On the homepage today, we publish an expanded version of a piece that appears in the current issue: “Ike as Weapon: The use and abuse of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, with its warning about the ‘military-industrial complex.’” It begins this way:
Suggest that the defense budget be increased, and you may well hear about Eisenhower’s Farewell Address. Tsk tsk, people will say: the military-industrial complex. We must not forget Eisenhower’s warning about that complex. A reminder of the 34th president is supposed to put a conservative Republican, in particular, in his place. People who otherwise have no use for Eisenhower or his brand of Republicanism — liberals, leftists, “paleocons,” and libertarians — suddenly like Ike, when it comes to this military-industrial complex.
Recently, a video of Rand Paul made the rounds. He was speaking to students at Western Kentucky University. He explained to them why Vice President Cheney supported the Iraq War. At the time of the Gulf War, when he was defense secretary, he opposed a march on Baghdad. But then he “goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq.” Simple as that.
Paul said, “Even Eisenhower, back in the ’50s, said, you know, ‘Beware of the military-industrial complex.’” That word “even” is full of meaning. Eisenhower was the winning general in a world war, which is why people such as Paul use him as a weapon.
It is done ignorantly. We tend to know just one phrase from Eisenhower’s Farewell Address — “military-industrial complex” — but the context of the phrase is important, and so is the speech as a whole. The speech, as I say in my piece, is a “minor classic of conservatism.” It deserves to be known (as well as heeded).
NR’s Fred Schwarz, whose knowledge is exceptionally wide-ranging, sent me a note: “In the mid-1980s a folk-comedy duo called the Pheromones did a (non-comic) song called ‘Eisenhower’ that was pretty much what you’d expect, blaming him for everything bad that people mistakenly associate with the 1950s: stultifying conformity, mind-numbing television, prudery, McCarthyism, etc. At one point they said that Ike had ‘warned us about men like himself in the end,’ which is of course the exact opposite of what he was doing.”
I don’t remember the Pheromones, but it sounds like they would have been perfect for my Ann Arbor.