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TODAY’S FOCUS: Why Ike Fretted Over ‘The Military-Industrial Complex’

January 16, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Twenty-five years ago, Dwight D. Eisenhower, his eight years of the presidency drawing to a close, gave his fellow citizens a new term and something new to worry about: ″the military-industrial complex.″

In a farewell address on radio and television on Jan. 17, 1961, four days before he he turned over his office to John F. Kennedy, Eisenhower introduced the phrase and raised the issue:

″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.″

Eisenhower defined the ″military-industrial complex″ as the ″conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.″ He said this combination, ″new in the American experience,″ could disrupt scientific progress, distort government spending and endanger freedom.

The contemporary impact of Eisenhower’s words?

″Zilch,″ says Eisenhower’s biographer, Stephen Ambrose. All eyes were on the young incoming president that January. ″Kennedy took office and we had the Kennedy-McNamara arms race, with an immediate 10 percent, then a 20 percent, increase in defense expenditures.″

But economist John Kenneth Galbraith says liberals have been quoting Eisenhower (who was no favorite of theirs) ever since, and Bruce Weinrod of the conservative Heritage Foundation says Ike’s phrase became ″an old chestnut that liberals pull out to make legitimate points.″

Soviet officials are quick to lecture Americans about how ″the military industrial complex″ runs America, Weinrod says, ″but I haven’t seen it here.″ He stresses that Congress and the press would be quick to alert the country if industry and the military teamed up and ″gained too much influence.″

Ambrose says Eisenhower, in choosing to deliver a farewell, had an eye on history and on the precedent of George Washington, another soldier-president who delivered a historic farewell address upon leaving office. The idea didn’t catch on; Eisenhower is the only president to have emulated Washington.

Eisenhower carefully edited the speech prepared for him by speechwriter Malcolm Moos, but it is unclear whether the term ″military-industrial complex″ was actually Eisenhower’s or Moos’.

But it is a myth that the thinking behind the speech had never previously been enunciated by Ike, Ambrose says.

″It was the most consistent imaginable speech he could have made,″ he says. ″It reflected what he’d just spent eight years doing.″

For eight years, Ambrose says, Eisenhower battled those who wanted to spend more on arms - Richard Nixon, Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller and Lyndon Johnson prominently among them - and the 1960 election had been fought on the issue of ″the missile gap″ and the bomber gap.

Michael Beschloss, author of a forthcoming book, ″Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Incident,″ says the president would get so angry when he saw defense contractors’ ads in Aviation Week that he’d hurl the magazine against the walls of the Oval Office.

Retired Rear Adm. Wendell McHenry, former deputy Navy comptroller, says at the time of the speech, ″I don’t think it really registered″ but ″it has become more and more pertinent.″

″We know now that national strength is much broader than how many carriers, tanks and bombers we have,″ he adds.

Defense spending plays a smaller proportionate role now in the U.S. economy, which has grown enormously in the last 25 years. In Eisenhower’s last year in office, defense accounted for 49 percent of the federal budget, compared with about 28 percent today, but Eisenhower’s budgets did not include Social Security or the array of Great Society programs.

In 1960, defense spending accounted for 9.5 percent of the gross national product - the value of all goods and services produced by the economy - compared with 6.7 percent of the 1984 GNP.

Eisenhower worried not only about ″the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.″

He was concerned, too, about the effect throughout society of big government defense contracts:

″The solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields,″ he said. ″A government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity ....

″Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite ....

″Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent, I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment.

″As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war - as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years - I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.″

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