements of war [be] open to grave objections.”
The Nye committee, directed by Senator Gerald Nye in 1934, further changed the public understanding of the World War when the committee introduced new motives for U.S. involvement in the conflict: bankers protecting their European assets and an infant arms industry babbling and bribing. The narrative which described the war as a collision between “good” and “evil” lost clout. These considerations made the U.S. public cautious of the, still unnamed, Military Industrial Complex, and pushed the average American to an isolationists view regarding America’s role in world affairs. This view was responsible for the slow response to events in Europe and the Pacific during World War Two. The events of WW2 consummated the business-government marriage. WW2 expanded big government and set unprecedented authorities for the Executive.
With a quick jump forward, the U.S. hesitation to bomb Syria should be understood as the same hesitation to enter European Theater after the enlightenment from the Nye Committee. Like the Nye Committee, Wiki-leaks and a variety of other sources, including the Marine and Soldier, upset the “good” against “bad” narrative and threw into question the real motives of invading Iraq.
“Within a year of George W. Bush assuming the presidency, over thirty arms industry executives, consultants and lobbyists occupied senior positions in his administration. Half a dozen senior executives from Lockheed Martin alone were given crucial appointments in the Bush government during 2001. By the end of that year the Pentagon had awarded the company one of the biggest military contracts in US history.”
The lack of clarity to the actual cause for military invasion of Iraq not only contributes to psychological hardships for many veterans but leads to the warranted speculation of a growing, conflict-oriented government. Given the inclination for sponsoring violence and the immunity from its horrors, the collective thought of government officials, specifically the Bush’s administration, seemed naturally inclined to the invasion. The conflict, perhaps, had no traditional cause, but was product of a MIC state, where conflict is tantamount to breathing, existing.
The motion for limited strikes in Syria should also be categorized in the same ilk as the limited strikes in Operation Good Cause (Panama) and Desert Storm (Iraq/Kuwait), operations born from the nauseating memories of Vietnam. The operations were intentionally labeled as limited in duration, in attempt to placate opposition. The recent developments in Syria (not carrying out surgical strikes) are not a radical transformation of foreign policy, but the natural ebb and flow of national sentiment regarding conflicts.
To implement an effective war campaign, the union of business and government is inevitable. But this sacrifice is never temporary. To support any war, under any circumstance, is to support big government, and, predictably, the subsequent enlargement of that government. One is only left with the question: is it worth it? And it should become abundantly clear to the historian and the citizen that it is very rarely worth “it”.