A few people remember President Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, where he warned Americans about the rise of a military-industrial complex… a warning that was stunningly accurate and almost fully ignored.
What almost no one remembers was Eisenhower’s speech in 1953, when he said that under the pressures of fear and war spending, humanity was “hanging from a cross of iron.”
Bear in mind, this was said by Dwight David Eisenhower, five-star general who had been supreme allied commander. He was also the sitting president of the United States when he said it. So, there is absolutely no room for passing this off in the name of patriotism.
Precisely What He Said
Before I elaborate on this topic, I want you to read Eisenhower’s words for yourself. Here’s the core of Ike’s speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, on April 16, 1953:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people…
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Here’s one more line you should read:
God created men to enjoy, not destroy, the fruits of the earth and of their own toil.
Obviously this speech was widely ignored.
The Cross of Iron
“Iron” is a reference to war materials: planes, bombs, guns, tanks, and so on. And what’s crucial about this iron is that it is purchased with money forcibly taken from the productive people of the world. And I’d like you to see the extent of these extractions.
So, here are the world’s top nine military budgets for the year 2012, in billions of US dollars:
Altogether, that comes to $1.328 trillion. Added to that are not just the expenses of the smaller militaries, but dozens of now-gigantic intelligence agencies. (The US Department of Homeland Security alone spends $44 billion per year.) And so I think a reasonably accurate figure is closer to $2 trillion per year… and given many other expenditures, often cleverly hidden, even that figure may be low.
This is properly a job for some young economist, but not having one handy, I’ll give you, in rough numbers, what that equates to:
14,000,000 modern houses with amenities, or
100,000,000 brand new cars, or
a year of quality food and drink for 600 million people,
and so on. Obviously the cost of cars and housing varies from place to place, but you get the idea.
That’s what’s taken from us – annually – to build and operate machines of destruction. In just the past 20 years this would cover housing, transportation, and food for 150 million families… not counting the value of everything destroyed by the war machines.
Can we call this anything but an abject organizational failure? To be very blunt about it:
Humanity is producing far more than was ever dreamed possible by our ancestors, but we’re pissing it away on machines of death and destruction.
And there’s a clear reason for this. But it’s a reason that can be hard to face.
Forget Politics; It’s About the Structure
We’ve been trained to devote all our passion and attention to political fights. In other words, to spend all our energies on ephemera that come and go like the winds.
What we haven’t been trained in – what we’ve been diverted from – is the analysis of structures: the things that actually matter and the things that endure.
The structures that dominate mankind are monopolistic, non-optional, and violence based. The central principle of their operations – the one they enforce thousands of times every day – is this: Do what we say or we’ll hurt you.
However offended people may be at these statements, it will not be because they are false. Rather, they will be offended that such things are discussed. It’s not pleasant to face the fact that our world’s basic organizational structures are barbaric relics of the Bronze Age.
These systems are offensive structures by design. They are built to extract money from large populations, to consolidate those takings in the seat of the operation, and to use that money to become more powerful than every other such system. And their 6,000-year track record most certainly bears this out.
No one described this more honestly than Simone Weil, in An Anthology:
What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war… What is called national prestige consists in behaving always in such a way as to demoralize other nations by giving them the impression that, if it comes to war, one would certainly defeat them. What is called national security is an imaginary state of affairs in which one would retain the capacity to make war while depriving all other countries of it.
The truth of the matter is that the ruling structures of our world are abject failures – relics of a brutal and ignorant past. And Eisenhower was right when he said they were crucifying humanity on a cross of iron.
We can do better.