In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans during his farewell address about the threat of the military-industrial complex. The former military man said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” The movie Iron Man 2 is about an America that never heeded Ike’s warning.
In the second installment of the superhero series, actor Robert Downey Jr. once again assumes the role of playboy industrialist Tony Stark, whose Iron Man suit is nothing less than a weapon of mass destruction. When he’s not getting drunk and using his contraption to shoot watermelons and dinner plates, skeet shoot-style, Iron Man is a one-man military who uses his power for genuinely benevolent reasons, albeit while enjoying an enormous ego trip along the way. When the government tries to confiscate the suit, Stark rejects their request, bragging “I have successfully privatized world peace.” The government is not pleased.
Neither is defense contractor Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell), who is more interested in acquiring power and bolstering his own ego than world peace, stating bluntly that his primary goal is to be “in the Pentagon for the next 25 years.” Hammer’s company, Hammer Industries, works closely with Congress and top military brass, all of whom join forces to discredit Iron Man, who has been keeping the peace. Without global conflict, the influence and power of the defense industry, Congress, and the military establishment are diminished, much to their chagrin.
The conservative website RedCounty.com published a review of Iron Man 2, featuring the headline “An Unbridled Attack on our Military-Industrial Complex?” But is Iron Man 2 such an attack? Yes, it is.
It would seem that the truth hurts only to the extent that we accept or reject it. The truth today is that America has an unprecedented policy of preventive war and the largest military budget in the history of the world, larger than all the nations on earth combined.
In 2007, MSNBC reported that the U.S. had 163,000 troops stationed in Iraq, but 180,000 private contractors. Calling for an investigation of defense contractor Halliburton, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said in 2007, “There is a natural tendency toward corporate excess … It is a national problem that raises serious concerns about war profiteering.” Could it be possible that those who profit from war are in bed with politicians and lobbyists who help define our foreign policy accordingly, routinely finding new global “threats” in the same manner a shady mechanic finds more “problems” with your car than you would have imagined?
It is important to note that the monstrous bureaucracy many Americans today consider basic “defense” is relatively new in our history. In 1961, Eisenhower was describing the military-industrial complex in its early stages: “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry … We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions … We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience.”
A new experience indeed. The end of World War II gave rise to the Cold War, and Eisenhower wasn’t the only man of his generation to recognize that new global dynamics might require a new military approach. But Ike was one of the few leaders warning that a permanent armaments industry could set a dangerous precedent, creating an entrenched relationship between government and industry, which might come to see “defense” as something beyond the traditional definition. Said Eisenhower, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
That capitalism continues to give us new and necessary weaponry is not in question. But that a “permanent armaments industry of vast proportions” might trend toward corruption or exhibit “misplaced power” is something patriots should always question — and fear — as President Eisenhower did. Today, many consider simply criticizing the military-industrial complex to be leftist, and yet the phrase was made popular by a Republican president who was also the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. That alone shows the extent to which the military-industrial complex’s influence dictates public discourse — something Ike also predicted.
During the last days of his presidency, Eisenhower said, “God help any man who sits behind this desk who doesn’t know the military like I do.” Ever since then, there really haven’t been any men behind that desk with the iron will to reign in the military-industrial complex, mostly because each president since has been an integral part of it.
Iron Man 2 shows just how right Ike was, whether Americans want to admit it or not.
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