“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
Eisenhower called the speech in which he delivered this remark “The Chance for Peace.” Although he didn’t coin the term “Military Industrial Complex” until his farewell address in 1961, it’s clear that Eisenhower recognized many years earlier the opportunity costs of war. He worried not only about the accounting costs of war, and the price paid by our soldiers and military families, but also about the cost to children, workers, and families at home. We’re paying that price here in WV. As he saw it, the Military Industrial Complex was not just a threat to peace, but also a threat to social justice—to prosperity.
His warnings were not a call to avoid war at all costs. He was a general. But his recognition of what was being sacrificed, often by those most vulnerable, were among the reasons he was such an outstanding leader. There were the front lines of war, and also the front lines in the war on poverty. We must be strong on both of those fronts. Ultimately, Eisenhower didn’t want the United States to lose sight of the big picture, that the aim of defense was safety, peace, and prosperity for our whole country—not just for elites, not just for war profiteers bent on making money at any cost.
In West Virginia, we have what he might have called the Extractive Industrial Complex. Alas, many of our WV political elites—of both parties—fail to recognize that by falling under the sway of these worm-tongued grifters, they’re essentially waging war on those of us here on the “front lines” of Frackistan, and in impoverished coal communities. They’re hurting the very people they’re meant to protect, and allowing the system to benefit coal barons and executives at the expense of coal miners. They’re trading in lives for their own benefit. Making changes in this system is not urgent to them, because other people are paying the price.
The answer to WV’s extraction addiction is not to stop producing energy, of course. But we do need to transition to new forms that don’t exact such a huge toll on our state. We can’t produce energy in such a way that only elite extraction profiteers see any benefit, while regular West Virginians continue to struggle. We can’t oppose or obstruct sustainable diversification simply because Resource Barons funnel money to WV elected (and soon-to-be elected) officials.
A public servant should never be more interested in the results of an election than s/he is in helping people, or in honest governance.
Eisenhower’s farewell address ended this way:
“We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”
That is the wish I have for West Virginia.