The popularization of the term “military-industrial complex” is commonly traced to Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 address upon leaving the presidency. Despite our knowledge of the term’s roots therein, argues Aaron B. O’Connell, few people remember the actual content of Eisenhower’s message. O’Connell, the author of Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps, reminds us in an NYT opinion piece that what Eisenhower cautioned against was a permanent militarization of America, an unyielding state of preparation for and engagement in war that threatened to become a dominant feature of modern American life.
Despite Eisenhower’s warning, that’s essentially where we’ve arrived, led by civilians and politicians who project and protect the sanctity of American military institutions. From O’Connell’s piece:
From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland” and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas. Of course, veterans should be thanked for serving their country, as should police officers, emergency workers and teachers. But no institution — particularly one financed by the taxpayers — should be immune from thoughtful criticism.
“That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible,” he continues, “and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.”
As O’Connell explains in Underdogs, the Marines in particular have excelled at catapulting themselves to these heights of popular esteem. They’ve managed to become a force in American culture, he argues, largely by way of their own culture of force. O’Connell, himself a Marine reserve officer and assistant professor of history at the US Naval Academy, recently spoke with us about the book, and the concept of militarization: