Military-Historical Complex

By Snow, Richard F. | American Heritage, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Military-Historical Complex


Snow, Richard F., American Heritage


WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE IN THE LATE 1960s, my disaffected classmates and I spent a good deal of time decrying the "military-industrial complex."

I thought that Jerry Rubin probably had coined the phrase, but it might have been Abbie Hoffman. I certainly never dreamed that it came from that amiable, dopey (yet at the same time, because of his military background, slightly sinister) old fud Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It did, though, as Douglas Brinkley explains in this issue, and thus Ike added to our historical vocabulary a phrase that will last as long as people remember the era that gave it birth. Has any other twentieth-century President encapsulated so broad-reaching a concern so succinctly? It's one more example of the coruscating intelligence that Eisenhower chose never to flaunt, but which allowed him to prevail in a job that combined the political complexities of Lincoln's with military challenges nearly as daunting as those Washington faced.

The issue also contains a story by Stephen E. Ambrose, a close associate of Doug Brinkley (Ambrose founded the Eisenhower Center for American Studies in New Orleans; Brinkley is running it today), that gives us a slightly different perspective on the threat that Ike saw.

Ambrose's story of the B-24s reminds us that as Eric Larrabee points out in his superb 1987 book Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants & Their War, "From the perspective of a later era, in which the phrase `military-industrial complex' has come to have unfortunate connotations, the admission must be made that in those earlier days it served us well. Daring, innovation, rapid results, and quality achieved in quantity were made possible essentially because the two parties to the arrangement trusted and understood one another. …

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