On the Military Industrial Complex: U.S. Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower’s Warnings
A nation can be conceived as a societal system with various subsystems, like the economic, political and military systems. As such, we are confronted with power elites playing the largest roles in each of these systems. Each power elite controls thousands and thousands of careers of employees or subordinates, indirectly influencing many thousands of families.
U.S. corporate power elites have gained the most wealth and power during the 21st century, overshadowing the political system with lobbying and excessive campaign funding. The major U.S. exports are weapons and ammo of war. The US sells over one-third of the arms to the planet since the beginning of the century.
Well over one-third of the world’s military expenditures comes from the United States, although the US population is less than five percent of the world’s population. And unfortunately, the gravest of problems with war and military is the danger to the living part of planet from the waste, pollution, contamination, death and destruction caused in a multitude of regions around the world. Even the wildlife in Hawaii is devasted by strategic military uses of live ammo, such as missiles, for target practice.
Hundreds of bombs and missiles are detonated each day around the world. There is an estimation from the Washington Post that there have been 350 coups since 1982, including the events at the White House on January 6th of last year (Bump, 2022). With war machines and ammunition, there is another very unfortunate downside that is rarely discussed: When a big war machine or stockpiles of ammo are about to expire and, thereby, be unuseful, they are far more likely to be used almost immediately and to cause deaths and destruction thereafter.
All of this is impacting every life on earth, although power elites are suffering less.
On the contrary, the corporate power elites realize that they have substantial portions of the pie, and they know that if they smash the slices on the other side of the table, then their slices are worth more, comparatively. Sadly, these slices, to which I refer, are of the living portion of the earth. And the corporate power elites are squandering it to enrich themselves, gain power and fame, if not infamy.
In President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 speech in New York, he lays out a series of problems that are to be solved, and because Roosevelt’s administration had already made progress on many of these themes, his large audience in Madison Square Garden applauded loudly and repeatedly, concerning his progress until then and the future plans for the United States that he presented.
The following is a speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the most popular president of the American people who served the most prolific terms in office. In the Bibliography, there is a hyperlink to the audio footage of the FDR’s speech. Following the speech by Roosevelt is a speech by President Dwight David Eisenhower for his farewell address in 1961 as well as an important excerpt from his 1953 speech as a new president. The parts of both speeches that concern war and peace have been placed in bold for easier access.
US President Roosevelt’s Speech at Madison Square Garden
New York City October 31, 1936
Senator Wagner, Governor Lehman, my friends:
On the eve of a national election, it is well for us to stop for a moment, and analyze, calmly and without prejudice, the effect on our Nation of a victory by either of the major political parties.
The problem of the electorate is far deeper, far more vital than the continuance in the Presidency of any individual. The greater issue goes beyond units of humanity—it goes to humanity itself.
In 1932, the issue was the restoration of American democracy; and the American people were in a mood to win. They did win! (applause) And in 1936, the issue is the preservation of their victory. Again, they are in a mood to win. And again they will win! (applause)
More than four years ago in accepting the Democratic nomination in Chicago, I said: “Give me your help not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.” (applause)
And we know tonight that the banners of that crusade still fly in the forefront of a nation that is on the march. (applause)
What was our hope in 1932? Apparently, above all other things, the American people wanted peace. They wanted peace of mind, instead of gnawing fear.
First, they sought escape from the personal terror that had stalked them for three years. They wanted the peace that comes from security in their homes: safety for their savings, permanence in their jobs, a fair profit from their enterprise.
Next, they wanted peace in the community, the peace that springs from the ability to meet the needs of community life: schools, playgrounds, parks, sanitation, highways—those things which are expected of solvent local government. They sought escape from disintegration and the bankruptcy in local and state affairs.
And they also sought peace within the Nation: protection of their currency, fairer wages, the ending of long hours of toil, the abolition of child labor, the elimination of wild-cat speculation, and the safety of their children from kidnappers.
And, finally, they sought peace with other Nations—peace in a world of unrest. The Nation knows that I hate war! (applause) And I know that the Nation hates war. (applause)
And so, I submit to you a record of peace; and on that record a well-founded expectation for future peace—peace for the individual, peace for the community, peace for the Nation, and peace with the world. (applause)
Tonight I call the roll—the roll of honor of those who stood with us in 1932 and still stand with us today.
Written on that roll of honor are the names of millions who never had a chance—men at starvation wages, women in sweatshops, children at looms.
Written on it are the names of those who despaired, young men and young women for whom opportunity had become a will-o’-the-wisp.
Written on it are the names of farmers whose acres yielded only bitterness, business men whose books were portents of disaster, home owners who were faced with eviction, frugal citizens whose savings were insecure.
