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The Military-Industrial Complex Previous Next
Digital History ID 3409


Beginning with George Washington, presidents have used their farewell address to look back on their experience in office and to offer the public practical advice. In his farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that a high level of military spending and the establishment of a large arms industry in peacetime were something "new in the American experience." In the most famous words of his presidency, Eisenhower warned that the country "must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted the military-industrial complex."

President Eisenhower believed that the United States had "to maintain balance" between defense spending and the needs of a healthy economy. During his second term, Congress, the press, and the armed services had pressured Eisenhower to increase defense spending. But even after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the earth, he refused to let defense spending unbalance the federal budget. Eisenhower worried that presidents who did not have his military experience would be poor judges of the country's defense needs.

In his speech, Eisenhower warned that the United States faced a "hostile ideology--global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose," and must bear "without complaint the burdens of a long and complex struggle." He also feared that the arms industry, military officers, and members of Congress with military installations and defense plants in their districts, would lead the country to build unnecessary weapons. He worried that the "military-industrial complex" would skew national priorities and dictate the direction of American foreign policy.

The election of a new president, John F. Kennedy, was accompanied by intensified Cold War tensions. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy spoke of a "missile gap" and claimed that the Soviet Union had achieved an advantage in long-range missiles. In response to Soviet Premier Khrushchev’s pledge to support wars of liberation, Kennedy called for the training of counter-insurgency forces that could combat guerrilla warfare.

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