Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex; The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition

In This Review

Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex (Icons of America)
By James Ledbetter
Yale University Press, 2011
280 pp. $26.00
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The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Anti-Militarist Tradition
By Arthur A. Ekirch Jr.
Independent Institute, 2010
380 pp. $19.95
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Once upon a time, Republican presidents worried about deficit spending and were reluctant to be talked into unnecessary defense expenditures by lobbyists inflating threats. Large peacetime military establishments were considered risks to American democracy and security. President Dwight Eisenhower shared these concerns sufficiently to warn in his valedictory address about the "unwarranted influence" of "the military-industrial complex" -- a warning that reflected his background in industrial mobilization and his experience in office. He came under enormous pressure to authorize the purchase of expensive military systems, often by retired officers who had joined corporate boards. In Unwarranted Influence, Ledbetter traces how the speech came about and charts its later influences, refuting those who claimed it sank without trace.

A companion piece from the same period is a reprint of Ekirch's 1956 book The Civilian and the Military. Scholarly in its research and scope, the book also celebrates that antimilitaristic tradition, with its hostility to standing armies and conscription, warmongering by "merchants of death," distorted budgetary priorities, and the subversion of individual freedom in the name of national security. It reveals, often unintentionally, the problems with this tradition (notably, how to deal with states that are even more militaristic) while providing a compelling reminder of its historic influence.