Written there in large letters are the names of countless other Americans of all parties and all faiths, Americans who had eyes to see and hearts to understand, whose consciences were burdened because too many of their fellows beings were burdened, who looked on these things four years ago and said, “This can be changed. We will change it.” (applause)
We still lead that army in 1936. They stood with us then, in 1932, because they believed, they stand with us today because, in 1936, they know. (applause) Yes, with them stand millions of new recruits who have come to know. (applause)
Their hopes have become our record.
We have not come this far without a struggle, and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle. (applause)
For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government, but that Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker, and three long years in the breadlines! (applause) Nine mad years of mirage, and three long years of despair! And my friends, powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent to mankind.
For nearly four years now, you have had an administration, which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. And I can assure you that we will keep our sleeves rolled up.
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. And we know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. (applause and long pause)
I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master. (applause)
And my friends, the American people know from a four-year record that today there is only one entrance to the White House—by the front door. (applause) Since March 4, 1933, there has been only one pass-key to the White House. And I have carried that key in my pocket. (applause) It’s there tonight. And so long as I am President, it will remain in my pocket.
But those who used to have pass keys are not happy. Some of them indeed are desperate. Only desperate men with their backs to the wall would descend so far below the level of decent citizenship as to foster the current pay-envelope campaign against America’s working people. Only reckless men, heedless of consequences, would risk the disruption of the hope for a new peace between worker and employer by returning to the tactics of the labor spy.
Here is an amazing paradox. The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.
Every message in a pay envelope, even if it is the truth, is a command to vote according to the will of the employer. But this propaganda is worse—it is deceit.
They tell the worker his wage will be reduced by a contribution to some vague form of old-age insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar of premium he pays for that insurance, the employer pays another dollar. That omission in itself is deceit.
They carefully conceal from him the fact that under the federal law, he receives another insurance policy to help him if he loses his job, and that the premium of that policy is paid 100 percent by the employer and not one cent by the worker. (applause) But they do not tell him that the insurance policy that is bought for him is far more favorable to him than any policy that any private insurance company could possibly afford to issue. That omission is deceit.
They imply to him that he pays all the cost of both forms of insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar put up by him, his employer puts up three dollars, three for one. And that omission is deceit. (applause)
But they are guilty of more than deceit. When they imply that the reserves thus created against both these policies will be stolen by some future Congress, diverted to some wholly foreign purpose, they attack the integrity and honor of the American Government itself. Those who suggest that, are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence.
The fraudulent nature of this attempt is well shown by the record of votes on the passage of the Social Security Act. In addition to an overwhelming majority of Democrats in both Houses, seventy-seven Republican Representatives voted for it, and only eighteen against it, and fifteen Republican Senators voted for it, and only five against it. Where? Where does this last-minute drive of the Republican leadership leave these Republican Representatives and Senators who helped enact this law? (applause)
I am sure the vast majority of law-abiding businessmen who are not parties to this propaganda fully appreciate the extent of the threat to honest business contained in this coercion. I have expressed indignation at this form of campaigning, and I am confident that the overwhelming majority of employers, workers, and the general public share that indignation and will show it at the polls on Tuesday next.
But aside from this phase of it, I prefer to remember this campaign not as bitter but only as hard-fought. There should be no bitterness or hate where the sole thought is the welfare of the United States of America. No man can occupy the office of President without realizing that he is President of all the people.
It is because I have sought to think in terms of the whole nation that I am confident that today, just as four years ago, the people want more than promises. (applause)
And our vision for the future contains more than promises.
This is our answer to those who, silent about their own plans, ask us to state our objectives.
Of course. Of course, we will continue to seek to improve working conditions for the workers of America! (applause)—to reduce hours over-long, to increase wages that spell starvation, to end the labor of children, and to wipe out sweatshops. Of course, we will continue every effort to end monopoly in business, to support collective bargaining, to stop unfair competition, and to abolish dishonorable trade practices. For all these we have only just begun to fight! (applause)
Of course, we will continue to work for cheaper electricity in the homes and on the farms of America! (applause) For better and cheaper transportation, for low interest rates, for sounder home financing, for better banking (applause), for the regulation of security issues (applause), for reciprocal trade among nations (applause), for the wiping out of slums. (applause) For all these we have only just begun to fight! (applause)
Of course, we will continue our efforts on behalf of the farmers of America. With their continued cooperation, we will do all in our power to end the piling up of huge surpluses, which spelled ruinous prices for their crops. We will persist in successful action for better land use, for reforestation, for the conservation of water all the way from its source to the sea, for drought control and flood control, for better marketing facilities for farm commodities, for a reduction of farm tenancy, for encouragement of farm cooperatives, for crop insurance and for a stable food supply, for the nation. (applause) And for all these goals, we have only just begun to fight. (applause)
Of course, we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed; we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole.
