Aaron B. O’Connell: The Permanent Militarization of America





Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer, is the author of “Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps.”

IN 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning of the growing power of the military-industrial complex in American life. Most people know the term the president popularized, but few remember his argument.

In his farewell address, Eisenhower called for a better equilibrium between military and domestic affairs in our economy, politics and culture. He worried that the defense industry’s search for profits would warp foreign policy and, conversely, that too much state control of the private sector would cause economic stagnation. He warned that unending preparations for war were incongruous with the nation’s history. He cautioned that war and warmaking took up too large a proportion of national life, with grave ramifications for our spiritual health.

The military-industrial complex has not emerged in quite the way Eisenhower envisioned. The United States spends an enormous sum on defense — over $700 billion last year, about half of all military spending in the world — but in terms of our total economy, it has steadily declined to less than 5 percent of gross domestic product from 14 percent in 1953. Defense-related research has not produced an ossified garrison state; in fact, it has yielded a host of beneficial technologies, from the Internet to civilian nuclear power to GPS navigation. The United States has an enormous armaments industry, but it has not hampered employment and economic growth. In fact, Congress’s favorite argument against reducing defense spending is the job loss such cuts would entail....



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