The Cross of Iron

Most people have heard the phrase “military-industrial complex” but may not know or remember the origin of that adage. It is not a bromide but rather a quote from the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War II. That is, it comes from a man who knew very well of what he spoke. Ike said in that ubiquitous passage:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be might, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. . . . American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. . . . This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. . . . 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.

Why? So that America did not “…become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.” Ike addressed his fellow citizens, but the same could be said of all of the largest economies in the world. Don’t forget who benefits from the NATO 2% commitment.

Unfortunately, another fine example of Eisenhower rhetoric was the less-well-known “Chance for Peace” speech which is also known with the far less PC and much more accurate title “Cross of Iron.” That speech is, to me, classic rhetoric that should be taught to everyone, especially in the military academies and especially this passage:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.

Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

You don’t have to be a five star general to have these thoughts. If you’ve ever been present when someone who has called in an air strike or something similar has a midnight of the soul moment, you’ll know the moral quandary and miasma of conscience when this calculus is computed for the thousandth time. But the truth is that we all should take Ike’s caution to heart. As he says, he addresses himself to “this world in arms.” It’s too convenient to point a finger and exclude ourselves from the accountability.