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Military Industrial Complex

Military Industrial Complex 3Town of Twentynine Palms, CA, caters to the nearby Marine Corps military base, c. 2010.In 2010, the United States accounted for 43% of the world's military spending. Prior to 1945, the United States kept a small standing army in peacetime and spent relatively little on the mili­tary. Spending spiked upward during the Civil War and World War I, but returned to low levels after the wars ended.


This changed after World War II, with the onset of the cold war, when military spend­ing rose to more than a third of the gross domestic product. According to the Center for Defense Information, de­fense spending increased in constant 2004 dollars from a low of $100 billion in 1948 to $450 billion in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. There have been similar levels of spending during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Reagan era buildup in the 1980s and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In President Dwight David Eisenhower's 1961 farewell speech, he warned that "This conjunc­tion of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence . . . is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government." Confirming Eisenhower's fears, military contractors placed their produc­tion facilities in multiple congressional districts and military bases spread throughout the United States, maximizing support for military spending in Congress. Nowhere was this more evident than in the South, where military bases and defense contracts grew most rapidly. Between 1951 and 1980, the South increased its share of prime military contracts from 7.6 to 24.2 %. Because of its powerful congressional delega­tion, low rates of unionization, and a population sympathetic to the military, the South's share of the military budget came at the expense of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.

The power of the military industrial complex remains strong. In January 2011, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed $78 billion in reductions to the defense budget over five years, Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, opposed them because "these investments have the added benefit of spurring the economy and driving the innovation that is the hallmark of this great nation." Even when the Pentagon has delayed purchase of a weapons project, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, politicians have turned to economic arguments to support the interests of their districts.

 

Military Industrial Complex 1Visitors’ day at the U.S. Air Force Base in Yokota, Japan, 2009. Military Industrial Complex 4Marines on duty at Camp Pendleton, CA, practice modern warfare, 2011. Military Industrial Complex 2Samuel Gottlieb’s Navy Seaman photo ID button, issued by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1918.