In the middle of reading Eisenhower: Soldier and President by Stephen E. Ambrose, I saw in the video store a picture of Eisenhower on a documentary called Why We Fight. It was the Grand Jury Prize Winner at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
The movie’s launch-pad is Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech in which he warns America of a military-industrial complex and draws that concept out to the current war in Iraq.
Much of the movie springs from the concept expressed in the quote, “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.”
This military-industrial complex (along with the collaborators in Congress and in “think-tanks”), the movie alleges, has much to do with the reason why, since WWII, the U.S. has been involved in so many military conflicts throughout the world. The military, in order to stay relevant and continue to get the funding it wants, must sell to the Congress and the public theories of danger and threats and justifications for military action. This job is made easier by the fact that high-ranking military retirees often garner huge salaries at defense-contractor corporations, using their high-level connections to land contracts and convince the Brass of the need for the latest & greatest in weaponry, etc.
Since the end of WWII the U.S. military has been very active, taking action on 81 different occasions in 45 countries (including inside the U.S.). We have sent troops into 26 different countries (including the U.S.) on 37 different occasions. We have made nuclear threats on 15 occasions, as recently as 1980. Aside from the times we sent in troops, we have bombed countries on 14 different occasions. We have allowed 17 “command operations” (advisors, special forces, CIA-directed efforts, etc.).
War and other military actions on behalf of the “national interests” (read oil, power, influence, financial exploitation, etc.) stems not only from the need of the military to continue its existence, but also from the ideas of many in power that military action is simply a means to an end—and it matters not how worthy the end is, military action is always on the table. The only hurdle is to sell its necessity to the public. The attacks of September 11 made this job very easy.
Eisenhower’s speech seems to be a prophetic indictment of the Bush administration. A few quotes:
“Any failure traceable to arrogance or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us a grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.”
“In meeting [crises], whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.”
“. . . each proposal must be weighed in light of . . . the need to maintain balance . . . between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future.”
“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.”
“. . . 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.”
“ . . . we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”
“Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
“Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.”
“We pray . . . that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”
The point of the movie is to contrast these principles with the current reality. These ideals are not what we have obtained through the pax Americana that we have imposed on the world in recent decades. The bellicosity of our government should be unimaginable in an ostensibly Christian nation.