And here and now, I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless. They say that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls—by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be cared for, when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen to come on the scene.
But you and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan, and not with those who pass by on the other side. (break an applause)
To go on, what of our objectives?
Of course, we will continue our efforts for young men and women so that they may obtain an education, and an opportunity to put it to use. (applause) Of course, we will continue our help for the crippled, for the blind, for the mothers, our insurance for the unemployed, our security for the aged. Of course, we will continue to protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads, against the costs that are added by monopoly and speculation. We will continue our successful efforts to increase his purchasing power and keep it constant.
And for these things, too, and for a multitude of others like them, we have only just begun to fight! (applause)
All this—all these objectives—spell peace at home. All our actions, all our ideals, spell also peace with other nations.
Today there is war, and rumor of war. We want none of it. (applause) But while we guard our shores against threats of war, we will continue to remove the causes of unrest and antagonism at home which might make our people more easy victims to those for whom foreign war is profitable. You know well that those who stand to profit by war are not on our side in this campaign! (applause)
“Peace on earth, good will toward men.” Democracy must cling to that message. For it is my deep conviction that democracy cannot live without that true religion which gives a nation a sense of justice and of moral purpose. Above our political forums, above our market places stand the altars of our faith, altars on which burn the fires of devotion that maintain all that is best in us, and all that is best in our nation.
We have need of that devotion today. It is that which makes it possible for government to persuade those who are mentally prepared to fight each other to go on instead, to work for and to sacrifice for each other. That is why we need to say with the old Prophet: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?”
That is why the recovery we seek, the recovery we are winning, is more than economic. In it are included justice, and love, and humility, not for ourselves as individuals alone, but for our nation.
And that! That. That is the road to peace. (applause)
Eisenhower as Military and then Political Power Elite: Warnings of Coming Corporate-Political Power Elites
Dwight David Eisenhower was a “double power elite” as a five-star general in the U.S. Army before he became president. As a former military power elite and then as the highest ranking political power elite, U.S. President Eisenhower provided us with some grave insights about the decisions of corporate power elites selling war machines, weakening the entire society. Specifically, he warned against the war profiteers as President Franklin Roosevelt had done so. He warned against the losses to our culture, the school, the hospital, and to all the important social institutions that make up our society. He leads one to ask the question: Why not have our best scientists do some other tasks instead of manufacturing products for destruction?
Eisenhower was specifically interested in determining “how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.” Eisenhower concerned himself with the cultural losses and overall costs of an arms race against the Soviet Union. This, he thought, requires taking resources from other areas of the economy, away from constructing hospitals and schools.
President Eisenhower warned the American people against the rise of the “military industrial complex” during the beginning and end of his presidency. In Eisenhower’s “The Chance for Peace” speech on April 16, 1953, he addressed the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington D.C. and said:
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
The latter quote came from President Eisenhower just a few months into his first term as U.S. President, in 1953. In 1961, Eisenhower felt the need to give the American people a warning during his Farewell Address during the same week that he would retire.
In order to plan and solve a problem, even for society at large, the problem must first be described accurately enough. Consider this short speech by Eisenhower and his warnings for the American people and culture.
Farewell Address by President Dwight David Eisenhower
Washington D.C. January 17, 1961
My fellow Americans: Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.
This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen. Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all. Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the Nation.
My own relations with the 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 national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.
We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.
Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.
Progress toward these noble goals 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 is 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.
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 newer elements of our defense; 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 the 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 cost and hoped for advantage — 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 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.
The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
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 State house, 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.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. 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.
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.
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 our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking 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.
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.
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. 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.
Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.
So, in this my last good night to you as your President, I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.
You and I — my fellow citizens — need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation’s great goals.
To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration.
Bump, Philip. (2022). “So what coups might John Bolton have been involved in, exactly?” The Washington Post. July 13. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/07/13/so-what-coups-might-john-bolton-have-been-involved-exactly/
Mill, Wright C. (1956). The Power Elite. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hyperlink to “The Chance for Peace” speech
Hyperlink to Roosevelt’s speech at Madison Square Garden in 1936.
Note: The following part may have been excluded from the beginning of Roosevelt’s speech. I was not able to find the audio version of FDR saying this at Madison Square Garden: “It is needless to repeat the details of the program which this Administration has been hammering out on the anvils of experience. No amount of misrepresentation or statistical contortion can conceal or blur or smear that record. Neither the attacks of unscrupulous enemies nor the exaggerations of over-zealous friends will serve to mislead the American people.”
Citation of this article: Brant, William Allen. (2022). “On the Military Industrial Complex: U.S. Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower’s Warnings.” Ethical Conflict Consulting. August edition.