Cutting Ike Some Slack

It’s easy to think of reasons to trash Dwight Eisenhower.

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For one thing, he was a segregationist; he enforced it in the Army, and disliked the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision.

For another, he approved several nasty covert CIA wars and coups (Iran, Guatemala, the beginnings of Vietnam, etc.) We’re still dealing with the fallout from some of them (I’m looking at YOU, mullahs.)

For a third he was – well, he was just so . . . so, 1950s. (I grew up in that decade, and couldn’t get out of it fast enough.)

But on the other hand . . . .

There are a couple BIG reasons why I cut him some slack.

A LOT of slack, actually.

First, there’s this thing about World War Three. How it DIDN’T happen on his watch.

curtis-le-mayBut it almost did. Not from a Russian attack, either – but because of bomb-happy US generals, like Curtis E. LeMay. (Now THERE’S a piece of work; look him up if you want a cheap hair-raising thrill that doesn’t involve sex.)

LeMay was in command of the B-52 nuclear bombers, and was itching to turn them loose on the USSR (Yes, if you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” that’s who they’re talking about. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s time.)

But Ike stuck LeMay and his ilk in a shiny brass cage, and kept the whole thing under wraps.

mushroom-cloudWhen I found this out (years later, in the Ike biographies), I realized with something of a shock that I (and by extension my kids and grandkids) are all survivors of this nuclear war that wasn’t. That goes for most of the rest of you too. But here I’m just talking about my reactions; and any way I slice it, avoiding incineration comes out a biggie.

So, Hey, Ike — thanks for “Nothing”!

The other BIG thing didn’t look like much at the time. It only took about two minutes.

It was part of Ike’s Farewell Address, and you can see it on YouTube here

It was his warning, totally out of the blue, that something called the Military Industrial Complex [MIC] was growing in our society like a cancer, and that if we didn’t watch out, it would take over, and that would be bad.

Here’s the key passage (full text at this link)

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. 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. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.

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 huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

A few days from now, Jan. 17th, will be the anniversary of that warning. And it turns out Ike was absolutely right. The MIC was growing then. it IS still growing. And it HAS taken over. And that’s bad.

Prophetic is the word we religious types use for such utterances. The word is thrown around a lot; but you don’t come across the real deal all that often, and it can turn up in pretty unlikely places. In this case, in a few words from a bald, superannuated soldier who was heading out the door, to practically universal relief.

Besides paying a belated but heartfelt tribute to Ike for this prophecy, I spent the weekend of Jan. 14-16 2011 considering the implications of this grim prophecy that has come true, in spades. we did that with a group of friends at a free conference on the MIC at Fifty, at Guilford College.

Here’s one other thing Ike said, though I’m not so sure of the date:

“The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.”

That’s the problem, all right. Let’s join up and see if we can take it on.

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