Military Industrial Complex in Vietnam

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On 26 July 1950, President Harry Truman approved a multi-million dollar military assistance package designed to help the French defeat a strong communist movement in French Indochina. The package included $15 million worth of military equipment and a small number of American military advisors assigned to supervise the flow of tanks, plans, artillery, and other equipment.1 By 1954, the United States government had provided 80% of the war supplies used by the French in Indochina which equated to about $3 billion.2 This marked the beginning of the United States involvement in Southeast Asia and the expansion of the military-industrial complex in America. This paper will explore the role the American military-industrial complex played as part of the Vietnam War. Advancements in technology have always occurred during times of war as nations develop new and more efficient ways of destroying each other. However, its possible that this formula works the other way around; companies develop new and more efficient weapons so that their goods will always have a place on the world market. Companies that manufacture military equipment rely on a strong demand for their products and the military relies on those companies to continue to furnish the equipment.3 This process is part of the embodiment of the military-industrial complex. The term “military-industrial complex” was popularized by President Dwight Eisenhower during his farewell address to the nation just a few days before he left office in January, 1961. In his address, Eisenhower warned, “…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” However, Eisenhower’s description of the military-industrial complex is essentially incomplete. The government also plays an important role in the process. While most legislators act in accordance with the law, both in application and spirit, some members of Congress have been accused of catering to defense suppliers by helping their companies receive highly lucrative military contracts.4 This type of behavior appears to be a clear conflict of interest as it promotes polices that ensure contractors will continue to find work within that legislators district. These actions also blur the line between private industry, public policy, and national security. Therefore, a more accurate description of the military-industrial complex must also include Congress, which votes on spending bills and the President, who helps formulate public policy. Without these two entities, the military-industrial complex could not continue to exist. Despite Eisenhower’s warning, the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex had already occurred several times in American history. From 1800 to 1939, with the exception of one decade (1930 to 1939), military spending never dropped below 54%, with half of those decades reaching 70% and beyond, of the total Federal budget.5 During World War II, Charles E. Wilson, President of General Electric, suggested to the Army Ordnance Association, that it was time to prepare for a permanent war economy.6 After World War II, with the support of Charles E. Wilson and others like him, the United States government implemented the military-industrial complex as part of its national policy.7 This action was facilitated by Eisenhower while he was the Army Chief of Staff. In a memo dated 27 April 1946, Eisenhower stresses the need for civilian cooperation and assistance in the military planning and production of weapons and scientific research. Eisenhower encourages officers in all the services to be cognizant of the advantages that can arise from military and civilian cooperation.8 In 1946, a letter to the Commanding General of the Army Air Force indicated that contracts would be given out to established companies equally to ensure they each have enough business to continue to prosper.9 During the Cold War and the war in Korea,...
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