Military-industrial complex is a term mainly used in the US that refers to a web of complex relationships between the Pentagon (armed forces) and those who support the vast armaments of the US military machine – legislators, lobbyists, overseers, procurers and, of course, the corporate players that profit from Pentagon military procurement and actively lobby for more of it.
The evolution of this machinery unfortunately leads to war itself and is one reason why the US in particular has been engaged in a series of inconclusive wars for much of the 20th and all of the 21st century. It is only by pursuing war and the armaments thereof that the military-industrial complex can perpetuate itself, justify its existence and continue to turn a profit.
Taxpayer dollars and the Federal Reserve fund the military-industrial complex. By some estimates, the military-industrial complex accounts for half or more of all federal-government spending – some US$1.5 trillion a year. It is difficult to gain a full understanding of the breadth and depth of the money involved in the military-industrial complex because so much of it is hidden in secrecy or kept from public view by being "classified."
The term "military-industrial complex" was made famous by President Dwight D. Eisenhower who used it in his farewell address to the nation, January 17, 1961. He said, "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 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."
Because of the gravity of the warning and Eisenhower's own bona fides as the nation's top military man, his cautionary note was taken most seriously and the term entered the popular lexicon. The actual speechwriters were Ralph E. Williams and Malcolm Moos. Interestingly, the term was used long before Eisenhower made it popular and can be found as far back as 1947 in an article by Winfield W. Riefler in Foreign Affairs magazine.
That the term would first appear in the power elite mouthpiece Foreign Affairs is probably no coincidence. Presidential addresses, especially final ones of popular 20th century presidents, were consequential. It is highly unlikely that Eisenhower would have used the term without some sort of consensus regarding the nomenclature from the powers-that-be.
One theory that comes to mind is that the emergence of the military-industrial complex was becoming undeniable post-World War II. Rather than let a term such as the "military-industrial-congressional complex" (apparently an alternative nomenclature) complex enter the lexicon, those who concern themselves with elements of sociopolitical vocabulary decided to pre-empt the conversation by providing the name as Eisenhower used it. This placed the onus on corporate America, in part, which is where the power elite wishes blame to go on a regular basis. Whatever is evil can be attributed to the private sector, further weakening its credibility and building up the credibility of the public venue, thus advancing regulatory democracy.
In the case of the term military-industrial complex, the description is fairly fitting. America's largest corporations function as a kind of adjunct of the larger American government at this time. The entire "complex" is almost one and the same; and one could argue that the military-industrial complex has widened its embrace to include a formidable intelligence-industrial complex as well. The presence of these interlocking military, corporate and legislative interests is one of the more unfortunate and even disheartening evolutions of modern American society. Sadly, it appears as if only the nation's inevitable bankruptcy will break the grip of this interlocking grid of mercantilist and militaristic interests.
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