Dec. 7, 1941. The Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Army installations at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy declared war on the United States two days later, and America found itself thrown into World War II.
Americans were united in the war against the Axis powers. We achieved feats of production that were incredible to see. As an example, in 1944 alone, the United States produced 96,000 war planes. That was after we produced 85,000 war planes in 1943. The Allies were fighting with American arms delivered by American vehicles, and they were fed by food from American farms.
There was also the down side. People of Japanese descent were removed from their homes, businesses and property in the Western states. Racial prejudice flared into riots in cities like Detroit and Los Angeles. The black market in rationed goods thrived.
And, of course, there was profiteering. “Leaders” in California had been scheming on how to get their hands on the property and businesses of the Japanese Americans, and the war gave them the perfect opportunity. It was like how they schemed to get the water rights to the Owens Valley so they could build the Los Angeles Aqueduct. People forget California was, at one time, as much run by crooks and white supremacists as any state in the South.
A U.S. Senator from Missouri, Harry Truman, made a name for himself by ferreting out corruption and profiteering in the war industry.
This was 75 to 80 years ago. One has to ask how much things have changed since then. It appears at times like our Defense Department is more interested in putting big bucks into the coffers of defense contractors than in defending the nation.
Before he was elected President, Dwight D. Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe. He saw first-hand how defense contractors and the military work together. That’s why, in his farewell address, he advised the nation to avoid too much influence by what he called the “military-industrial complex.”
In the 1987 “Nova” episode “Confessions of a Weaponeer,” atomic scientist and former Presidential advisor George Kristiakowsky was interviewed by Carl Sagan. He said that, in the 1950s, the Pentagon would make false claims about the capabilities of the Soviet Union in order to get all the expensive hardware they wanted. They would classify evidence that showed they were wrong as “top secret” so no one could refute them.
Kristiakowsky recalled being berated by someone about some Soviet weapon system that the Eisenhower Administration wasn’t doing anything about. Kristiakowsky knew the man was wrong, but the information was classified so he couldn’t show him where he was wrong.
When he was running for President in 1960, John F. Kennedy campaigned on the “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union. Supposedly, according to the Pentagon, the Russians were way ahead of us with ballistic missiles, and we needed to spend big bucks on missiles to close the gap.
When Kennedy got into office, he learned there was no missile gap. Not only did the United States have more missiles, ours were a lot better and more reliable than the Russian missiles. One of the reasons the Russians placed missiles in Cuba was their missiles couldn’t reach deep into the United States from the Soviet Union.
It’s understandable why Kennedy never fully trusted the military again after this.
Americans recognize the need for a strong national defense. We want our defense systems to be the best in the world. We want our troops to be the best-trained and best-equipped in the world.
What we don’t want or need are expensive weapons systems that don’t work. We don’t need to have what weapons systems the government purchases determined by who has the best lobbyists, which member of Congress wants something made in his district, or false information intended to bolster a project or create the appearance of a need where none exists.
We don’t need to have some of our troops on welfare because of their low wages.
We want the biggest bang for the buck. We don’t want to see our bucks get blown up with a “bang.”
Our representatives need to ask a lot of questions of our military, the weapons systems they want, and the defense contractors. We want the best. We don’t want to be sold a bill of goods.
There is no doubt the U.S. Armed Forces have some of the finest equipment in the world. We can thank the defense industry for that. However, no one should simply be given a blank check. We need to know what we’re getting.
The best way to guard against undue influence by the military-industrial complex, as Eisenhower described it, is by asking a lot of questions and demanding answers that everyone can understand.
There are always a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered.