America to its Military-Industrial Complex: Happy Valentine's Day!

An 18-day peaceful revolution has just toppled Egypt's 30-year Mubarak dictatorship. As the free-falling government dispatched American-made F-16s to roar over Cairo as an act of intimidation, a coalition of average citizens (most of them under age 30) led the charge toward democracy. An uncertain but hopeful future awaits.

Here at home, a fascinating story in the February 12 New York Times tells how the U.S. Defense Department is proactively engaged in propping up the finances of the nation's armaments industry, an industry that supplies not only our own hardware but much of the world's, from Saudi Arabia to Israel.

Even the modern Egyptian military, now in charge of the country, is a U.S. creation, with an annual stipend (going back decades) of over a billion dollars in arms and security equipment courtesy of Uncle Sam.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer regularly attends investment conferences designed to talk up the weapons industry and promote its stock.

As the Times business writer Joe Nocera puts it, "Let's just say that banking isn't the only industry where the government has allowed a handful of companies to become too big to fail." He means Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop-Grumman and Boeing.

In his otherwise excellent article, Nocera opts against any reference to the January, 1961 Farewell Address from President Dwight Eisenhower. A pity, because the military hero spoke with clarity on this very subject. The relevant passage seems as perceptive today, 50 years on:

"A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

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

Think of it: The Supreme Allied Commander of World War Two would later exit public life with a warning against the influence of the "military-industrial complex," a term he popularized in that speech. Yet today, the influence is beyond pervasive, here and abroad. Our own federal employees are hawking these outfits, like Jim Kramer pushing some high-tech start-up on CNBC's Mad Money.

Ike said that "only an alert citizenry" can keep these multibillion dollar Masters of War in their proper place. Can we?