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50 years after President Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex: Military spending in the spotlight again

Posted by Eline van Schaik on January 14, 2011

Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the making of the military-industrial complex
William Hartung
Director, Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation
Review by Eline van Schaik

On January 17th, 50 years ago, President Eisenhower coined the now world-famous term ‘the military-industrial complex’ in his farewell speech. He warned the nation of the powers within this complex and their influence on policy-making:

“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.”

In his new book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, William Hartung puts a renewed focus on the close ties between the government and military contractors like Lockheed Martin and their vast influence on war and peace throughout the world.

Hartung’s detailed history of Lockheed Martin’s highs and lows shows how they parallel the United States’ interventionist and isolationist foreign policy approaches and, at the same time, how the company is increasingly positioning itself to transcend those policy choices moving forward.

“A 1939 law forbidding any U.S citizen from delivering military goods to countries engaged in the war in Europe, Lockheed had to resort to some fancy footwork to carry out the order. The company bought an airfield that straddled the U.S.-Canadian border. Hudson bombers destined for Britain were flown to the American side of the line and then pulled over into Canada. They were then flown to Britain from there, in keeping with the law - on one theory that they were being delivered to Canada, not Britain.” This event was transformative: In one swift stroke, Lockheed left the ranks of small business forever and became a major power in the weapons industry. After World War II, Lockheed boss Robert Gross pushed for peacetime government support for the aviation industry, and the military-industrial complex took an increasingly institutionalized form. This is only one of the many relevant historical points of interest that Hartung lays out in his vast history of the aviation company. And despite the very detailed storytelling, he manages to keep his eye on the ball: showing through many facts and stories of corruption, embezzlement and fraud how frightingly immersed Lockheed Martin is in our society.

This is what makes this book so relevant to the arms control community. Even though the arms control community and those interested in military spending issues seem to be moving in somewhat different spheres, there is a window of opportunity for collaboration between the communities to address this alarming issue. Pushing for awareness for this complex that fuels war and prevents peacemaking, can be done much more effectively in a cooperative approach.

In any case, whether you are a wonk or less familiar with the history of military contracts and procurement, you will be captivated by the interesting historical details as well as an overall sense of urgency as this book makes a compelling case for limiting the influence of big military contractors and pushing for a more transparent procurement process and financially sane military policies. As Hartung points out: “If there was ever a need for engagement and awareness urged by President Eisenhower, the Lockheed Martin story makes it clear that the time is now.”


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