Crackpot Realists and Permanent War

by Ann Berg

While economic pundits point fingers at loose lending for the malodor in the housing market that is now filling the noses of financiers, they miss the primary cause: permanent war. Permanent war has caused the nation’s institutions – political, social, and economic – to be organized into an impervious structure without which war could not be tolerated or financed.

Although 9/11 pushed the war machine into high gear, political centralization and the structuring of American society around war first gained a foothold during World War II. In 1956, five years before President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address of the ascendancy of the military-industrial complex (a phrase that originally included the word congressional), the anti-imperialist C. Wright Mills described the triad of power in his book The Power Elite. Stressing how the military entered the political and economic spheres only temporarily during the First World War, he related how modern warfare and its need for massive industrial capacity – along with support from the technological and scientific communities – propelled the military to new heights of influence. Wrote Mills:

“For the first time in American history, men in authority are talking about an ’emergency’ without a foreseeable end. … The only seriously accepted plan for ‘peace’ is a fully loaded pistol. In short, war or a high state of war preparedness is felt to be the normal and seemingly permanent condition of the United States.

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