Editorial: Eisenhower’s warning rings true

In a report released Monday, it was announced that Vermont firms landed $625 million in military contracts in 2011. That placed the state fifth in New England, ahead of only Rhode Island at $472 million. Massachusetts and Connecticut were tops with $13.9 billion and $12.7 billion respectively. Maine captured $5 billion and New Hampshire garnered $1.3 billion.
Vermont’s high point was more than a billion dollars in contracts in 2006-07. It’s been on the decline in more recent years as President Obama has reduced military conflicts in Iraq and is drawing down in Afghanistan.
But that is partially the rub. It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, who warned in his farewell speech in 1961 of the potential political influence of the military-industrial complex.
“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.”
While Eisenhower’s fear was well justified, a modern version is that the military-industrial complex will so enmesh itself in local economies throughout the country that no politician would vote to cut those expenses in their own backyards because of the jobs — and money — that would be lost in that politician’s district.
These latest numbers show how vast the military-industrial complex has become.
Overall, spending on the military and Homeland Security is up 34 percent since 2003, with the bulk of those increases coming during the eight years of George W. Bush’s reign. But once the framework is in place, the spending declines ever so slowly, if at all. In 2011, under President Obama’s budget, New England received nearly $34 billion in military contracts, an 85 percent increase over 2003 (pockets of the rest of the nation received more, while other sections were slightly less, but all were undoubtedly up over 2003 as the nation’s military spending skyrocketed between 2001 and 2008.)
All that money means jobs as well as munitions and other tangible products. In 2011, Defense and Homeland Security accounted for more than 319,000 jobs in the region with a total payroll of more than $22.6 billion. When considering the multiplier effect of those dollars, the direct and indirect economic activity due to this military spending exceeds $62 billion. Plus, there are more than 5,000 New England firms and institutions tied to this military spending.
Cut that, if you dare.
In Vermont alone, there are more than 5,000 jobs at 215 firms with a payroll exceeding $243 million tied to this military spending. Two contractors in Vermont receive 86 percent of all the military dollars spent in the state: General Dynamics Inc. of Rutland and Simmonds Precision Products Inc. of Vergennes, with $438 million (70 percent) and $100 million (16 percent) respectively.
Such detail helps explain why the military budget is so difficult to reduce.
While Eisenhower’ words were not heeded well by the powers that be, his closing remarks also speak of another era in which politics of the nation — particularly within the GOP — were more respectful of others and humble in nature, and are words to compare with today’s times and remember:
“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:
“We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

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