Republicans and conservatives in general always talk about making cuts in government spending, except when in comes to military spending, and then it seems as if the sky is the limit — if that (okay some give lip service to economies in that regard).
Oddly, the man who led the U.S. and the Allies to victory in World War II, Five-Star General and then President Dwight David Eisenhower, would not likely even win a Republican primary if alive today — he’d be considered too soft on defense and the lobby for the military-industrial complex would put its money wherever it could see that he could be defeated — and he was a Republican.
Back in the late 1950s it was the Democrats who made political hay about the Republican administration of Eisenhower’s being too cheap on defense, so much so that a “missile gap” (a term credited to then Sen. John Kennedy, a Democrat) had been created between the arch Cold War rivals, the U.S. and the now defunct Soviet Union (these days under the name Russia again), with the U.S. on the losing end.
(Eisenhower also faced pressure from the communist conspiracy-charging crowd of his own party, who wittingly or unwittingly helped support the interests of the military industrial complex — anything to sell guns and missiles.)
Then when the Russians launched their Sputnik satellite into space, seeming to beat the U.S. for the time in the space race, politicians aided and abetted by the military-industrial complex were out for blood against the stodgy old penny pinchers of the Eisenhower administration, claiming that while the Russians were building their military might, Eisenhower, the doddering old fool, was out playing golf.
I recall that when I was around ten I heard Bob Hope joking about Ike spending so much time out on the golf course. And I recall seeing cartoons on the opinion pages poking fun at him for his golf and with illustrations of Russian missiles in the background.
And Sputnik, what a deal that was. We all went outside at night to watch it pass over, glowing like a star.
From what I have read since, all it really did was orbit the earth and send out meaningless beeping signals, as a kind of psychological weapon.
U.S. intelligence indicated that overall the Russians were really were not ahead of us in defense or the space program, but Eisenhower was reluctant to admit we knew some of this thanks to the reconnaissance of our secret U-2 spy planes that routinely flew over the Soviet Union. He finally had to admit we were flying those missions when one of them was shot down.
But historical research indicates that we were ahead of the Russians in our military and space programs. And of course we were the first and only nation, so far, to put men on the moon.
Stung by all the bad publicity he got, Eisenhower warned of the danger of the influence the military-industrial complex could pose on a free society. He noted that prior to World War II there was no separate defense industry. Back then, the same companies that, for instance, might produce plowshares, could turn their production to military armament and equipment when called upon to do so. But in the modern fast-paced technological world that system had become obsolete. A whole new category of industry dedicated solely to producing products and services for the defense (and space) industry had been created, thus the military-industrial complex. Now so much money and so many jobs were tied up in this new economic behemoth that its influence on public policy and spending could get out of hand and divert funds and energy that might go into other much-needed programs and services by the government.
He made that warning 50 years ago on Jan. 17, 1960 in his farewell address to the nation, after serving two full terms as president.
Eisenhower was certainly correct. In my lifetime (61 years so far) much of my nation’s foreign and defense policy has been guided by the lobbyists of the military-industrial complex with their campaign contributions and think tanks and propaganda and by the millions of Americans who know their paychecks come directly or indirectly from the defense industry.
The problem in all of this is that in an unfriendly world a nation practically has to have its own defense program or depend upon another friendly nation to back it up directly or indirectly. And like I always say, the best defense is a good offense (but unlike in sports, I don’t think you always have to actually be using that offense).
The United States came out of World War II as the most powerful nation in the world, having been protected at the time by its geography (not so any longer). It was able to mount a defense and then an offense, protected by that geography.
The rest of the free world was in a shambles by the end of the war. Western Europe built itself back up under the protective umbrella of the U.S. So while the Europeans saved big bucks on defense, the U.S. kept spending ever more and more.
And then of course the geniuses who make foreign policy decided we, the U.S., would both militarily protect our World War II enemy Japan and rebuild that nation, the idea being I guess that it would be a counterweight to the Soviet Union and the emerging Communist China.
And of course there was the Marshall Plan (for Europe) and various other programs to rebuild the world with U.S. tax-payer money, much of it well spent, no doubt.
Personally, I think you have to keep up with or ahead of the current bad guys, otherwise you eventually get taken over.
I do not understand, however, why the U.S. has to be the policeman for the whole world.
We want the rest of the world to live like us in democracy so that they will be on our side and not be a threat; I realize this. But you know? What really seems to work more than military spending and selling tanks and missiles and such to dictators, who we call our friends because they are at least supposedly against another or bigger enemy, is the free flow of information, aided today by the internet (even though all information is not good or reliable information, but that is another story).
Once people find out that the other half of the world is living better, they demand change and get it virtually without our help. Witness Eastern Europe. Witness, possibly Tunisia today.
Eisenhower knew what he was talking about. He’s a Republican I could vote for. Too bad he is dead.
I like Ike!
Eisenhower was also alarmed about the national debt. A link to a blog referring to that follows: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-buzenberg/a-half-century-later-anot_b_810218.html