The Military Industrial Complex and the Power Elite

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Wikipedia tells us that the concept of a “permanent war economy” originated in 1944. Such a war economy, it was predicted, would be one in which there would be a post-WWII arms race. It was argued at the time that:

the USA would retain the character of a war economy; even in peacetime, American military expenditures would remain large, reducing the percentage of unemployed compared to the 1930s.

The concept was also used by U.S. businessman and Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson to refer to an institutionalized war economy, a semi-command-type economy which is directed by corporation executives, based on military industry, and funded by state social spending…whereby the collusion between militarism and war profiteering are manifest as a permanently subsidized industry.

Wilson warned at the close of the war that the U.S. must not return to a civilian economy, but must keep to a “permanent war economy.” Wilson was made Secretary of Defense under Dwight D. Eisenhower, and was largely instrumental in reforming the Pentagon as an instrument for facilitating a closer relationship between the military and industry.

The military, originally conceived as a small order fed by state militia, has now become an empire, the largest and most expensive feature of our government.

President Eisenhower, in a speech on 16 April 1953 said, “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. The 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… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Back in 1956, C. Wright Mills a sociologist, wrote an influential book which brought attention to the interwoven interests of the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society and suggested that the ordinary citizen was a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by those entities. The book title is The Power Elite.

The following is quoted from a review of Power Elite. The review was written by Jeffrey Leach for

According to Mills, these three institutions (military, corporate, political) now form a contiguous whole as far as managing the country goes. Moreover, people inhabiting any of these three structures often move between them with seeming ease. Isn’t it funny that Colin Powell, a lifelong military officer, suddenly finds himself in the political world as Secretary of State? Or how Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld move between the corporate and political worlds with such simplicity?

Mills includes a couple of chapters about the role of society. In this section of the book, the author concerns himself with the concept of “masses” versus “publics”. A mass is essentially a population that receives opinions from elites through controlled communication systems instead of expressing their own ideas… A public, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of a mass. Opinions are not received through media systems, but arise from open debate through open communications systems…

I think anyone with an iota of common sense knows where we stand today in terms of Mills’s definitions. The United States, that great, immutable bulwark of freedom, is instead a mass of some 260 million souls effectively controlled through the corporate media systems.

Sure, one can argue that the people vote officials out of political office, but has that really changed anything? And sure, the Internet does allow nearly anyone with access to a computer a forum for virtually any topic, but it will take more than a few e-mails tacked on to the end of every news opinion program on the media outlets to convince me that we do not essentially receive our opinions… Every time you hear the word “democracy” fall out of an elite’s mouth, just remember that democracy means “mob rule,” in this case, the American mob ruled by the power elites.

Stephen Lendman writing on ZNet observes that the corporate media is in crisis, and that our free and open society is at risk. I would agree but argue that this phenomenon is nothing new but that it’s only now becoming widely recognized, largely because of the information available to the “masses” by way of the Internet.

Fiction substitutes for fact, news is carefully filtered, dissent is marginalized, and supporting the powerful substitutes for full and accurate reporting. As a result, wars of aggression are called liberating ones, civil liberties are suppressed for our own good, and patriotism means going along with governments that are lawless.

The Power Elite Today

Journalist Joseph Kraft, a former member of both the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, said the CFR “comes close to being an organ of what C. Wright Mills has called the Power Elite – a group of men, similar in interest and outlook, shaping events from invulnerable positions behind the scenes.” Kraft worked at the Washington Post and the New York Times during the 1950s and became a speech writer for JFK. For this he was placed on Nixon’s master list of political opponents.

This from Wikipedia:

A study by two critics of the organization, Laurence Shoup and William Minter, found that of 502 government officials surveyed from 1945 to 1972, more than half were members of the Council. Today it has about 4,300 members, which over its history have included senior serving politicians, more than a dozen Secretaries of State, former national security officers, bankers, lawyers, professors, former CIA members and senior media figures.

As for the Trilateral Commission:

The Trilateral Commission is a private organization, established to foster closer cooperation between America, Europe and Japan. It was founded in July 1973, at the initiative of David Rockefeller; who was Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations at that time and the Commission is widely seen as a counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations. Other founding members included Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker, both eventually heads of the Federal Reserve system.

Other Influential Organizations

American Enterprise Institute:

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is a conservative think tank, founded in 1943. It is associated with neoconservative domestic and foreign policy views. According to the institute its mission is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism – limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies, political accountability, and open debate.” AEI is an independent, non-profit organization. It is supported primarily by grants and contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. It is located in Washington, D.C.

AEI has emerged as one of the leading architects of the second Bush administration’s public policy. More than twenty AEI alumni and current visiting scholars and fellows have served either in a Bush administration policy post or on one of the government’s many panels and commissions. Former United States Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is a visiting scholar, and Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a senior fellow.

The US Chamber of Commerce:

The Chamber is staffed with policy specialists, lobbyists and lawyers. It is known for spending more money than any other lobbying organization on a yearly basis.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been criticized by some as being a Republican front group, promoting Republican candidates and becoming a driving force to support the right-wing policies of the administration of George W. Bush. In an article posted at the liberal political blog MyDD, Matt Stoller wrote that the Chamber “used to be a trade association that advocated in a bipartisan manner for narrowly tailored policies to benefit its members. Since 1997 or so, it has become a fully functional part of the partisan Republican machine,” with CEO and president Thomas J. Donohue “raising its budget to $150M a year from corporate chiefs satisfied with his ability to move policy through a Republican Congress.”

