17 January 1961 – U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warns against the “military-industrial complex”

US President, Dwight Eisenhower

In words that were almost prescient in the way they predicted something that hadn’t happened at the time but later came to pass, US President Dwight D Eisenhower – in his televised farewell address to the nation – warned against the growing power of the military-industrial complex. He noted that the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” and said that its influence – “economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” He warned citizens of the United States to be vigilant against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought our unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

It was probably too much to hope that Eisenhower – a 5-star general in World War Two, first supreme commander of NATO, who established the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), accelerated the nuclear arms-race against the Soviet Union, helped orchestrate the overthrow of Iran’s democratically-elected government in 1953 and planned the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba which John F Kennedy’s administration would later implement – would have actually done something to, you know, curb the power of the military-industrial complex when, as President, he was in charge of the military and of US industry policy. But warning people after the fact was a thoughtful touch. That’s the kind of guy he was.

Possibly because by 1961 his prophetic powers were already waning, or because the US television networks weren’t prepared to postpone The Andy Griffiths Show any further to broadcast a longer presidential speech by a soon-to-be-ex-president, President Eisenhower singularly failed to warn the US public about many of the other complexes which would soon take hold, to the detriment of the nation. If Eisenhower was less emphatically dead than he now is, I am almost certain that he would be offering warnings against the following complexes that plague us.

The politico-gynaecological complex. Which is a strange pathology that takes hold of male politicians – generally of the conservative persuasion – giving them uncanny insight into the workings of the female reproductive system, the dividing line between real rape and other forms of somewhat-less-than-mutually-desired-but-still-perfectly-fine-as-far-as-conceiving-and-carrying-to-term-a-resulting-foetus sex, and the legislative capacity to make sure that the ladyparts are used only for approved purposes.

The media-entertainment complex. Which has – with industrial efficiency – misinformed us, or degraded our critical faculties with Pavlovian stimuli of celebrity trivia and irrelevancies, leaving us a bunch of slack-jawed, drooling, mutants without the attention span to even finish

The psycho-pharmaceutical complex. Which has medicalised and prescribed treatment for almost every aspect of what used to be called life but in the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM 5) – now diagnosing more than 300 disorders, up from just 106 in DSM 1!  – will be known as Foundational Existence Disorder. Is your child “just behaving like a kid”, or is she secretly suffering from conduct disorder? Social anxiety? Oppositional defiant disorder? Co-dependency, counter-dependency or plain old vanilla-flavour regular dependency?

The international-finance complex. Which has created banks too big to fail, companies too multinational to pay tax, and governments too paid-off to care.

And finally, of course, the tragi-comedy complex. Because if you didn’t laugh, you really would cry.

File under: i like my complexes simple | social diseases

(Image source: Minnesota Public Radio)

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