By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA— In the decades following World War I, a widespread consensus existed in the United States that armed conflicts were not pursued for defense, protection or necessity, but rather for the opportunity of profitable investment enjoyed by the captains of industry.
According to the Senate Historical Office, the 1920s and ’30s played host to “widespread reports that manufacturers of armaments had unduly influenced the American decision to enter the war in 1917,” and that they would once more “reap enormous profits” by convincing lawmakers to enter the ongoing conflict in Europe, what we know today as World War II.
The reports’ momentum was strong enough to spark an official Senate investigation by the Senate Munitions Committee in 1934, chaired by U.S. Sen. Gerald Nye, R-North Dakota, a staunch non-interventionist.
Four Democrats and three Republicans were on what is now known as the “Nye Committee.” Its final report in 1936 issued a scathing condemnation on the collusion between arms manufacturers and political powers — later described as the “military-industrial complex” by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1960 farewell address:
“The committee finds, further, that any close associations between munitions and supply companies on the one hand and the service departments on the other hand, of the kind which existed in Germany before the World War, constitutes an unhealthy alliance in that it brings into being a self-interested political power which operates in the name of patriotism and satisfies interests which are, in large part, purely selfish, and that such associations are an inevitable part of militarism, and are to be avoided in peacetime at all costs.”
That conclusion, drawn in 1936, later inspired four neutrality acts and restricted the sale of arms to foreign nations in war — measures which were repealed once the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.
Nye Committee of the 21st century
In the modern era, it is impossible to tell if the Nye Committee‘s conclusion is still regarded as truthful.
The United States remains active in five theaters of war — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya — and has almost 1.5 million active duty soldiers stationed on overseas bases, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Military spending in 2012 exceeds $1 trillion and arms industries receive up to a quarter of that every year for weapons, tanks and planes they sell to the Defense Department, as outlined by the Federal System for Award Management, the contracting vendor for the federal government.
What the Nye Committee never envisioned, however, was just how large the arms manufacturing industry would grow in the 21st century.
Currently, more than 3 million people are employed because of military contracts, meaning that many communities nationwide have their fates tied to the money allocated to the weapons and planes manufacturers who receive upwards of $235 billion per year.
For example, the B-2 stealth bomber, developed by Northrop Grumman, the fourth-largest defense contractor in the world, has a piece of it built in every state in the union, making any consideration of a budget cut practically impossible for congressmen looking to boost job growth in their home district.
Does that mean therefore, that the Department of Defense has grown to become a largely expensive jobs program?
That notion was rejected Monday by Republican U.S. Sens. John McCain, of Arizona, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, when they visited downtown Tampa, warning against the $500 billion sequestration cuts to the military budget ordered for the next decade — less than $50 billion per year.
Each lawmaker explained calmly that the Defense Department was not a jobs program, but rather a necessary and important function of government power.
Ayotte specifically cited the effect of cuts to weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin, warning the audience that the company had begun distributing layoff notices, threatening to put “up to 100,000 Americans out of work by the election,” said Ayotte.
Is the senator from New Hampshire not directly promulgating the idea that military spending is essential to the employment of hundreds of thousands of American workers?
On the other hand, McCain has been on the record exposing the culture of unnecessary Pentagon spending and the danger of allowing defense contractors to grow beyond control, as seen in a Senate House floor speech on Dec.15, 2011:
“The 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s address presents us with a valuable opportunity today to carefully consider, have we heeded President Eisenhower’s admonition? Regrettably and categorically, the answer is, no. In fact, the military-industrial complex has become much worse than President Eisenhower originally envisioned: it’s evolved to capture Congress. So, the phenomenon should now rightly be called, the ‘military-industrial-congressional’ complex.
McCain cited various examples of programs and weapons manufacturers, which have enjoyed profligate support by a bipartisan effort, calling into question the immense size of the defense budget. He decried the “biases” of political and military actors, who signed off on “failed” and “costly” projects, while welcoming the new “cultural change” forced by fiscal austerity.
When I confronted the McCain on this issue, he claimed that he had been fighting for decades to set hearings and debates on the profligate spending and culture of corruption.
“I fight it everyday. What I’ve been warning about is a program like the F-35 has turned into a trillion dollar weapon system. It should have never happened,” he said with serious tone. “But as you said, members of Congress have the incentive to continue that.”
McCain didn’t complete his thought, but an ideal sense is that he sincerely wishes for a change in the culture of military spending — away from the idea of the Pentagon as a jobs program.
Could this also mean that McCain would favor turning an eye toward the wealthy arms manufacturers who may or may not be influential in pushing the country to war? Could there finally be a discussion in this country about how maintaining the largest military in the world adds or detracts from national defense?
Short of a Nye Committee in the 21st century, however, it is uncertain that any broader conclusion can be reached.