This past Tuesday, a student approached me before class and thanked me for my military service. I have to admit I was caught a bit off guard by the gesture, but I was also quite touched. It led me to reconsider my planned post for the week (I was going to write about taxes -- aren't you glad I reconsidered?). Instead, I've decided to take a moment to comment on a subject that touches on my status both as a U.S. Army veteran and current business law professor -- the military industrial complex.
The phrase "military industrial complex" is most often associated with the farewell address of former President Dwight D. ("Ike") Eisenhower, wherein he warned:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination [of our national military and private industry] endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.
Today, I'm sure the phrase "military industrial complex" conjures up another three words for at least some of you: Cheney, Halliburton & Iraq. Whatever your opinion about the possible conflicts of interest arising out of that threesome, concern about the influence of private corporate interests on government -- particularly the war-making function of government -- should not be a partisan issue.
In the past few years, books such as Paul Verkuil's, Outsourcing Sovereignty: Why Privatization of Government Functions Threatens Democracy and What We Can Do about It, and Peter Singer's, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, have sought to refocus our attention on the issue.
Certainly, the law will be a key battleground for trying to balance the various interests at stake here. Personally, I find myself fascinated by the role of our conception of the corporation as a "person" with free speech rights that make anyone challenging their right to freely petition/influence government appear downright un-American.
Finally, I am proud to be a veteran. And, I am proud of the men and women who make up our armed forces and who serve with dedication at often great personal cost. But I also heed Ike's admonition that:
Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
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