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The words were spoken in 1961, when a popular two-term president was leaving office. Dwight Eisenhower had seen war up close, and had also personally witnessed some of the evil by-products of war. He saw the victims in the Nazi death camps when they were freed by his troops.
Ike was apparently still thinking of these things as he was about to exit the world stage. Here are his exact words: "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties, or our democratic processes."
The influence of this power, which Eisenhower called "something new" in that address, was, as he said, "economic, political, even spiritual." Today, Ike would likely be horrified to see that our country has not followed his advice. His successors certainly ignored it when they got us into a long, bloody and absolutely unnecessary war in Vietnam.
Now, as we approach the fifth full year of yet another tragic and unnecessary war, we have to finally realize that the time has come to get out of the empire game. But the military-industrial complex has created a need for a kind of permanent war, because war is profitable; it's good business; it always has been.
The military, actually, is a career option, and always has been for minorities and rural youth who live in areas where good jobs aren't always available. The money machine feeds the war machine, a bloody, vicious and profitable cycle, one that constantly needs war to keep going.
Today, the U.S. military apparatus is an enormous octopus with tentacles all over the globe. Only Republican Ron Paul has the vision to call for its utter dismantlement. He asks, correctly, why do we still have troops in Korea? Germany? Japan?
Do we really need to "protect" any of those countries? Why? Do they even want our protection? Paul's is a lonely voice in his party, and he's the only GOP presidential candidate who - like the majority of Americans - wants our troops home from Iraq. But Paul doesn't think we should stop there, and he's right.
It's time to stop playing the global policeman. It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a month in a war started by a man who had never seen combat. It's time to rein in the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower was so right about.
But, of course, powerful forces are arrayed against any such effort. We live in a militaristic culture where war is often cheered as though it were a sporting event or merely a manly pastime. You can get in more trouble in this country by advocating peace than you ever will by warmongering.
There will always be mindless people who cheer and wave flags anytime there's a war on, because their very definition of patriotism means supporting any American war at any time, in any place, for any reason.
The story goes that Herman Goering once told Adolf Hitler of a foolproof plan to gain support for a war. Convince people they're under attack, criticize those who dare to call for peace as "unpatriotic," and watch the flags wave."It works in every country," he said.
Ron Paul won't get anywhere near the Republican nomination for president. But he's as right today as Ike was in 1961. It's time to pull the military-industrial complex from its perch. Bring the troops home from every place, and study peace instead of war. There could be no better way to begin a new year.
Rick Howell, a Bedford native, lives in Roanoke, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com