This day in history, January 17, 1961, during his farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the American people to keep a careful eye on what he called the “military-industrial complex” that had developed in the years after World War II.
Eisenhower had been concerned about the growing size and cost of the American defense establishment since he became President in 1953. In his last presidential address to the American people, he expressed those concerns in terms that frankly shocked some of his listeners. Eisenhower began by describing the changing nature of the American defense establishment since the Second World War.
No longer could the U.S. afford the “emergency improvisation” that characterized its preparations for war against Germany and Japan. Instead, the United States was “compelled to create a permanent armaments industry” and a huge military force. He admitted that the Cold War made clear the “imperative need for this development,” but he was gravely concerned about “the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.” In particular, he asked the American people to guard against the “danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
Eisenhower’s language stunned some of his supporters. They believed that the man who led the country to victory in Europe during World War II and guided the nation through some of the darkest moments of the Cold War was too negative toward the military-industrial complex that was the backbone of America’s defense. For most listeners, however, it seemed clear that Eisenhower was merely stating the obvious. World War II and the ensuing Cold War resulted in the development of a large and powerful defense establishment. However, Eisenhower warned this new military-industrial complex could weaken or destroy the very institutions and principles it was designed to protect.