Saturday, May 17, 2014

But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration

I have long been aware of the concept of the military-industrial complex, introduced by Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address at the close of his Presidency in 1961 (Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation, January 17, 1961 by Dwight D. Eisenhower). I have never had particular call in the past to read the original speech. Having just done so, there is a lot more meat in there than just the military-industrial complex. A lot of delightful values on display that are too infrequent in public discourse today.

This seems delightful but dated:
My own relations with Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and finally to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.

In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation well rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. So my official relationship with Congress ends in a feeling on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.
Sometimes there are little items that catch your attention.
We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations.
That was in January 1961. In less than a generation, the central ideological struggle against the "hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method" would be over, the wall torn down, totalitarian subjugation at least temporarily discredited. What a sea change.
Progress toward these noble goals [alluded to earlier in the speech: to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among peoples and among nations] is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle – with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.
We are so accustomed to bait and switch, platitudes and cliches that it is refreshing to read the words of a leader with a clear understanding that liberty is the foundation on which all other goals are achieved.

Eisenhower cautions:
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, 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. A huge increase in the newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research – these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration; the need to maintain balance in and among national programs – balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages – balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.
He then follows this with two specific examples. The one we remember well, be alert to an emerging military-industrial complex. We took note and at least in the context of the Cold War, were somewhat effective in putting some reigns on the beast.

But now, post-Soviet, I wonder, in fact I am pretty confident, that we have lost a sense of Eisenhower's larger warning. The military-industrial complex was simply a specific instance.
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 Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet 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 military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
"The total influence" is what we have lost perspective on. It's not the military-industrial complex which represents the internal threat so much as it is the corporate-government complex. Large corporations, with their capacity to marshall great resources and government regulation in tandem together, can frequently work in opposition to the stated will and benefit of the citizenry. We now call it crony capitalism and it is a festering issue we haven't really grappled with because it entails a lot of undesirable trade-offs.

Eisenhower drew attention to two threats. One was the military-industrial complex. What was the other? Not the corporate-government complex, but the academia-government complex. That never got much attention but is now kind of front of mind given student debt and advocacy driven policy that is reliant on the academy.
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

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.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.
Ethanol fraud, climategate, alternate energy, education reform, etc. All issues of grave moment and critical to our future. And all now muddied by advocacy research mixed with crony capitalism. We do see public policy becoming "the captive of a scientific-technological elite."

Finally, Eisenhower warns of something else that has come to pass. The indulgence of our current policy fads, whims, and consumptive desires at the expense of our nation and our progeny.
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, 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. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

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.
A wise man was that fellow from Denison, Texas.

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