The Chamber claims on its website that its mission is to “advance human progress through an economic, political and social system based on individual freedom, incentive, initiative, opportunity, and responsibility.” It describes itself as “the world’s largest business federation representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region.”

However, the Chamber is “dominated by oil companies, pharmaceutical giants, automakers and other polluting industries,” according to James Carter, executive director of the Green Chamber of Commerce.

There are numerous others. For the sake of brevity and bandwidth I’ll list a few of them here with links. If your time permits I would encourage readers to check the links and look at the membership in these organizations. Check who supports them with funding. You will find overlapping membership. Check the board of directors of any international oil company and you will see their links to AEI, CFR and others.

Hoover Institute,  Heritage Foundation,  Hudson Institute,   AIPAC,  Manhattan Institute,  Team B

In his book Mills documents how WWII solidified the trinity of power in the US made up of military, corporate and government elites and how working in unison through “higher circles” that these power elite are those who decide whatever is decided of major consequence. Those higher circles include the influential organizations listed above. There is no conspiracy at work here. This is all done openly and legally but the message is also controlled by the corporate media and so we don’t see or hear much about what goes on in the “higher circles”.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are times when some of our elected representatives don’t stand up and show some backbone and represent our interests, the interests of the people who elected them to office, perhaps this will help you to understand why, or at least to help in the process of connecting a few dots.  


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  1. Your thoughts and comments are most welcomed. There is no easy solution but we must keep up the fight and never give up.  

  2. I ponder hanging it all up

    I ask the Lord if it’s time to mount the Apocalyptic horse.

    But wait, others can see now!

    • kj on January 13, 2008 at 18:12

    deserve to be echoed:

    President Eisenhower, in a speech on 16 April 1953 said, “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. The 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… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

  3. This is, in fact, the heart of why the Dems appear to be spineless. I don’t think they are afraid of dissent, I think they are part of this system and are doing exactly what is expected of them by those in charge.

    I wonder if anyone has ever had any involvement with their local Chamber of Commerce. I actually joined ours a couple of years ago to make connections for our organization. I dropped out pretty quickly. The email flow to members was fascinating in just how blatantly partisan they are. Our local chapter pumps hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns and referrendum (against school levies and for tax-subsidized stadiums for professional sports.) Interestingly enough, on an urban level, this money has mostly been for naught. They can spend $ – but mostly they can’t vote because they live in the burbs. But they certainly are a force to be reckoned with and our local newspaper follows their lead like the lackeys they are.  

  4. has a old time folksy sound to it. Your towns local business owners. good for business. In reality it is the tentacles that the corps use to spread them selves across the country. Both locally and nationally if you look at what they support it is one nasty organization. The endless war both economic and geopolitical feeds them. Looks like Marx had it backwards were paying for the rope, thats hanging us all.      

    • OPOL on January 14, 2008 at 03:01

    people resist the knowledge of how complete a grip the micc has on our nation.  It is the issue of our time.

    • Valtin on January 14, 2008 at 03:56

    But I think you’ll find good old Marx said it best:

    The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

    The institutions you cite are, with a few exceptions, like the CFR (which is part of the state apparatus itself) but adjuncts to the state, and this can be seen by the ease and frequency with which members move between the state proper, and its various think-tanks and ancillary corporate-university-military organizations.

    The only answer will really only come with a revolutionary overturn of the existing state and an end to the power of its ruling class (or power elite). That is historically correct in only a very general sense, because the how and when of such an occurance is very obscure, and may come about through slow decay and corruption, through violent war and defeat (if not nuclear holocaust), or through some kind of revolutionary movement by the other classes in society. I have no crystal ball. But the state apparatus appears right now very powerful and unchangeable. I know that nothing lasts, but when it will change, quien sabe?

    • banger on January 14, 2008 at 15:35

    I love that you brought us back to C. Wright Mills who is much neglected these days.

    We need to add to the Power-Elite the MSM and “Entertainment” Media. In fact they are the instrument that has made the Power Elite far, far more powerful than it ever was when Mills was around. I was a child in those times and I can say that the most amazing change I’ve seen in life is the dramatic reduction in what we used to call “freedom” (and I don’t mean “civil liberties”). What I’ve seen is the growth of the integration of social science and sytems theory approaches to governance where human choices are highly constrained to “systems”. This is a long story that I don’t have time to go into at this point. But, in a nutshell we have collectively traded our liberty for “security”, comfort, childishness, dependency, ignorance (and the worship thereof) and this is true accross class, race, ethnicity, and political attitudes. The answer we give to the old question “are we mice or men” is “mice”, over and over again in our lives. The squeaking, incidently is growing deafening. This cultural change has been dramatic and has been engineered not by a cabal of plotters but across a wide swath of society centered in gov’t, the mass media, and corporations. The main guru was Edward  Bernays.

    Thanks for bringing up the Chamber of Commerce which was the spearpoint of the work to break unions and destroy the New Deal.

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